We often associate photographers with capturing those milestones in life that are often linked with love and happiness – weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, get togethers, etc.
It may be worth remembering that funerals are also important life event. Death IS a big part of life……. It is something that will touch all of us at some stage.
Coronavirus has certainly turned our world upside down in more ways we could ever have imagined. One of those unforeseen ways has been the introduction of restrictions that now only permit 10 people to attend funerals.
For hundreds of years, across all traditions and cultures, funerals have been a beautiful way to acknowledge, celebrate and honour the life of a loved one who has passed away. They bring people together as a community, to show the grieving that they are not alone. They allow us to remember the dead, bring comfort to the living and are a very important part of the grieving process.
And when words are inadequate, it’s only natural that we would offer someone a hug or warm handshake; even just being present brings so much comfort to those who have lost a loved one.
But the impact of the Coronavirus is preventing these meaningful and important rituals around death from happening.
Families are having to make heartbreaking choices amidst their grief. Many families are having to choose to have a funeral with only 10 people in attendance and live stream it, or delay a memorial service to such time when more people can attend. This painful experience of trying to decide who will attend is causing extra anxiety for grieving families.
We understand these restrictions are absolutely necessary to keep everyone safe. But the untold cost of not being able to farewell a loved one in the way families imagined will be felt for many years to come.
Therefore the role of ritual and ceremony has become even more important.
Rituals are a series of actions carried out for a specific purpose. They give us familiarity and shared experiences, and they bring us comfort at a very difficult time.
Here are some of the ways that we can include others who are unable to attend and bring rituals to this unfamiliar changing landscape of funerals.
- Invite family and friends who are unable to attend to watch the service online. Even though they aren’t physically present, collective grieving still matters.
There are a number of companies available who can assist with this, including Belinda Jane Video Productions
- Ask those who are unable to attend to write a tribute to the person who died. This can be read by the celebrant or anyone else in attendance. This process can be quite cathartic for those who can’t attend.
- Invite everyone to send their favourite photos with their loved one so they can be included in the photo tribute. This acknowledges the relationship and the role they played in the lives of others.
- Place photographs of the deceased’s much-loved family and friends who can’t attend around the room where the funeral is being held. Although they aren’t physically there, the photos can be a reminder of the people that the deceased shared their life with.
- Invite others to contribute to some of the choices within the ceremony. This could include choosing music or a poem to be shared.
- Ask anyone who would like to write a letter or message that can be placed on the coffin.
- Ask everyone who can’t attend to light a candle at the time of the funeral.
The challenge is to find meaningful ways to create a beautiful and meaningful ceremony amongst the chaos.
I will certainly be encouraging any of my families I work with, to also have a memorial service at a later date.
Like funerals, memorial services give a wonderful sense of community, and offer an outpouring of support. Those who have suffered a loss can be surrounded by others to share memories together and acknowledge a life lived.
And after this is all over, we will be able to make up for lost time and give hugs freely to those we love, with a distant memory of a time we couldn’t do so.
People are often surprised to learn that this is a face, in an industry that most people hope they won’t need – but unfortunately we will all need to call upon it one day – the funeral industry.
Over the last 5 years, I have watched as the funeral industry slowly changes.
Families are now rejecting tradition and a “set format and insert-a-name” funeral service. They feel their loved ones deserve a more meaningful funeral.
Adding personal touches, such as special music, sharing stories, decorated coffins and adding personalisation helps create a funeral that is unique and not just the same “cookie cutter” style that people are familiar with.
I am honoured to play a part in this change and rise of alternative funerals, giving families choices, doing death differently and breaking down the taboo surrounding death.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory” Dr Suess
As a funeral celebrant, last week I conducted the funeral of a 44 year old wife and mother of 4 kids who sadly died much too soon.
During her beautiful service, we played 3 audio visual tributes with music and photos, so many of the photos displayed were of Nadine and her children.
This got me thinking about which photos my family would use given the same situation, as I don’t think there would be enough photos for even one photo tribute.
As a mother of 2 children myself and a keen photographer, I have 1000’s of photos but sadly very few with me in them.
As mothers we are a big part of our children’s lives but in very few photos.
And I am not alone…. I know lots of mums who are the family’s unofficial photographer, and who take lots of photos of the family on various occasions but often find a reason not to be in the photo.
We are our own worse critic and can easily come up with an excuse “I will take the photo”, “I look too tired” “I’m in my old clothes” “I need my hair done” “I feel frumpy”
Not every photo needs to be perfect. Social media has made us a little obsessed with making sure that every picture is perfect. And I am guilty of deleting photos because I don’t think I look good in them.
(This is the perfect example – I had just washed my hair and its still wet).
As Nadine’s children sat there watching their lives with their mum flash before them, they didn’t care that she didn’t have make up on, or perhaps wasn’t looking her best. All they could see was how much she loved and adored them. Memories that they will treasure forever.
One day, we won’t be here and the least we can do is leave our children some photographic evidence that we were there with them too.
It can be hard to savour the moment when you think there will be many more. We think there will be a next time – but what if there is no next time.
We really need to make an effort to be in more photos, do it for our children and how you want them to remember you.
Last weekend I was invited by the Melbourne Writers Festival 2018 to appear in two shows in this years programme.
The theme of this years festival was “A matter of life and death” and the programme included a wide variety of topics including Magda Szubanski attending her own funeral.
The ACMI Cube was transformed into a funeral parlour with a focus on topics of mortality.
During the first session I was invited to present was titled the “Final Page” and I co-hosted along with two lawyers on writing your will and penning your own eulogy.
During the session, I discussed the value of writing your eulogy and how this can benefit those left behind.
Photo Credit Dying to know Day.
During the second session, which was also held in The Cube at Federation Square, I was invited to be on a panel along with holistic funeral director, Libby Maloney, and Rabbi Noam Sendor, to learn about different Rites and Rituals for the dead.
We shared our experiences and opened the floor to an discussion about some of the practices around death and the dying process.
Both sessions opened up some rich thoughts and great questions.
I feel extremely privileged to have been invited to take part in such an amazing and wonderful event.
Fiona Garrivan Funeral Celebrant
Today marks 3 years since I conducted my first funeral. I will always remember it as it was for a little beautiful baby girl who was born sleeping.
What an incredible 3 years it’s been. I never imagined when I became a celebrant, that this career would take me on this path.
It is the most rewarding and humbling experience to remember those who have died and support those who grieve.
My families often remark that I don’t look like a someone who works in the funeral industry. And thanks to the support of all the industry partners I work with, we are working together to do death differently and with dignity.
I am fortunate enough to work with some of the best people in the industry – who do this job with real heart and compassion.
And I feel eternally grateful to each and every family, I have the privilege of looking after during such a difficult time in their lives.
Sleep peacefully baby Winter.