& why I hate that saying
I’ve set an image here of my first wedding after lockdown. I cried so much because of what it all meant.
My least favourite idiom is “it is what it is’. I hate it. Everyone says it all the time nowadays and I hate it. Since when did that become the current way of thinking? What does it mean? Does anyone know what it actually means? Have you ever thought about what it might mean or why it is so prevalent in our society? If you have, let me know your thoughts. Enlighten me, because to me it sounds like a total acceptance of all bad things and a reluctance to feel rage about them. I’m a bit old school in this regard. Yes we should accept what we cannot change. But rage and fury can on occasion help with that. We don’t have to passively accept everything. That is not the same as processing something difficult and moving on to a place of acceptance.
Feel your power
I was about to write a pretty blog full of pretty images of pretty things, but had vowed to myself to only write about what mattered to me in the moment and not just fill up my blog with hot air. This is a photo of a beautiful gift from a young man called Cayne. I did an adoption ceremony for him and his Dads’ surprise wedding at the same time. This year i did a funeral for his Grandad. He wanted to give me a gift as a thank you. I loved what it said inside the box. Feeling our strength sometimes means being willing to admit how bad things are and realising that voicing it doesn’t weaken us, it makes us stronger.
I want to talk about how important it is to forgive ourselves for all the things we wish we’d had the energy to do but didn’t. The people we’ve been unable to see. The conversation we’ve felt unable to have. The celebrations we didn’t feel like celebrating. I want to talk about how if you, like me, are still feeling disconcerted, confused, upset, unresolved, anxious what we are feeling is actually normal.
I feel fine!
I wanted to lighten the mood with a photo of my Swedish cousin Freddie doing an impression of Boris Johnson!
You feel fine! But do you? Do you really? and do you feel ok about saying you’re not? I mean I hope you do ‘feel fine’, but in general feeling ‘totally fine’! why would that be an expected state right now? And yet, I do feel pressure to be ‘fine’! I’m kind of ‘trying to be fine’. It’s just that I’m not really. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not distressed, or in need of anything. Nothing beyond wanting to feel I’m part of a collective, communal response to surviving a catastrophe. I’ve just got used to the weirdness of everything. I’ve got used to the uncertainty, the economic devastation and the total distrust in Government, which apparently just ‘is what it is’.
Well, since when? ‘it is what it is” Since when?
Let’s talk keep talking about it
I have a stack of notebooks full of my thoughts and feelings and many of your stories too. I know it can feel boring talking about Covid. But talk about it we must if we are to avoid a collective tsunami of depression.
Covid, Covid, Covid. I am not suggesting we talk about it endlessly, but I think if on any given day we feel upset we should say so. I want us all to feel able to talk about this stuff. I felt so relieved after my first wedding after successive lockdowns that I couldn’t stop weeping. But I just can’t escape the nagging realisation that I really don’t think many of us have had time and space to come out of survival mode and start grieving for what has been lost to us. For me at least, absolutely nothing is normal. Nothing has ‘gone back to normal’, nothing ever will. I’ve learned and I’ve gained and I’ve grown, I’ve moved on, embraced it all and survived. I suspect that I haven’t yet grieved. I suspect that few of us have.
Lamenting Communal Loss and why it doesn’t happen overnight
I remember at University studying Lamentations (of all things). Which is a Biblical text which is what it sounds like…all about Lament, mourning, expressing grief. At the time and this is 20 odd years ago, I remember my tutor saying that scholars considered that Lamentations had been written decades after the communal trauma they had experienced. The reason being that Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Mental Health professionals at that time were persuaded that to process collective communal trauma took decades. Generally speaking people don’t start to write poetry, have conversations or write books or have real perspective until decades later whey they are returning to a state beyond ‘survival and shock’. It is also associated with delayed grief. Which is exactly as it sounds. This was witnessed a lot with the War, with the experiences of the Shoah for the Jewish Community. You will have all heard of how ‘Grandad never spoke about the war” etc. The generation who ‘never spoke about’ it is very much a part of the fabric of British Society. I don’t want us to become another generation like that.
We’ve missed our hugs, I know we’re doing them again but many people I love still can’t ‘hug’ and we always have to check. That is no bad thing, but it is a shift in etiquette. It is hard to adapt. The conversation around Lamentations…It made so much sense. It has recently come back to me. I keep thinking about it. I keep asking myself “why aren’t we talking about what just happened, and continues to happen to us?” Because for me, outside of my relationship at least, I’m not having that many conversations of that nature. Maybe in different cultures and countries things are different. But I feel at least, in my life, that I lack a forum for simply sitting down and saying. “This is trauma and I”m still in it”. It isn’t at odds with weddings and happy occasions. Although at first glance it seems it is at odds, it is very much associated. I am working with transition, transformation and healing with all my ceremonies in one way or another and in a communal setting. I light a lot of candles for ‘those who cannot be here’.
