Musings of an Edinburgh Celebrant: Grief on pause

“There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.”


As a member of a shielding family, I have been watching in awe over the past few months as my fellow funeral celebrants and funeral sector colleagues go to herculean efforts to support families through incredibly challenging times. 

Funerals have been stripped back to the bare minimum to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Attendance numbers have been restricted to immediate family only and shielding relatives have been advised not to attend. Physical distancing measures are in place with all attendees spaced 2 metres apart. Everyone attending must adhere to a stringent no contact policy with each other or with anything in the room, including the coffin. They may also be following the Government guidance to wear masks in enclosed spaces.

These measures are understandable in that they have clearly been an important part of the prevention of further illness and deaths from Covid-19. However, they have come at a huge emotional cost despite the valiant efforts of all involved to ease the process for families and create a loving and memorable tribute to the person who has died.

Families may feel they have been unable to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones. Friends have been unable to attend the funerals of the people they cared deeply about. Those who have been able to attend have been restricted in how they are able to express their grief and sympathy. Many have suffered from the lack of connection with others during this time. Too many mourners have had to face their loss and grief alone, without the much-needed support of their wider friends, family and community. 

Being given the freedom and flexibility to pay tribute to a loved one who has died is incredibly important and a crucial part of coming to terms with our loss. In these past months, too many families have been unable to spend time with their dying relatives and friends in their final days or weeks. Too many grieving individuals have been forced to retreat from the comfort and support of family and friends at a time when they need it most. It is heartbreaking to see so many struggle to cope with the necessary restrictions about how they must celebrate the life of the person they love – with no opportunity to rest a hand on the coffin of the person they loved, no chance to remember together with family and friends, no opportunity to have hugs from those closest to them. 

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter

In this time of physical distancing and isolation, it feels as if the world is on pause… like we are all taking a collective deep breath in and waiting until it is safe to exhale fully and deeply. Grief too has been suspended, interrupted. Countless people are facing the impossible task of moving forward in grief without access to the support, rituals and activities that would have helped them process the death of the person dear to them. It is essential that we find ways to ease this pain and support families in coming to terms with their loss.  

As Celebrants, my colleagues and I at Agnostic Scotland are hopeful that we can play our part. We are being asked by families who have been unable to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones to conduct Memorial Ceremonies for them, once physical distancing restrictions are relaxed and we can move safely through the Scottish Government Route Map Phases.

A Memorial Ceremony can take many forms. For some, a poignant, intimate ceremony with only very close family and friends present may feel right. For others, an epic celebration with a gathering of wider friends and family could sound perfect. Memorial Ceremonies can take place in beautiful outdoor locations, in the comfort of your home, in community centres or town halls, or in grand hotels. The content of a Memorial Ceremony is entirely your choice. Each ceremony is crafted to entirely reflect the person being celebrated – their stories, their personality and their beliefs, values and wishes. 

Importantly, a Memorial Ceremony gives families the chance to come together in grief. It is an opportunity to honour and fully celebrate the life of the person who has died, to share stories and make toasts, to send blessings and reflect. It is a chance for grieving families to begin to make peace with the passing of the person they cared deeply about. 

For every Memorial Ceremony we conduct this year we plant a tree in our Agnostic Scotland Grove in the Highlands in honour of the person being remembered. We also donate 10% of our fee to the UN Refugee Agency Covid-19 Appeal. For those unable to cover the cost of a Memorial Service we may be able to help through our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund.  

While memorials can’t take place just now due to restrictions there are ways that loved ones, families and friends can take a moment to remember those they have lost. St Pauls’s Cathedral has launched Remember Me, an online book of remembrance for people of all faiths, beliefs or none. Funeral Celebrant, Rosalie Kuyvenhoven and Sacred Stones support a Candlelight Vigil, Mondays at 8pm via Instagram. An online gathering organised by has been postponed but will be rescheduled so click on link to find out more.

There are also many resources, advice and support available via organisations such as National Bereavement Alliance and the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care

with love,

from Onie and all of us at Agnostic Scotland

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