Saturday 1 August 2015

Civil Celebrancy and Me (1) | Identity, Disruption, Reorganisation, Retreats [For You]

I appreciate that this Blog has something of an identity crisis. On first sight it may appear to be an advertising/marketing tool for Arwenack Celebrants, on further reading some might view it as a (sociological) reflection on civil celebrancy, and yet others may read it as a grief memoir. It is of course all of these things because ultimately every text we produce is in some ways an auto/biographical endeavour involving not only intersections of the lives of those who write and those who are written about but also insights into the writer’s own history, interests and values.

My adult life has been peppered by experiences that following Michael Bury (1982) we might call ‘biographical disruption’. Bury’s analysis related to chronic ill-health which others have engaged with and extended to include bereavement, unemployment and other losses. Biographical disruption results in ‘the structures of everyday life and the forms of knowledge which underpin them’ being disrupted, if only for a time (Bury ibid). With reference specifically to death and bereavement:  my dad died when I was 20, I miscarried my only (to my knowledge) biological child in my mid-20s, my second husband died five years ago when I was in my very early 50s and three and a half years ago the person who was my main support and source of comfort throughout all of these (and other difficult) experiences, my mum, died. In addition, other extended family members and close friends have died over the years and as such I feel that I have had my fair share of loss and that I have become something of an expert in bereavement and grief, which includes, but is not limited to, what Robert Howell (2013) describes as the ‘significant reorganisation of one’s sense of self, for better or worse’ following the death of a significant other(s).

Unable to continue my job as a nursery nurse following my miscarriage I looked for something to fill my time with an A Level in Sociology helping to do this. I didn’t stop at an A Level and during my undergraduate degree, my doctorate, my 21 years of full time teaching and research and now my freelance sociological activities (undertaken alongside my work as a Civil Celebrant and my Blog and fiction writing) I have been conscious that not only did an experience of loss bring me to sociology but that sociology has been significant in the way that I ‘do’ grief and bereavement. So, my engagement with sociology has not only helped to shape my identity and influenced my experience of important life events and experiences but it’s also given me a language to articulate my feelings and reflections with reference to myself and others.
I am writing this – the first in a series of entries on my route to and particular engagement with civil celebrancy (and this Blog) – during my eighth or ninth stay (I’ve lost count) at Retreats For You Here is an extract from something I wrote following my second visit early in 2013:

My Retreats For You Desk
I am in Sheepwash, North Devon at Retreats For You . . .  I'm attempting to write a novel (a little revelation here) and like other writers of all sorts I find the welcome, warmth and supportive atmosphere here both stimulates and challenges me. . . . Deborah Dooley and Bob Cooper who run the retreat are looking after me, and providing me (in their effortless way) with good food, good company and lots of time to myself when I want it. It's late February and very cold. . . . [before going out for a walk I] look in the mirror and there she is, my mum  - my Dorothy - looking back at me. I am shocked but pleased and I take of my glasses (which I need for long but not short distance vision) to get a better look. It's the way the hat frames my face that highlights the features I've inherited from my mother. I'm usually compared to my father in looks. She's always with me, in my head and my heart. Now I see her in my face as well (Letherby 2015).

To be continued . . . 

Bury, M. (1982) ‘Chronic Illness as Biographical Disruption’ Sociology of Health and Illness 13

Howell, R. (2013) ‘I’m Not the Man I was: reflections on becoming a widower’ Illness, Crisis and Loss 21(1)

Letherby, G. (2015) ‘Bathwater, Babies and Other Losses: A Personal and Academic Story’ MortalityPromoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying 20(2)

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