Teddy’s last task……..

When I picked up my messages from the answerphone that day, I felt my heart skip a beat listening to the funeral arranger’s voice asking if I would be free on the 1st September to take a double funeral for Ethan and Joshua, aged 13 & 11.

I immediately knew who she was talking about as it had been all over the local news that these two boys had been killed in a terrible accident alongside their Mum and step sister.

It was past 5pm and so I had the evening to ponder my reply before calling the next morning to say yay or nay. A part of me just wanted to say “No” to not have to deal with the trauma and grief that I already knew was going to be immense. And I knew I would say “yes” because if it felt difficult to me, there was no imagining what it must be like for the boys Dad and other close family and friends.

There was a large crowd gathered outside the chapel as the two hearses pulled up, the first carrying Ethan, a great sic-fi lover is his “Tardis” coffin and the next with Joshua who loved lego, in his colourful lego brick designed coffin. stunning black and white photographs accompanied them and many many floral tributes.

As soon as the cars came into sight the crowd fell completely silent, school friends, teachers, family, neighbours the hush was all encompassing as we watched the slow approach. The silence stayed, the shock and pain palpable, as the final preparations were made, flowers brought into chapel, candles prepared, trestles set out to bear their precious loads.

I was doing okay, nervous, but very well prepared emotionally and practically, the ceremony read and re-read, tweaked and re-tweaked every word carefully thought through and filled with as much grace and love as is possible in words.

One final thing to do before we started, and this last thing was to almost be my un-doing. I had the sacred task of collecting Ethan and Joshua’s teddy’s from the hearses, to take into chapel and place next to the candles, which their Dad would light to mark the beginning of the ceremony.

I picked each of them up with utmost tenderness. they were so well loved, you know how it is, soft from years of being stroked, grubby from the tears and laughter of little boys who have shared their joys and fears and deepest secrets with them. I carried them to the place where they would sit alongside their beloved owners in the chapel, for their closing duties as confidant, comforter and friend. With an aching heart I left them there to return outside to bring their boys, Beautiful Ethan and Joshua into chapel for their final journey.




Hello again……..

Hello again……..

“Let memories surround you, a word someone may say
Will suddenly re-capture a time, an hour a day,
That brings him back so clearly as though he were still here,
And fills you with the feeling that he is always near……”

These are lines from a poem I often hear read at the ceremony of a loved one.

They came to mind this week when I decided it was time to pursue a desire to learn watercolour painting. A quick rummage in the garage secured a dusty old folder filled with my Father’s art equipment, brushes, paints and then an unexpected treasure…… his little journal of paintings and writing.

As I gently opened it, a flood of memories erupted. just the sight of his unique handwriting  started the tears flowing, and then his hesitant brush strokes as he captured his vision of what lay before him. I remembered his delight at being asked to teach classes at the day hospice he attended weekly during the final months of his life. A novice painter himself, he shared his love of colour and form with fellow life limited clients and together they put together an art exhibition, much admired by family and friends as a window into their precious twilight time with us.

As I sat turning over the pages, he was back at my side, just as he always was, a gentle loving presence, so tangible, so humble, a moment together again. When these bitter sweet unexpected gifts drop in my lap, I know that we are never really apart, just fully present in different forms, forms that can transcend time and space in the blink of a tear filled eye.

You can’t take it with you…..

You can’t take it with you…..

When I am talking to a bereaved family about the person who has died, I am collating information so that if the family need me to, I can write a fitting tribute for the funeral.

One of the questions I always ask is “what gave this person’s life purpose and meaning?” There are several recurring themes in the answers….

  • Family & Friends
  • Helping others
  • Being outdoors in the garden or in nature
  • Love
  • Laughter
  • Music

“Stuff” is hardly ever mentioned! I have yet to hear that a car, house, watch, designer handbag or the latest X Box game has actually enriched someone’s life. People talk about shared experiences, travel, breaking bread with those they love, laughing together, crying together, even the comfort experienced through shared sorrow becomes a nourishment for the soul.

So as I reflect on dealing with death and dying in 2016, I will remember that as soon as I buy someTHING, it becomes old, and yet each time I have a new experience, it becomes a memory that I can return to again and again, stored forever in the garden of my soul, until the moment I leave this world behind.

Numbers Don’t Matter

Numbers Don’t Matter

There were just twelve of us present to say goodbye to Betty. We sat in a small semi-circle at the front of the chapel close to her coffin. After a few opening words and a lovely poem that had been sent to one of her daughters the family wanted to have a little time to simply share some memories.

One of the reasons for such an informal gathering was Donald, Betty’s treasured husband of 61 years. Donald has Vascular dementia. He had, however suggested he might like to say a few words at Betty’s funeral.

