March got off to a flying start with the Bristol Museum Death Fair. This was a fantastic event and one I was so proud to be involved with. Over 2500 people came through the doors that Saturday, which is amazing for an event about death, and the event was a showcase of some the most progressive Funeralcare professionals around.
There was a Death Cafe run by Bristol’s own Emma Edwards, a shroud demonstration by Divine Ceremony and Only With Love: an Oxford based Home Funeral Guide. Yuli Somme from Bellacouche came with her breathtakingly beautiful felt cocoons, and there were stalls with artist-crafted memorials and urns. The Natural Death Centre and also Final Fling, were on hand for advice. The atmosphere was fantastic, and it was a truly international event, one lady even flew in from Zurich. By the end of the day I was exhausted; totally talked out, but I felt euphoric, this event was a first for Divine Ceremony. I met so many people keen to find out more about what we do. The Museum curated a truly inspiring event and exhibition, and I take my hat off to the whole team for all their hard work.
In compete contrast to such a busy event, I also held my first family led Funeral Workshop. I have been running funeral workshops for a while, but never for a whole family. In this case there were 12 people, aged from 20 to 75 and they were connected by the family bond. At the start of the session, I asked them all whether they wanted to be buried or cremated. The results of the first poll were 8 for Cremation, 2 for Burial and 2 abstains. I took the poll twice more – in the middle of the workshop and again at the end. By the end, the results were swung completely the other way – 10 for Natural Burial and 1 for Cremation and 1 remained undecided.
I gave a talk on Advanced Decisions (formally known as the Living Will), and the workshop encompassed all the decisions that have to made after a death. We discussed all the options; Burial, Natural Burial or Cremation. Whether to use a coffin or a shroud. The role of music and poetry, and importantly, where to hold the ceremony. We explored the idea of a direct cremation; where the ceremony is held after the cremation, without the body of the deceased present.
As we broke for lunch, everyone called out a piece of music they wanted played at their funeral. One family member began to put all this into a list. The music was played as we ate soup and a sandwich together. The atmosphere was joyful – lots of laughter and an exchange of stories, family folklore and their differing opinions.
I can’t deny that there were some tears along the way; and this is understandable. It is a hard subject to broach. When you are young or have small children it is inconceivable that anything would ever happen to you – the small panics, the what if’s are feelings we usually push to the furthest parts of our minds. It is perhaps easier to imagine we are all immortal and some people found thisnharder than others. However, as the day drew to a close, someone brought out a bottle of champagne – and they made a toast to the family and their lives – however long they may be.
I left them all watching the rugby, laughing and joshing about who supported who. The air in the room was lighter. I like to think that’s because they had shared something together that day. When darker times arrive for this family they will be prepared. The memory of the day they all were brave enough to sit around the table, and discuss this most inevitable of events, will inform how they grieve and how they honour each other – but at that moment they put all that to one side, and they got on with cheering on their favourite team. Bravo ! … England won by the way …. Just saying.