Sunday 29 May 2016

Famous Lives, Ordinary Lives | Reflections on Grief and Memoriam

The best funeral services give us a real insight into the character and experience of the person who has died and give the bereaved an opportunity, not only to grieve but also, to celebrate the life of the person they feel the loss of. 

Recently I wrote and published a piece on focusing on some aspects of grief and memoriam. Here is an extract from it: 

Dead Famous, Famous Dead

. . . .

Because stories (of all kinds), music and other creative outputs affect us emotionally as well as cerebrally it’s not surprisingly that when an actor, singer, comedian, writer dies there is a certain amount (related of course to the fame and popularity (or opposite) of the deceased) of public as well as private grief. In recent months there has been a plethora of celebrity deaths with the baby-boomer generation, the rise of ‘celebrity’, and the easier access both to 24/7 news and public mourning, via the internet and social media, all being cited as possible reasons for both the rise of and responses to these events.

In reflecting on my own reactions to recent losses I I acknowledge that Ihave a good deal of sympathy for Ronnie Corbett’s family, agree with others that Prince was taken too soon, feel sadness at the loss of Terry Wogan’s wit and David Bowie’s music and experience significant grief following the deaths of Alan Rickman and Victoria Wood.  Having re-watched the Barchester Chronicles and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (saving Truly Madly Deeply for when I feel stronger) and gobbled up the television tributes to Ms Wood plus various YouTube versions of sketches she wrote and/or starred in I feel sadder still that there will be no further creations from either of them. Just as sometimes it feels impossible, despite my acceptance of the opposite, that I’ll never, see, touch or talk to my deceased loved ones again, it feels incongruous that Wood won’t write another funny, insightful song or Rickman won’t sneer or smile in that sexy way that no other actor can get close to. And whilst I don’t believe I’m the victim of what some might call pathological fandom I do feel that these individuals, although I never met them, where significant to me. They made me laugh and cry, they entertained me and gave me pause for thought, I respected and took pleasure from their achievements and felt some connection to their humour and politics.

When my husband John died I received a number of letters from people (some of whom I had never met) that, in his job as a lecturer he had supported, influenced, inspired. Similarly following my mum’s death several friends, including several I had not heard from for more than 30 years, spoke or wrote to me about the kindness and humour of my parents, highlighting their positive presence in the lives of young people other than me. Further evidence I guess that of the importance of those of us who live ordinary lives in terms of legacy and impact on the feelings, identities and life choices of others. 

Saturday 28 May 2016

Civil Celebrancy and Me 4 | Online Presence and Identity(ies)

Following my Civil Celebrant training, I, with the encouragement of my UKSOC tutor, began to engage much more than I previously had in and with social media. Having previously only dabbled in a lacklustre way with my twitter account, I now have an additional twitter account, a Facebook account and I forward these Blog entries to both of these. Here, in addition to writing about issues linked to Civil Celebrancy – e.g. clothing traditions and choices at weddings and funerals; cultural norms and superstitions; the important of place and space – more often than not with a sociological slant I’ve also written of loss and bereavement and the practices and processes of griefwork as identified by Deborah Davidson (2008) as the work we do with others. Recently I started to write on a sister blog Arwenack Cerebrals: writing, reading, thinking  on which I write about (amongst other things) my fiction and memoir writing. 

Obviously I am not the only one who finds Blog writing interesting, helpful, engaging. There are many examples of wellknown Blogs/Bloggers. For example:

Deliciously Ella

Also and increasingly there are also calls for academics to share their research findings in this format and/or via tweets for a more wide-reaching and immediate ‘impact’ on the world beyond the academy. 

My own social world engagement has made me think specifically about virtual world auto/ biographical practices. Within my dedicated Civil Celebrants twitter account I follow other celebrants and other people and groups with an interest in namings, various types of relationship commitment ceremonies and funerals. My dying and death online friends and ‘acquaintances’ (Morgan 2009) are particularly relevant here as Death CafĂ©, Final Fling, Kicking the Bucket, Funeral Funnies, Rated Wedding, WeddingHour etc., clearly report on auto/biographic practices. Many of those I follow and befriend are concerned with the things that Sociologists are – ritual and representation, presentation of self, identity, family practices, stigma and so on. And the social world itself is of interest to Sociologists and to Civil Celebrants in terms of how identities are presented and maintained during and after life. Interesting things to think about here include online memorials and continuing social media presence (I read recently that there are 500 dead people on Facebook), wedding flashmobs on YouTube and drop box accounts charting a child's progress; from birth, to naming ceremony and beyond. 


Davidson, D. (2008). A Technology of care: Caregiver response to perinatal loss. Women’s Studies International Forum, 31(4), 278-284.

Morgan, D. (2009) Acquaintances: The Space Between Intimates and Strangers Buckingham: Open University