Covid is not ‘over’ for me
I’m going to just say it! Covid 19 is not over for me! We all wish it was, we all have to pretend sometimes that it is, but it very much isn’t. Babies have been conceived and born, people have got married, moved house, emigrated carried on living. But everything is different. I personally feel that I am not going back to anything resembling my past life. I have a pre and post covid life. Literally that.
Let’s acknowledge it
This blog is a way of acknowledging openly the kind of trauma we have all collectively experienced. We are having weddings again, and funerals again. Things are more ‘normal’ than they were. But I am concerned that I have not been honest with myself about the consequences of that trauma. I am not particularly different to anyone else. So, my assumption would be that you all have your own complex feelings around Covid 19 and your own particular journey through it. I have started to accept it all as normal. So have most of the people I come into contact with. But it is not. Everyone has a different pre and post covid life. We all have our own story of it. We will all have been changed. Celebrants work with this stuff all the time. I feel like we have a bit to contribute.
So when I sat down to write this and vowed to be honest with what came up, I was horrified. Because what came to me wasn’t the latest theme for Weddings, it wasn’t ‘Periwinkle’ and ‘constellations, and new moons’…it was Boris ‘……’. Johnson. The face we can’t avoid. I don’t know about you but I don’t only want him out of Government, I also want him out of my head!
As a Wedding & Funeral Celebrant I try to remain as much of a conduit of other people’s voices as I can. I’m here to give voice to your own concerns and stories by profession. I’m not really in the business of offering political opinion. But the latest, rather unsurprising revelations about Parties at Number 10 actually made me cry. My good friend Nat was wondering why it was when so many dreadful things have happened ,and as a General Public we have repeatedly tolerated them or the press has been gentle about them, it was THIS which finally turned the proverbial tide? Why this? all the other things made no difference? why this, the ‘parties’ of all the things. My friend Steph said that she had been thinking about the very same thing. She thought it was because people saw him as ‘their friend’ as ‘one of them’, believed we were all in it together with our chum. So to have a party to which they in every sense were not invited was the ultimate betrayal.
For all of us it was different, our experiences of these revelations varied. Yes, it was ‘parties’ and not all manner of other things, and where would we start? but for Celebrants the realisation of how badly their couples and families have been betrayed was intolerable. I can’t speak for all of us but I can speak for myself.
Security Guards at Crematoria
Whilst Boris Johnson was sipping drinks with his pals, this couple were postponing their wedding for (as I recall) 5 times.
For the entire course of the Pandemic and during said ‘locked down’ time frame I was conducting funerals, not many but enough to be affected, and working with an Undertakers as an assistant, visiting mortuaries, and not to put too fine a point on it…picking up bodies. I was at the same time receiving repeated phone call of cancelled weddings. I was not entitled to any financial support. I lost my back up job which i loved and had done for 10 years, my Airbnb had to close. But my abiding memory is of standing in a churchyard at a burial. The person’s daughter was able to sneak past a Security Guard so that she could stand at a distance watching as we lowered her Dad into the ground.
My conversations at that time revolved around how many numbers could attend at a Crem. Six at one point. All would wear masks and i would watch 6 devastated people, seeing only their weeping eyes and the way they were not allowed to touch each other. All the distress and no way of holding hands. I couldn’t hug them, I couldn’t touch them, I couldn’t read their expressions. It was dystopian. I had to get past a Security Guard at the gates of the Crematorium. Families were kept out. Celebrants like me, most of whom had a much greater workload listened to countless stories of their Mothers, Daughters, Fathers, Brothers who couldn’t say goodbye.
People who died before they could make the wedding. Weddings which were cancelled 6 times, people dying before the postponed date. A lot of the weddings I’m doing involve lighting candles for people who for one reason or another, directly or indirectly have died due to Covid 19. There are still people who cannot be there because they are shielding. It is still sad. But people have started that very dangerous activity of ‘relativising’. You will have heard yourself doing it. I’m doing it everyday. It goes like this, “well, at least I didn’t get ill with it, I’m lucky really”, you might be lucky that you didn’t get ill, but you lost your job, twice, or your business collapsed or your baby was born and hasn’t met your family and on and on. But we are brushing it off with, “oh well, it is what it is!” No! what it is is ‘shit’. If your barometer is simply a continuum between ‘didn’t die’ and ‘died’ that is not allowing room for our own personal losses.
It is like saying any outlandishly awful thing that might occur and saying ‘but at least i didn’t die from Covid’. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t the same. In more typical times if you and your partner were both made redundant twice in one year at the same time, as we were, were offered no financial support, a temporary job with no contract, no ‘notice period’, no holidays…. you wouldn’t be grateful because it wasn’t worse. You’d be thinking it was the worst luck you’d had in your lifetime. You wouldn’t be saying ‘it is what it is’, because until very recently in this country it wasn’t ‘this’.
