Who am I during COVID-19?

Over the last year I have been considering the concept of identity as I have been moving away from my role as a midwife into new roles as a Celebrant and Yoga teacher. Taking on different roles can cause a blurring of boundaries and it was only when I spent time on a Celebrant retreat that I could dive deep and look at what I needed for internal shifts to take place and see that these three roles were not separate but connected and aligned together through my passion for relationships, human connection and spirituality.
This move was something I had planned and worked towards over two to three years and when I arrived and recognised I had achieved my aim, instead of patting myself on the back and acknowledging I had followed the path I had set out for myself I began to feel somewhat lost as this change took me from a world of familiarity and confidence with a strong identity into a time of transition, fear and lack of self belief.
It was good to have some clarity after the retreat, it was an alignment of moments, and it gave me the confidence and freedom to begin to be creative and stand in my strength in all three roles.

Tree Pose

Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and like many of us my identity has changed again. Everyone’s world has changed, and even if roles stay the same, the responsibilities and actions within these roles have changed. Parents have become teachers, everyone is online, people becoming temporarily or permanently unemployed, couples remain engaged instead of married, retired NHS workers return to roles they said farewell to and families change enormously, losing loved ones without saying I love you and goodbye.

I was just beginning to build up my funeral celebrancy practice when social distancing measures were put in place and pregnant women were included in the high risk category and so I decided at that time, weeks before lockdown, to pause my funeral celebrancy practice and step back into my midwifery practice and also teach my yoga for pregnancy classes online. It did not seem right to be moving between the two roles due to the increasing risks.
The way funerals are being conducted now has changed dramatically and the situation is evolving on a daily basis.

Before donning PPE

As our roles and identities are turned around and upside down we may choose to take a little time to reflect on who we want to be during this time, recognising that we have had little choice in the decisions and the changes that we have had to make. On the whole we are choosing to comply with the decisions and changes for the greater good but we can still be angry, depressed and find difficulty in accepting the situation we find ourselves in. As David Kessler states here, this is a time of ‘different griefs’ and great discomfort.
I came across this info graphic, based on the comfort zone – growth zone model, recently that reminded me of models or cycles of reflection. To me these are layers of overlapping circles without a linear trajectory, we do not move in one way from fear to growth or action. We move back and forward between the zones hourly, daily, weekly just like Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Loss …. and that’s ok, that’s very normal right now.

As Kessler reminds us ‘this is a temporary state’ which we may go on to find ‘meaning’ in. He discusses this sixth stage of grief after he experienced grief for himself and did not want to stop at acceptance.

I don’t know about you but I am not even at acceptance right now. It’s just one day at a time for me, trying to be patient, holding space for others and acknowledging I am surviving, maybe even thriving in some ways, but not in others. I may feel I know who I want to be but who knows who I will be after Covid-19.

Stay safe and well x

Giving back to the earth ……

I took a trip to the beautiful Binning Wood in East Lothian the other day and spent some time at the Memorial Wood.

The natural burial site is a 10 acres of towering Beech trees that sits within the historic 300 acre Binning Wood, East Lothian.

The memorial wood is in a wonderful location and is such a peaceful place where one feels welcome to linger and contemplate, consider and spend time with those at rest. Dotted with small inscribed memorial stones amongst the leaves, which subtly mark the graves you can lose yourself in this labyrinth allowing time to slow down, letting your mind gently still and your heart to fill with remembrance. It was a shared experience for us today, a group of midwives remembering and paying respects to a midwifery colleague who chose to be buried at Binning.

For all at Binning from my garden

Spending time at Binning Memorial Wood got me thinking about how we are all reviewing our carbon footprint in different ways as we go through life but what about in death. Considering the impact a funeral might have on the environment is something many people are beginning to do. This environmental impact isn’t just about reducing the processes and activities we use for funerals in a bid to make them greener but in choosing natural burial we are also contributing to preserving flora and fauna and ensuring the land has a positive future.

Binning Memorial Wood

When the area at Binning is full it will revert to natural woodland but will always remain a memorial wood, protected and preserved. This is another way that those who choose a woodland burial can ensure their commitment to the environment continues long after they have died.

http://www.binningwood.co.uk/about/

http://www.greenergoodbyes.co.uk

http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk/index.php?page=future-sustainability-of-natural-burial-sites

Dead Good Film

Me and my Gladioli last summer,
flowers that symbolise strength and moral integrity

The Glasgow Film Festival hosted Rehana Rose’s documentary Dead Good Film last week and I went along with my daughter.

Motivated by a series of bereavements in her life Rose was moved to explore the world of funeral directors. She interviewed and spent time with many companies but only two agreed for filming to take place ‘behind the scenes’. The families, their experiences and the funerals were documented beautifully, and it was very thought provoking for me. I know I harp on about the parallels of the birth world and the death world but this film confirmed that connection even further.

The funeral directors she did document were very inspiring. Especially Arka. I loved their philosophy. They were so grounded, compassionate, empathic and they weren’t playing a role, it was their vocation, part of their identity. It was all so wonderfully simple, caring, beautiful and empowering. As Cara, from Arka says :

” I come from a world of empowering people and want to continue that in the funeral world’.

Yass!! That is midwifery talk. The staff at Arka work in partnership with, and facilitate choice for, families just as midwives do for childbearing women, their partners and their families. Arka are midwives. Death midwives.

Midwives and funeral directors have history

Search far enough back in history and you will find the local village handywoman or midwife performed laying out and childbearing services. As part of the evolution of midwifery, The Midwives Act 1902 prohibited the dual role but in 1907 it was amended allowing midwives to lay out after securing permission from the local supervising authority. This was thought to be due to demand from the bereaved townspeople and villagers. They were insistent that the washing of the dead be undertaken by someone known to them.

At that time it was the local joiner who became the ‘undertaker’. They had the tools, the space and the skills for coffin making. The handywoman would lay out the deceased and perform the last offices, attending to both the deceased and the bereaved. The undertaker would make the coffin and deliver it to the house where the deceased would rest in the front room or parlour until the funeral.

Advocates

Here we are in 2019 and Rehana Rose’s film, and the discussion after, certainly highlighted to me all the varying needs the bereaved may have and more saliently, that this is important, must be recognised and at this time in families lives they may need the support of someone who is also an advocate.

To me, being an advocate is about honesty, information and respecting the right for people to be informed, have choices and make decisions. As midwives, funeral directors or celebrants we must appreciate that these rites of passage and rituals, whether it is birth or death, also need rites of protection. When you understand, believe and support the concept of informed choice, which is underpinned by human rights, you empower. With empowerment, even through grief, community, communication, companionship and human relationships can only be enhanced.


Go see this film.

https://www.arkafunerals.co.uk

https://pushingupthedaisies.org.uk

Dead Good Film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dlshemr9qLA

Opening nationwide May 2019

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_midwife

Death grief and Poverty in Britain 1870-1914 J M Strange