June 16th 2015 saw the launch of Divine Ceremony. It was a gorgeous early summer afternoon. My friend Lou and I decorated the little boat that would later be taking a beautiful willow coffin up harbour, to signal the launch of my business.
Amanda Raynor and colleagues from Wyldwood Willow in Usk arrived with the coffin, and there were gasps from the watching crowd, sipping their pints at The Cottage pub on the harbourside. We settled the coffin in the boat, and stood back to admire our handiwork. A number of people stopped to ask what on earth we were doing.
I had been worried that bringing a coffin up river might offend some people, but my fears were unfounded. Everyone remarked how beautiful the coffin was, and they were full of support for my venture. Gary, the skipper and owner of the good ship Floss, was dressed in his sunday best. Along with his dog Marley, Gary took the helm, as Amanda and I clambered into the boat, on route to M Shed for the opening ceremony.
What a beautiful way to arrive – the early evening sun was kissing the waterfront and Gary switched the engine off, allowing the breeze to carry us upstream.
The main reason I had chosen to arrive in such a time honoured Bristol fashion was to honour my relatives and my family’s history on the water. However, it was also – and i am not ashamed to say – a slightly provocative act. I wanted people to see this beautiful coffin arrive. I want people to think about how they will arrive at their own funeral, and what their coffin will be like. It also happened to be slap bang in the middle of Bristol Big Green Week. Just 2 days before i had given a talk at Bristol Hub on Green Funerals, so this approach seemed the only way forward.
People lined up on the bridge waving, others stood outside the Arnolfini and along the dockside waiting for us to arrive. It was wonderful to see. The procession across Princes Bridge was quite something – it felt like a celebration and passers by were so supportive; clapping and smiling.
Once ensconced at MShed, the ceremony began. In many ways it was just how I would like my own funeral to be: lots of laughter, punctuated with beautiful poetry and dignified moments of reflection.
As I looked round the room at the people who had come to support my new venture, I felt a true sense of community. Not just my own close knit family and social circle, but also the wider funeral community I am lucky to be a part of. Those Coffin Makers, Celebrants, Artists and Memorial Artisans, who are there to help us in that difficult but all too inevitable time in our lives, when someone we have known and loved has died.
I am proud to say I am an Undertaker, proud to support my community. As my business has successfully taken its first, fledgling steps, I am so proud to say: I am here Bristol – Divine Ceremony has arrived.