Let’s talk about death, darling

Talking about our inevitable death and our wishes after the event, is not usually included in recommended light conversation for date night.  Even amongst those who work in roles where you’d expect talking about dying to be something they’re trained in, and despite us all knowing that we will, at some point, die, many of us never let our family or close friends know if we have any special requests for our own life celebration service.

As a Celebrant, I often have detailed conversations with family members to ensure every detail of the service we put together is exactly in line with the wishes of the departed loved-one.  An integral part of writing the ceremony, is often including particular words or music that meant a great deal to everyone present.

Despite this being such an important part of creating ceremonies that help the family move forward, I realised last weekend, that I had never spoken in any real detail with my husband, John, about what I would like for my life celebration.  Even with my experience and training, I found it slightly difficult to pick the right moment to suggest we ought to make it clear for those left with the task of arranging our funerals, if there was anything particularly important to us that we’d like them to include or consider.

I am pleased to say, that once I got over the initial “this isn’t the most positive thing to talk about over pudding, but I’d like to talk about death, darling” John and I had a constructive, positive and at times even funny conversation.

We talked about where and how we wanted to have our bodily remains left, and both agreed we liked the idea of being cremated.  John has always said he’d like a Viking send-off, but after giggling about sending him down the garden stream in a log boat, set alight with his charcoal, we got a bit more practical and agreed a Life Celebration where we were by water would be more manageable.

We talked about who we’d love to have there, and why.  We shared ideas on who we’d want to speak and what stories they might share.  I was reminded of my first experience speaking at a funeral, when John’s dad died and I was asked by his mum to write and deliver the service, with just two days to prepare.  Before long we were remembering holidays we’d shared before his dad became ill, and it was one of the most positive conversations we’ve had about him since his death seven years ago.

One of the big things we acknowledged, was that the service is really for the people we leave behind, not for ourself.  We wanted to be sure the ceremony would be positive and uplifting for our daughter and friends, we hoped the people we’d ask to read would share joyful and happy memories and be there to offer a hug and support to our family.  By preparing as much as we could in advance, we were removing some of the burden for those that had to plan and make arrangements during a challenging time.

I made him promise that, if he is around to help plan my service, nobody would read “Stop all the clocks” by W.H. Auden; it would have our daughter in pieces.  By the same token, “The life that I have” is far too much like him for her to cope with it at his service, so we’re planning on short, simple and possibly even comedic poetry, with a leaning towards Pam Ayres.

And all the time that we talked about these plans, we held each other’s gaze; we smiled and listened intently.  We cried a little too; the thought of being here without each other brings no joy and after over 30 years together, I don’t spend time imagining a life after John. Yet this evening’s conversation, heart-wrenching, laughter-creating and above all, surprising, had proved to be soothing and calming, leaving me with a sense that, despite the fear, we can talk about death; even with those we fear leaving the most.

Dinah

 

 

Why I became an Independent Celebrant

This summer, I was ready.  Ready to decide where my new life in Myddfai, Carmarthenshire, was going to head in the next chapter.  When you’ve been lucky enough to live a life that has been full and varied (not just because of opportunities but also challenges) then finding the next thing you want to focus on can be a challenge.

“I need to make a difference, I know that” I told John, my husband and partner for over 30 years now (we will celebrate 30 years of marriage next spring) as we sat by our woodland pond celebrating being discharged from my Cardiologist.  I’d been given a less than rosy picture for the next ten years, and thanks to Myddfai air, plenty of exercise in the garden and sheer determination as a couple, we’ve re-written our next chapter and I am well enough to work, part-time again.

As a business speaker and mentor, I was doing something I loved, with people who were taking control of their future, determined to make positive change and life-time goals come true.  It seems there is already common ground when I take on the role of Celebrant for couples who want to make a life together.

As an adopted child, I was officially given the name of my new family on my brother’s second birthday.  Becoming part of a family as an adopted child gives you a new sense of belonging, of being part of a tribe.  Working with families to welcome new children into their world, perhaps after a second marriage that means step-kids will be becoming a larger family unit, fills me with excitement.

As a daughter-in-law, who wrote and held the service for her father-in-law, who deserved to be remembered by those who loved and cared about him, who knew his humour and his dreams, I want to support others in saying their good-bye in authentic words, with meaning and love.

Becoming a Celebrant has been my new chapter, and I hope it will allow me to be part of the next chapter in the lives of many families.

