Charles Cowling

 

Posted by Vale

One evening last month we lit some candles, sat by the fire with an old book of photographs and reminisced about my wife’s mother who had died just over ten years before.

It was the first time we had done anything like this, but, over the last ten years, we have lost three of our four parents and are having to learn for ourselves how best to remember. The idea of the quiet time and the candles was our first attempt.

Then, a few days ago, with enormous pleasure and surprise, I came across this from the Gail Rubin in her book A Good Goodbye:

Every January 10, March 16, May 4, and November 2, I light a candle in memory of Grandma Dot, Grandma Min, Grandpa Ben, and Grandpa Phil. I put a picture on my kitchen table, and light a candle next to it the evening before. For that day, I imagine that particular grandparent sitting in with my husband and me as we go about our business and talk about our day.

It’s as if they get a glimpse into our current lives and I feel their presence for that day…

Remembering is about continuity and wholeness. It is restorative. In secular funeral services we tell people that the only afterlife we are certain of is in the stories we tell, the memories we share and the influence we feel in our lives. In the early days remembering is easy but In our fast forward world we have few traditions and no habits of personal and individual remembrance. Life rushes us along and too often the person you have lost feels as though they have been left behind.

Gail lists lots of ways that we could make space in our lives for remembering: cemetery visits of course, but how about memorial obituaries in the newspaper, placing photographs in the room at family get-togethers like Christmas, even household shrines.

We need something – a time or a place, an action, a personal ritual – to make remembering real again. Maybe it’s about tangible memorials and those glorious crafted containers. Maybe its something more private and personal. I know that in March and April I will be lighting candles for my own mother and father. What will you be doing?

By the way we’ve blogged about Gail’s book before. It’s worth reading not least because it led to a great discussion about shrines in the home. You can find our original review – and a link to Amazon if you’d like to buy a copy – here

23
Leave a Reply

avatar
23 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
7 Comment authors
Jenny UzzellcharlesValegloria mundiKatie Deverell Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest oldest most voted
Jenny Uzzell
Guest

Yes, I do take your point. The academic world, along with the funeral world could do with a damn good shake up and restructuring. I’m up for it 🙂
I absolutely agree, knowledge should be free.
For what its worth, I’ve pais for every conferrence I’ve attended 🙂

Jenny Uzzell
Guest

Ah, I see where you are coming from now! Does not all knowledge ‘illuminate understanding, enrich knowledge or simply delight’ someone though? Its the idea that all ‘worthy’ research has some commersial value or brief that gets my goat!

Agree with you that all academic research should be freely available to anyone who wants it, otherwise what’s the point. Some universities require you to assign copyright to them when you submit…herein lies much of the problem!

Jenny Uzzell
Guest

Now here I take issue with you a little, I think. I agree completely that publically funded PhDs need to be of some use to the public, or at least to a significant niche within it. However, my biggest issue with the education system at the moment (trust me, you do NOT want to get me going on education) is that it is increasingly bound up with what fiscal value it has. We were even asked at one point to come up with a ‘vocational RE qualification’….WTF?? We desperately need a system where people are involved with education because of… Read more »

Jenny Uzzell
Guest

Hi, Vale
Yes, I think that is exactly it! There is no longer a body of shared belief of assumption that we all ‘buy into’ so ‘new rituals’ that are at all meaningful will be very personal and individual.

Charles, thanks for that…I am actually at the point where I am looking for possible areas to research for a PhD…that one is definitely going on the list! I am inclining towards looking at various groups and trying to find out what each one sees as the ‘purpose’ of a funeral. Hmmmm.

Vale
Guest
Vale

I feel grumpy because Mr Branson disconnected me for almost two days and I’ve struggled to follow this fascinating discussion. A murrain on his flocks I say! You were very right to pick me up up on my sloppy ‘post religious’ Jenny and I’m fascinated by the parallel with the latter days of Rome. I’m going to see if I can do some reading about that. It did crystallise my thinking though. I’d used post-religious as a shorthand for describing how some of us have moved past the point where Christianity sets the terms and boundaries of the discourse about… Read more »

Jenny Uzzell
Guest

I suspect we have along way to go before the British would be up for anything chaotic or Bacchanalian at a funeral…however helpful it may be. Perhaps I’m wrong, though!

