Small ceremonies

Updated: Oct 19

In these challenging times of limited celebrations, we seem to be drawn even more strongly by the need for ritual. Spread mayhem and destruction as it will, that virus will never kill our desire to note the big moments in life: the ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’, as we in the celebrant business like to call them.

During the past two pandemic years I have been lucky and privileged enough to help celebrate some tiny weddings – 5 people present, including me – and many more minimal funerals – 10 mourners plus me.

These ceremonies, stripped back to the very basics, have been incredibly moving and focused on purpose. The ritual distilled to a fine essence.

Forget the flowers, frocks, catering, video and photographers, planners, ribbons, new boots and panties, a tiny wedding at a couple’s home with one set of parents as witnesses and a Dad on Skype, captured the unadulterated heart of what Josh and Katie – I’m gonna call them that – wanted to do. They wanted to say the words, exchange the rings, sign the books and kiss. They were on a tight schedule: a baby due any day.

Tears welled in my eyes and in all our eyes as the words were uttered – un-miked, in a loungeroom, intimate as all get out.

10 people in a funeral setting designed to hold hundreds feels sparse, even cold. Everyone speaks quietly, hushed tones absorbed by lush carpet.

There is a lot more movement around the casket – rearranging of flowers and mementos, friendly banter, touching the wood, hugging. This would not happen in front of a crowd.

Once the ceremony begins, the camera rolls and we are all aware of the people watching online from far and wide. And this may well be a more common feature that continues long after restrictions are lifted. So, too, the memorial page on the website instead of a condolence book at the door. ‘Live’ in the room, however, it’s just the 10 of us and there is a strange freedom in that sparsity.

More people get up to speak – sometimes all ten of them. Despite the numbers watching online, the fact that they are speaking to 10 people in the room – usually the closest of family and friends – douses the anxiety of speaking in front of a big crowd. The speakers are less worried about stopping to cry, wipe their noses, taking a calming sip of water.

There are drawbacks, of course. No wake, no refreshments, no chance to continue the memories with the crowd and raise a glass in memory: to de-brief. No big laughs at the funny recollections. No applause after the video.

The big ceremonies will come back, of course, and I’m looking forward to the celebratory, explosive, sombre joy of them, but these small, intimate farewells of the lockdown era have been some of the most moving ceremonies it’s been my privilege to conduct.

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