Dinah

The gift to myself of a clean slate for my mum-in-law

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I’ve known my husband for 31 years this month and by association, I’ve known his mother, Elma. Over those three decades our relationship has been interesting; we are both strong-willed women and at times we’ve clashed head-on whilst in times of crisis we’ve supported each other un-conditionally.

when John and I took the decision to live in Wales, with Elma, it was a life changing decision from which we knew there would be no going back. We knew mum would feel safer and less isolated if we lived closer to her, we knew we wanted this to be our last house move and we also knew it would be a challenge to find somewhere that suited all of us, with very different lifestyles. Our greatest concern was that we’d find it a huge challenge to live too close to each other, as we all like our own space and wanted to be sure that would be respected.

within a few weeks of Elma arriving in Wales, I began to struggle with our relationship; I found I was losing my temper frequently, feeling undermined and taken for granted. When I started to resent her for having fun in her volunteering work, which she goes to every day now, I knew I had to challenge my feelings or we were doomed to failure.

“I don’t know what to do differently” I said to John, “I’m doing everything I can to make this work, but mum is just driving me mad. She’s doing nothing to contribute here, she’s out enjoying herself all day while we’re working our **** off…”

This was one of those moments where I’m reminded why I love my husband and why we’re so good together; he helps me see things so differently.

“I know mum’s upset you over the years, I know she’s said and done things that really were pretty bloody awful, that you’re still unable to think about without getting angry or tearful. So how about letting it go? How about giving yourself the gift of a clean slate?”

“A clean slate? You mean what about forgiving her?” I was getting angry, could feel myself thinking that, yet again, I was going to have to back down for the sake of peace and quiet.

“Not forgiveness, you don’t really believe in that, you hang on to feelings and then you end up going over and over what it was that upset you. No, I’m talking about totally wiping the slate clean, behaving as if our life with mum starts here and now, today. No “history” together, no details of who had done what or said what in the past and no blame. A new beginning. How would that feel?”

i had to think about this idea for two days; mulling it over in my head, looking at why this might actually be a clever idea and also looking at whether I was able to stick with it, to actually let go of these memories that served no purpose in my life other than getting me angry and feeling hard-done-by.

This was about ego, my ego! This was me choosing to stay angry with Elma for things she’d said and done already, some of them many years ago. How was this serving me? What was I getting out of staying attached to this stuff? Honest answer – nothing positive or helpful was coming from it and it was making me stressed and not that nice to be around.

The following day, I got up with a new slate, fresh and clean in my mind.  I decided to give myself that gift, to allow myself to live in the moment and enjoy it for what it is, to experience my own joy and not allow my head-talk to go back to past experience, focussing instead on the now.

Six months in to our new lives, the slate is still clean and I’m possibly the calmest and most content I’ve ever been. I’ve learned something hugely important about how I had remained stuck because I dwell on things that seem ‘unfair’ that are not resolved. I’ve also learned that somethings will never be resolved, simply stirred up and re-lived with many different versions of people’s truth.

Wiping the slate was a real gift to myself, one of the most precious ones I’ve had. It has given me a new life and a new sense of happiness I had not experienced before. Who is holding you back and keeping you in a place of anger or self-doubt? Imagine what you could achieve if you started with a clean slate in that relationship…

My Saturday Choice

People tell me I am a great connector of people; a reputation I am proud to have.  I choose to connect great people whenever possible and it gives me a huge buzz when I hear about the results they create together.  For the next few Saturdays I am going to choose someone amazing I know and recommend that you find out more about them and then make a choice to connect with them on Twitter.  It’s a choice you will be glad you made!

This Saturday, I wanted to tell you about Matt Hodkinson.  I first met Matt at a networking meeting and he made an impression straight away; he works in Social Media and yet I found I understood what he was talking about!  He didn’t blind me with technical jargon and even more impressive – he backed up what he said with real examples and results.

I quickly discovered that Matt is different in his approach; he is a listener not a broadcaster and he applies this to his social media world.  He is a joy to work with and I have learned so much from him.  He makes me feel confident on-line and it is thanks to him this blog was started.

Matt, you are my Saturday Choice – thank you for bringing clarity and calm to the noisy world of social media for me.

Have a stunning Saturday
Dinah 🙂
You can find out more about Matt’s brilliant approach to social media  here