Surely a celebrant is only for happy occasions?
Yes and no. I am a mental health nurse of 25/6 years give or take (stopped counting when completing the new starter paper work for my nurses and realising they were born the year I qualified). I am trained in systemic family therapy and speak a lot as a celebrant about the life cycle and its resonance with my celebrant work. I am fascinated by the story behind people. Whatever the ceremony, there is a story. That story will involve the full range of human emotions. It is my responsibility to capture all of that life experience and blend it into a ceremony that captures the essence of the person/couple/people, and in the style they wish, so perhaps with a light touch and humour, compassion and sensitivity or just all out wild and whacky.
The charts – and not the hot 100 or top 40 either.
In the late 60’s two psychiatrists, Holmes and Rahe identified a list of stressful life events. They rated them and came up with a list of 43 life events that were associated with increased stress and by association, a vulnerability to mental ill health.
Drum roll….in at number 7 out of 43 is marriage!
Let me introduce you to Bridezilla. Now I dislike this phrase as it belittles the emotional journey of the bride(S)/groom(s) to be, but it serves to demonstrate a point. This phrase only arose as a result of the observations of what can happen to ordinarily quite relaxed and ‘reasonable’ individuals when they are in the throes of organisisng a wedding. There can be years of dreams about what your perfect wedding will look like. Unlike the fairy tales, it so often falls to the couple to bring that perfect, dream wedding together. Now let’s add in cost, competing demands of relatives, friends, bridesmaids and best men etc, then bingo , full house – it can be a volatile and stressful mix. You can soon start to feel a little out of control and overwhelmed. If you suffer from or have suffered from depression and anxiety, then this may be a time in your life when you need to be alert to the early warning signs and make space for yourself in your head.
Alongside a place in the top 10 list of stressful life events, comes gaining a new family member at number 14. Aside from the actual wedding, there is the complex social and emotional task of blending families. The in-laws, the adjustment to the changing nature of your relationship with close friends. If this is not your first marriage there may be the process of formalising your relationship with step children. The possibilities are endless, but the commonality is the emotional resources required to manage these transitions. “In sickness and in health”. This may be physical and mental health, but as a husband/wife/partner you will experience this at some point. It may challenge your relationship, but it can make you stronger as you find a support in each other.
Bride or groom. Don't be alone whilst surrounded by people on your wedding day. Chose your safe, anchor person. Agree ahead when and how they can check in whith you.
Drum roll……in at number 12 pregnancy.
Oh gosh. This really needs a blog of its own. For both the mother and father, having a baby is often a wonderful thing. New life, new hope. It is a special time. Let me tell you though as a mother of two children and a perinatal mental health nurse, that It is not all bouncing babies and joy. The joy can be punctuated by what is the most physically and emotionally draining time in your lives. Let’s look briefly at what is required of us. Functioning at maximum capacity on minimum sleep, grieving for the birth experience you didn’t have if you had a very traumatic delivery, hormones, a loss of sense of self and role, especially where a mother / father has worked or had a very full and independent life prior to parenthood, the changing relationship with your partner as you feel left out of each other’s lives all of a sudden, managing older children who have become a sibling, managing competing demands of friends and relatives who all want to visit and who may have same very clear thoughts and ideas on how to care for your baby and raise your children. They may not necessarily be your views on parenting. It may be that as a couple you have different views on parenting and this requires communication and negotiation.
A naming ceremony can be the perfect place to share your hopes and aspirations for your baby. These will be influenced by all your previous life expereinces, good and bad.
Mixed messages about the best thing to do for your baby. There is nothing quite like this to feed the beast that is anxiety. We want to get it right, but what is right? I’m going to let you into a secret. It’s top secret. There is NO SUCH THING as the perfect parent. It’s a lie, it’s a fable, it’s a fantasy. You are the best parent you can be. End of. Now that’s just between us right.
Mary Poppins take your umbrella fly away. Leave us mere mortals to our best endeavours.
Drum roll…..top spot and number 1 goes to the death of a spouse (though I would consider all loss and grief as up there).
The loss a loved one is a traumatic time. The space they leave and learning to fill it is a process. There are so many writings on the process of grief, but the most important take home message is that grief is a normal and healthy emotional, physical, cognitive, spiritual and cultural response to a significant loss. It is a deeply individual experience and the loss never leaves us, but our lives grow around it. It is not wrong to laugh and be happy whilst grieving. These two processes can coexist but people are often consumed with guilt if they start to experience moments of happiness again. We need to be alert to the early warning signs of depression and loneliness at times this this.
The loss of a loved one can be there in the background at other significant times in our life. Let’s consider weddings and births. If a significant person to you has passed away, you will want your celebrant to understand this when planning your wedding or naming ceremony. You may want to mention them, to acknowledge them in some way.
It really is OK not to be OK. To feel lost, overwhelmed and alone
What’s more, it’s normal. It’s human. We are emotional beings and our emotional health and wellbeing is just as important as our physical health. It needs the same amount of care and attention. Our age, culture, religion and social circumstances will all impact on how we manage our emotional and mental health, but as a celebrant and a mental health nurse what I can say is this; whatever your stage of life, whatever your experience, it is your story and you are you. If you are struggling It is not a shameful thing or something to be embarrassed about. It is the backdrop to where you are now. We can still celebrate, in fact, like the seasoning in cooking, it gives more meaning and depth to the ingredients, the celebration whatever the occasion.
My top celebrant tips for staying emotionally healthy and celebrating
Be kind to yourself and show yourself the same amount of compassion as you would to those you care for. Be wary of the negative inner voice. You wouldn’t say the tings to others that you say to yourself half the time!
Share it. Tell somebody. Trust me, it makes a difference.
3 am is a horrible time of the night. Everything feels catastrophic at 3am. Babies not sleeping, wedding plans feeling out of control, the empty space next to you in bed, finances, worrying about who you may have upset. You name it. 3 am is a beast. Te cause of your worry will not have gone or have been resolved in the morning, but it will have some perspective. You will survive this.
Make a comfort box. This is an actual box filled with things that make you feel better when you are struggling. It might have a favourite C/D or DVD, a bar of your favourite chocolate, bag of sweets, an old letter that has a lot of meaning, photographs of your loved ones, a miniature of your favourite tipple. The box will be unique to you.
Engaged couples - Take time out as a couple. Just a day. A wedding planning free day. Reconnect with each other.
Remember that ceremonies tend to occur at emotional times in our lives. Have one personal looking out for you during the ceremony. Agree with them a signal for when you need them to come and rescue you, even if it’s just for a 10 minute breather.
Your celebrant can be a source of support. Whilst not counsellors, we are impartial and take time to really listen and hear what you have to say. We are professionals and we want to get it just right for you.
Any emotion is a temporary state. It will move on.
Whatever the ceremony the only rule is your day your way. I live by the wise, wise words of Dr Seuss “ Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you”. You rock, you are valid, your feelings are valid.
There is always hope. You will ge there trust me.
Like the ocean, life will be choppy and unmanageable one day, but calm and easy to sail on the next