Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

It's snowing heavily outside and everywhere is quiet. No sounds of traffic or footsteps, as the big white blanket places everything on 'mute'. I'm taking a minute to appreciate how lovely that is, as I try to drown out the worrying voice inside my head that is saying "You've got to drive 160 miles to conduct a funeral tomorrow" and "Will all my family be able to make it Christmas Day?" And I'm still missing two parcels...
I'm doing my best to evoke positivity, and that's something I need to put at the top of my list of New Year's Resolutions. I saw a great example of extremely positive thinking this week – Frank Sinatra's epitaph on his memorial stone reads 'The best is yet to come'. That really is being optimistic in the face of adversity! Obviously its meaning is more subtle than that. But it's a rosy belief I'm taking with me into 2011.
Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you all (that's my four lovely followers and anyone else who has stumbled upon me the last couple of months!) have a wonderful time and that 2011 is everything you hope for. In the meantime, I'll leave you with my favourite festive joke...
Two snowmen in a field. One says to the other "Can you smell carrots?"
Happy Christmas!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Razzle frazzle

We're having family come to us this Christmas. It will be lovely, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing everyone. But in an attempt to 'put on a show' and create a memorable day (à la Phil and Kirsty), I've gone into organisational overdrive to prevent anything going wrong (à la Laurel and Hardy). And coming from someone who is affectionately known as The Queen of Lists, that's really saying something. And the result of me whittling on about food ordering, cooking pan sizes, delayed parcels, and the potential for travel disruption, has left me feeling stressed and, as my other half will testify, a tad grumpy.
However, what's stopping me from throwing open the front door every morning, grabbing the postman and screaming "What have you done with them?!!!!", is a phrase used by many people in times of crisis, when looking to keep things in perspective – 'no-one's died'. And as I prepare for all my December funerals, including one for a 14 year old, never has that been more appropriate.
I don't want to sound all worthy, high-minded and righteous "Oh, I work with grieving people and that's soooo much more important than worrying about how many sprouts to cook". I will always worry about how many sprouts to cook. And whether we should offer cream AND custard with christmas pudding? And does anyone actually like bread sauce? But, like Ebenezer Scrooge, I am privileged to have an insight into how my Christmas might look if one of my loved-ones were missing from my immaculately set table. And suddenly, worrying about veg portions comes down the list of priorities...

Monday, 13 December 2010

To be or not to be...

I went to see a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet last night. It was broadcast to my local Art Centre from the National Theatre, with Rory Kinnear playing the tragic Prince of Denmark. It was fantastic, even though there were times when I felt I was watching a foreign language film without the subtitles. Hamlet isn't a play I've studied, and, while it's not difficult to get the gerneal gist of what's going on, it would have added to my enjoyment if I'd understood everything that was being said! So I've added a Hamlet study guide to my (ever-expanding) Amazon wish list, in the hope that all will become clear.
Shakespeare wasn't kidding when he called this a 'tragedy'. By the end of the play I think there were at least nine deaths (not including poor Yorick), involving stabbings, suicide, poison, and duels. There are plenty of moving references to death - Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' soliloquy is stirring stuff, as is Ophelia's descent into madness and Gertrude's beautiful description of her death by drowning 'There is a willow grows aslant a brook...'.
For a prime literary example of the effects of grief, look no further. If only Elsinore had a branch of Cruse...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

First, last, everything...

I've just got home from leading a funeral ceremony, where I read out a last letter from the deceased. This was a 'first' for me. And, I have to say, it took all my powers of concentration to keep my voice steady. I did have a slight tremor by the end, but I think the family and friends gathered there were moved to see me moved, as it were.
The lovely lady in question had written the letter when she was first diagnosed with cancer, and her children found it among her things. The letter was incredibly poignant, not just because it contained the thoughts and emotions of someone who knew they were going to die, but because the feelings expressed were so uplifting and inspirational. She expressed gratitude for the years she had lived, the joy of sharing those years with her family and friends, and asked everyone to be positive, celebrate her life, and remember what a lucky girl she had been.
So many people say to me "I couldn't do your job - how depressing!" But it's not. I drove all the way home today thinking what I lucky girl I had been – to be given the honour of reading those words on behalf of a lady I wasn't privileged to meet, to a roomful of people who had lovingly accompanied her through life and to whom it meant everything.
On days like today, I've got the best job in the world.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Comfort and joy

I put the Christmas decorations up this weekend. A mixture of shop-bought favourites and some home-made additions, including a bowl of pine cones picked during a holiday in the Scottish Highlands earlier this year, and some green felt Christmas trees for the fireplace. Now, I am under no illusions that I have any great talent for crafts (for that you need to visit one of my lovely followers Ric-Rac, but I love the peace of mind and sense of satisfaction that comes with making things. Whether it's sewing, knitting, baking, or some other 'home-made' activity, I find myself entering a calm, creative, blissful state. My mind is occupied, my hands are engaged, and, as I immerse myself in the pattern or recipe, I feel (dare I say it) quite serene!
So as I sank into the sofa yesterday evening, surveying my handiwork, the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights matched the warm (slightly self-satisfied) glow I felt inside. Oh tidings of comfort and joy, indeed...