gloria mundi
Guest

What a useful discussion this is turning out to be. Jenny’s point about places associated with death rituals being shunned except on necessary occasions: Patrick McNally (The Daily Undertaker, lovely blog)had a post ages ago (sorry – short of time to go and find it) about a crem+ cemetery in, I think, Canada, where they have arts and social events, try to make sure it is a centre for the community – but then, it is a lovely-looking modern building, whereas most UK crems are…Also, UK crems may bring in less money to spend on such. American funerals seem to… Read more »

Jenny Uzzell
Guest

Yes, Charles, I agree. The Mexican Day of the Dead is a Mexican ‘thing’ and wouldn’t translate wholesale into British culture. Personally I love the whole ‘sugar skull, Catrin and Catrina’ thing, but then, I am rather odd, and I have a spitituality that is perhaps best described as ‘eclectic’! I think what I really meant was that the sense of respect for and community with ancestors at a specific time of year is a ‘good thing’ that we would do well to take into our own culture and ‘normalise’, albeit in a very different way. It would, for example,… Read more »

gloria mundi
Guest

Jonathan’s eloquence, his future-wards look, and Katie’s delightful grounding in the family home, prompt me to chip in again. If there really is a developing sense of need for new rituals, then those needs will surely, eventually, evolve new forms? So maybe what is needed is the right sort of leadership and example, so more and more people understand the powerfully positive effects of a shared observance. Maybe yes, Vale, we could edge gently up against some rituals rooted in a religion other than ours and adapt them, eg diwali. After all, that’s what the early Christians did with pre-Christian… Read more »

Katie Deverell
Guest

Interesting I was reflecting the other day how lucky I was to have inherited cooking equipment and other things from my Grandparent’s. Roasts are always carved with Grandad’s carving knife and Nanny’s striped jug if used for custard! Birthday cake is always served on Granny’s wedding china plates and in that way they are with us for lots of family meals and celebrations. I have photos of family and friends that line my hall and it does encourage my own family and visitors to stop and ask about people. I do like taking special times out to remember people but… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

I, too, love GM’s words about the tilting of the earth in relation to the sun. We need to feel our ancestors’ presence in the ground we walk on and the air we breathe and the water that falls on our roofs and comes through our taps, as much as in our memories. To feel them in our bones, to know them. Come to that, if we’re to wake up and stop destroying the world, we need to feel our distant progeny walking in our wake… We can do so much more than just remember the dead; and yes, we… Read more »

Vale
Guest
Vale

Thank you for these thoughtful and thought provoking comments, both. There are two sorts of ritual aren’t there? The calendar rituals – Christmas, Easter etc. and the life stages – birth, puberty, marriage death. Life stages still retain all of their significance and we live in a world full of formal patterns of behaviour to mark them – although we are still finding new ways of expressing meaning in this post religious world. It is the old calendar rituals that are broken, it seems to me, but I am sceptical about the new paganism that goes back to the Belatnes… Read more »

gloria mundi
Guest

Absolutely Jenny, and that’s what we need to work at – not easy, is it?

Jenny Uzzell
Guest

Now that is a fascinating question, thank you! There does seem to be a revival of ‘folk’ tradition and the ‘new version’ is far more self conscious of its purpose and value than the old. Many ‘traditional’ cultures are keento move on and modernise, leaving their old traditions, often re-labeled as ‘superstitions’ behind. Very interesting. From our perspective, though, I supose that the important thing is that the revived or re-invented rituals have meaning and purpose and fulfil an obvious need in many people.

gloria mundi
Guest

Your not alone in that, Jenny, for sure.We need the rhythm and repetition of rituals to give shape to our lives. There’s a lot more interest now in seasonal, “pagan” (i.e. pre-Christian) dates and rituals, round here at least and no doubt other places too. We need to feel the earth tilting under us as it turns away from and towards the sun, as the seasons move round, and we need to mark those huge changes in our own lives, I feel. We need to feel a regular and repeated connection with those who have moved away from us. I’m… Read more »

Jenny Uzzell
Guest

Hi, Vale I have been reading through the archives on this blog over the last few weeks, and in the last couple of days I have been fascinated by past discussions about shrines. I have a couple of ‘shrines’ in my house which serve a variety of purposes (there again I am rather…ecclectic, and I did need a continuation sheet in the census for ‘religion’!) I do think that shrines of one kind or another (and not necessarily specifically religious) are of huge psychological and spirtual value. (spiritual is an interesting word, isn’t it?) I also think its a very… Read more »

gloria mundi
Guest

Thank you Vale, such an important – profound – topic.Nourishment for further thought and action.