When the time came, one of his daughters suggested he share a few memories about “Mum” Donald happily started to regale us all with tales of his own Mum, rather than of Betty. He was reminded of his sacred task, and soon there wasn’t a dry eye amongst us as he spoke of his love for Betty.
We ended the sharing by reading a valentines poem that Betty had written for Donald so many years ago, and then listened to a rendition of “Donald Where’s your troosers” a favorite much loved song, to loud foot tapping and laughter!

A gentle committal followed and a few quiet minutes with Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable”

To close the ceremony everybody placed yellow roses and freesias on Betty’s coffin, a parting gift for her to take on her final journey.

Funerals can be short or long, crowded or quiet.
All that really matters is the people present feel content that they have said “Goodbye” in the perfect way for them.
God Bless you Betty.


The Madness of Grief

The Madness of Grief

“I feel like I am going mad”
This is a recurring theme in my work with bereaved people.
It seems madness is perceived as a “not good” place to be, and yet the very nature of grief almost inevitably causes chaos, physical, emotional and spiritual chaos.
As Dr Bill Webster often says, “death is usually an unwelcome and unwanted event”, it immediately throws the life of those around it into disarray, and trying to make meaning of it can often increase the sense of isolation and disconnection to others around you despite their best intentions.
The feeling of madness seems to centre around an inability to grasp what life means anymore as the structures, form and beliefs about life come crashing down.
The grief journey is about re-building all of those things. It is akin to putting together a very complicated jigsaw without a picture as no-one can tell you how this new life without the one you love will look.
My work as a bereavement counsellor focuses on staying alongside my client, no matter what, sitting beside them in even the darkest places, sliding into the abyss with them lamp held high, shining a light for them to find the way back out and rejoicing with them when they start to find the bits of their jigsaw that fit, piece by piece
to start the process of creating a new normal, a different life.


What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Whilst training at the Interfaith Seminary, I spent many hours pondering on whether I would use the title given to my at my ordination of “Reverend”.After helpful input from my family, such as “perhaps irreverent” would be more appropriate, I decided I would only use it when it might be helpful (and when buying plane tickets in the hope I  might get upgraded –  hasn’t happened yet!)

In the years I have been visiting bereaved families I have been called many things…… The Vicar, the Minister, a civilist, a celebrator, a celebrity, a humorist, a humourus, Mrs Warren, Carole, She and, that woman, to name but a few.

When I arrive at the crematorium, on different days I might be, a civil celebrant, a humanist or a Minister.

I have learned that all that really matters about my name is that people can connect to me through it. There is no need to immediately correct or make clear my title, because it just doesn’t matter. As we talk and connect and learn to trust each other through the process of co-creating this precious end of life ceremony, I learn about them and they learn about who I am, which matters much more than what I am called.

So call me what you will, and I will heed that calling, and come with all my names and be whoever you need me to be.



choicesblogNormally being asked to take a funeral ceremony for someone who has died through suicide is a rare occurrence. However this last month I have taken three such services in very quick succession.

Is suicide a decision, long thought out, through days and weeks and months, or simply a moment when there is no other choice to make, or even perhaps no choice to make, just an action that ends in death?

No doubt there is a different answer to each and every life that ends in suicide. Just as there is a different reaction in the lives of each and every person who has loved these people.

For one family there was relief. Relief that the years of waiting as they put it “for the impending train crash” were over. The worst thing that could happen, had happened and now they could begin the process of living a different life altogether.

For another family, utter desolation that they could not change the trajectory that depression had taken their beloved son along, despite valiant and constant efforts to help and persuade, death had won the battle.

And for the third family, shock and fury and disbelief, desolation and endless questions.

Amid all of these heart wrenching  circumstances there seemed to be endless synchronicity, those moments of divine intervention, when something somewhere calls from the universe, sometimes a quiet whisper other times a loud and almighty thunderous bellow.

For the family of a beautiful 19 year old girl who loved snow, it was the first snow of this winter falling for the brief 15 minutes it took the horses to draw her flowered coffin to the chapel. For the parents of their 35 year old son who loved all things Russian it was a Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn prayer found and read by his best friend at the funeral.

And for the family of a 50 year old man whose only solace from his alcoholism came in nature, it was the sudden and constant sighting of a young fox cub in the garden.

Seen as signs or signals from beyond this life, these moment of Grace bring a belief that somehow there must be more to life than just this physical existence. Whether it is true or not is of no matter to me, they bring comfort, they bring momentary relief from the agony of early grief and for that I am truly grateful

“How easy it is to live with You, O Lord.

How easy to believe in You.

When my spirit is overwhelmed within me,

When even the keenest see no further than the night,

And know not what to do tomorrow,

You bestow on me the certitude

That You exist and are mindful of me,

That all the paths of righteousness are not barred.

As I ascend in to the hill of earthly glory,

I turn back and gaze, astonished, on the road

That led me here beyond despair,

Where I too may reflect Your radiance upon mankind.