The Tyranny of Positivity
As a Celebrant I hear “oh well, it is what it is!” far too often. Sometimes I feel that it belittles our human experience, it diminishes the horrible realities we’ve lived through. Although I battled on with everyone else, at the same time I found myself also reckoning with what Barbara Ehrenreich calls “The TYRANNY of Positivity”. I believe in the power of positivity and mindset and outlook. What I don’t believe in is the kind of ‘silencing’ of ‘oh well, it could be worse’, and yes, it can always be worse, apart from in that moment for you, it couldn’t.
Celebrants heard the first hand tales of husbands of 60 years being denied that last kiss and so on. Meanwhile I heard more and more of these stories as I worked for Test and Trace to make up for lost income and would listen endlessly to more of the same. And all the time “oh well, it is what it is”. Always ‘normalising’, always ‘relativising’. I get why… but it is bad for us to keep making positives if we need to experience the negatives first. It is light and shadow. We don’t really have one without the other. Right now our energy bills are doubling and our food bills are making us reel in shock and our Prime Minister is continuing to lie his way out of holding parties while my families were facing heartbreak alone. I am not prepared to shrug and say “it is what it is’. It shouldn’t be. To learn more about the Tyranny of Positivity do look up the incomparable Esther Perel for her take on it.
A Chardonnay on the terrace or a security guard at a Crematorium?
Boris Johnson and his pals meanwhile seem to have had no idea that this was my experience and that of my colleagues and every one of my families and couples. How can he have been so insulated from all this? and if he wasn’t insulated from all this and did it anyway, why is he still there? My couples and families all believed they were doing the right thing. They all felt that it was a sacrifice worth making. They didn’t question it, they just patiently accepted it. A chardonnay on a terrace with their chums just would never have crossed their minds. I just can’t understand why he has no shame, even though so many of his colleagues have left in disgust. There is nothing in new in me sharing these sentiments really.
I am powerless to get rid of him but what i think really isn’t talked about enough is how much our mental health will have suffered. I did conduct funerals for several people who had basically died from despair. They either took their own lives or they self medicated way too much. Even that became normal. i recently heard of a local young man who took the same decision. I have reached a point of being totally unsurprised. I don’t want us to start thinking ‘it is what it is’.
It is what it is! the linguistic shrug
I keep on hearing it. It seems like the most disempowered of things. I hear it as a linguistic shrug. A total resignation of ‘how things are’. I once worked an amazing Art Exhibition which celebrated the people of Greenham Common. Usually known as the ‘women’ of Greenham Common but there were men who were involved too. Some of these women came to see the exhibition all those decades later. They told the tales of the sacrifices they made for the cause of peace and nuclear disarmament. Mostly they told me that they were unsure if it made any difference in the end, but they said they had a sense of outrage and agency at that time that compelled them communally to act. People do still have that, many people are very proactive, some of my couples are particularly impressive. So I am not suggesting the spirit of freedom, rebellion and fight is dead. Openly declaring that you are ‘not alright’ is an act of defiance and rebellion in and of itself. It liberates us and those around us. It is just that ‘it is what it is’ does nothing to help it.
Kittens, like Captain Rupert Matchbox here, and all our pets let us tell the truth, they don’t judge us and they think it’s fine. As long as you play ‘catch the pilchard’ afterwards, they are happy to be a shoulder to cry on.
I feel like I’ve lost 2 years
I have had countless conversations with people who are writing the wrong date. Writing 2020 instead of 2022. When we discuss it there is a general consensus that we all feel we have ‘lost’ 2 years. Well, that is strange, and that is hard. Admitting that we are finding this hard is important. Saying out loud that February is a difficult month in Northern Europe, is ok. It doesn’t have to be ‘what it is’. It can be something different. It can be a shared communal experience. Which is really where this blog becomes relevant to my work. I deal in ‘communal experience’. It is my thing. That is what i facilitate. It is the very thing that Covid has denied us but which Boris Johnson allowed himself despite all advice to the contrary. I’m delighted to be facilitating share communal experiences again. But I really don’t need anyone to feel the need to say ‘it is what it is’. If you feel that what it is is ‘shit’, please don’t hesitate to say so!
So, I’ll end with a glorious thing. In the middle of everything fantastic things happen. This young woman Shereen I have known since she was 11. She got married here at 21. She has just been in touch to ask if I will marry her sister in law and their girlfriend. I’m so happy. It will be amazing to work with a family I have worked with before. Celebrants are very involved in their own ‘community’. We often mark more than one life transition with you all. I love that about my work. i think it demands emotional honesty. Which is really what I’m engaged in here.