All that I may reflect, You shall accord me,

And appoint others where I shall fail”

~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Not My Grief to Bear”

“Not My Grief to Bear”

People often ask me how I do the job that I do, dealing day in day out with people who are in the first throes of profound grief, walking alongside them as they plan a farewell ceremony that they often don’t want to engage with and even more often feel like they cannot bear.

Interfaith Ministers each write their own vows, their personal commitment and intention for their work as a Minister. Part of my vow was “to willingly work in service of God’s Holy will” and as I moved into the arena of death and dying it very quickly became apparent to me that I could not be in service of others if I allowed myself to be even the tiniest bit self indulgent of my own emotions.

Throughout my life I have had my own griefs to bear, losses that have shaped my life and taught me about empathy and compassion, and I have spent time with each one, journeying, learning and healing. Now, I am thankful that each of those deaths endured has given me a unique gift and insight into some of the processes my clients are experiencing and enduring.

Thus to truly be of service in my work I live by the mantra “this is not my grief to bear” I walk alongside my clients, I am prepared to sit in the darkest places with them without fear holding the light that can guide them, to help them see the best way forward and through the experience of planning a farewell ceremony and sometimes on through bereavement counselling as they move into a new and different life without the one they love.

I sometimes feel so sad as I bear witness to unbearable loss, I feel the pain of others feelings of anger and injustice. However I also experience immense joy when people feel the funeral was absolutely the best it could have been, whatever the circumstances and the deepest most profound feeling is always gratitude, that day in day out I can fulfill my vows doing the work I love.


The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye

Journeying with a relative or friend with dementia involves losses over days, weeks, months, years and sometimes decades. As the person disappears into a different way of being, the people who love them have to come to terms with a little less of the person they once knew with each passing moment.

So when the person finally leaves this world altogether, there are often very mixed emotions. At many levels the family have already said goodbye so many times to so many different parts of them, and yet the there is still the inevitable sadness that comes from the loss of someone so loved, from their sight.

There can be a cumulative grief, a kind of coming together of all the small losses into an almost overwhelming grief, that often takes the family by surprise as they may have come to believe that they were well prepared for this final loss.

Relief might be present as well, especially if the journey has been challenging and traumatic, causing deep suffering to the sufferer and those who have journeyed alongside them.

And so the funeral is an especially poignant and important part of the healing process. Moving beyond the immediate years of the Dementia and looking back over the person’s whole life, the life when they were able to be fully in relationship with those who have loved them.

This reminiscing rekindles a remembering of all that was, that might have become blurred in the immediacy of Dementia care, and brings back to life so many forgotten aspects of the person’s life.

The ceremony can then become a celebration of a life, with acknowledgement of the Dementia as an integral part of the journey but not the defining feature.

I was offered these words of wisdom from a family who had spent over ten years with their mother who had Alzheimer’s…. “If you are going to laugh about it later, you might as well laugh about it now” This was how they had coped with their personal journey, and are words that I have often reflected on and put to good use in my own life!

The Grave Incident of the Car Key

The Grave Incident of the Car Key

There is nothing quite like a funeral to make people giggle!

In this first post under the heading “it shouldn’t happen……..” I will tell you the tale of the car key and the grave.

Picture a cold blustery day at the cemetery. I have just finished a gentle and dignified graveside service for an elderly gentleman. His grieving widow is standing next to me and as the ceremony ends she starts to cry quietly. I immediately notice that she hasn’t got a handkerchief or tissue, and so, being a good girl scout sort of celebrant, I pull out an ever ready clean tissue from my pocket.

Unfortunately in same said pocket is my car key. It flies out of my pocket and in the swiftest of moments,although it seems like a lifetime in slow motion, I watch with utter horror as it lands with a loud CLUNK on top of the coffin 6 feet down in the grave!

A moment of complete silence as I look at the small group of people gathered around the graveside……. The first thing I notice is the funeral Directors face, contorted with the effort of trying not to laugh out loud. Smiles turn to titters, titters to giggles and then relentless and merciless laughter engulfed us all! The son of the deceased explained that he would enjoy dining out on this story for years to come!

When the congregation had finally left the cemetery, a tricky task lay ahead. Could I find the manager of the cemetery to engage his help to retrieve the key, BEFORE, the grave diggers arrived to back fill the grave with several tons of earth…..

Racing around the graves in a very hurried and undignified manner I finally located the chap who could help. He cheerily accompanied me back to the grave with a very long “grabber” like a super long litter picker, which he lowered into the hole to pick up the key.

He explained to me that items falling into the grave was not an uncommon occurrence (who would have known!!) and that over the years he had used his extraordinary retrieving skills to pick up false teeth, glasses, handbags, jewellery, cuddly toys, hats, scarves and other various items of clothing (???)

I contacted the family a couple of days later to see how they were doing and to apologise for the “key” incident. They told me that Harry would have thought the whole thing was hilarious and that they wouldn’t have been a bit surprised to know that he had lent a hand in this divine comedy. That made me smile too, I hope if Harry was watching he enjoyed his last laugh at my expense.