Oh how I wish this was the beginning of a British romantic comedy. Alas, this was not quite the case when I found myself in a situation where I had officiated exactly 450 wedding celebrations, but then came a funeral – and it was for my very own husband.
To give you a little background about my career as a celebrant, I became registered in 2011. How on earth did I get into it? When I became engaged to my soon-to-be husband Craig, so began the hunt for a celebrant. We struggled to find anyone we identified with that would make the process comfortable, natural, relaxed and fun. We eventually found an incredible celebrant, who not only officiated our wedding, but also Craig’s funeral (we really came full circle on that one!)
As we planned our ceremony I had a bit of an ah-ha moment. I have always enjoyed working with people, public speaking and writing, so it seemed a natural fit for me. I studied, received my registration and away I went. In all honesty I thought I might do five weddings a year. But it soon became apparent my services were in demand and by September 2017 I had conducted exactly 450 ceremonies. That’s 900 brides and grooms and guests in the tens of thousands.
It’s a role that has given me a lot of happiness, a lot of laughs and is genuinely a fascinating ‘job’ to have. I love nothing better than meeting my couples. In fact that first and subsequent meetings are my favourite part. It’s hard not to get caught up in their planning and their excitement to be married, as well as hear how they have met and their own love story. I’d also share with them my own wedding day experiences. The happiness, the nerves, the emotion – because sharing my own experience of my wedding and marriage often made people feel comfortable, knowing I’d been married too.
But then my husband died.
So what happens when you’re a marriage celebrant and your very own husband dies?
But trust me, I’m getting very used to the awkwardness a dead husband brings to the table!
After Craig died my mind went to my work as a celebrant very quickly. While it seems strange that in a time of utter chaos and tragedy that it would even be on my mind, on day two I recall thinking ‘holy shit, what about my work, what about my clients?’
In the world of mobile phones and social media, word can spread like wildfire. I was very aware that word was out that my husband had died and it was only a matter of time before this word was reaching past, present and future clients. Another round of emotions came with this realisation.
I was incredibly upset for my past clients, who I’d shared such a special bond with and I knew would be gutted for myself and Heidi.
I was at a loss for words as to how I was supposed to deal with my present clients. The weddings that I was supposed to be conducting in those coming weeks as my life spiraled out of control.
I also feared for my future. Now I say this a little tongue in cheek, but does a celebrant with a dead husband need to re-brand? #thewidowedcelebrant Would I be considered a bad omen? Was I supposed to notify future clients of my current status as a widow?
Well here’s what happened.
My past clients.
I am still overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support I received. I knew my past couples were sharing the shock and pain with me and I was inundated with messages, emails and phone calls offering nothing but love. I count my blessings that I have worked with so many incredible souls.
My present clients.
Craig died at the beginning of September and I had two weddings within that month. Naturally I cancelled them and a beautiful celebrant and friend (Nicole Penning – to whom I will always be eternally grateful) stepped in and ensured these couples received the love and care they so deserved.
I then set about notifying clients that were due to be married in the coming months about what had happened to me. Once again, I knew that social media was going a little crazy and it was very important to me that my couples heard the news from me – not via a third party. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but it just felt important. So, I reached out to them all to share my sad news. I also let them know that while I couldn’t promise anything, I felt like it would be very likely I’d still be part of their day.
I was a woman of my word and four weeks later, I went back to my wedding celebrant work. Looking back on it now, I can hardly believe it myself.
However, in a time where I had literally lost control of my life, going back to work was the one thing that gave me a sense of control, and that not all had been lost. Now more than ever I needed pure joy in my life, and there’s nothing more joy filled than a wedding ceremony.
So who was the ‘lucky’ first couple to have the widowed celebrant on board? It was Warren and Cindy, a couple I will never forget and who will always hold a very special place in my heart. After making contact and sharing my news, I went and met with them prior to their wedding day. I wanted to do this for two reasons.
- To check in and ensure we were all on the same page for their wedding, as it’s safe to say my brain had been more than shaken.
- To assure them I had not lost my mind and I was up to it.
After 450 wedding ceremonies of experience, Warren and Cindy’s wedding felt like my first day on the job all over again. At the time I was living with my parents and I spent the day barely talking and mentally prepping myself. I had never felt so nervous as I drove to the venue. However, as I arrived, I took a deep breath, got out of my car and made a decision to do everything in my power to give Cindy and Warren the ceremony they deserved. Thankfully that happened, and it was a beautiful day. Am I Wonder Woman? Absolutely not. Following the ceremony, I got into my car and sobbed and sobbed my heart out. I was filled with relief, happiness, sadness and absolute heartbreak.
In those first few months every couple I worked with were a dream. I will never forget the wave of love and genuine care they sent my way.
Though there was something so much more important these couples gave to me than their love. They empowered me. They empowered me by giving me their trust and support to just get out there and do my job.
I recall someone saying to me in the first week after Craig’s death, ‘how are you going to marry people considering you’ve just lost the love of your life’.
This really rocked me and and it deeply upset me on two fronts.
- Anyone that knows me knows that I would never put myself in a situation where I would come across as unprofessional or not be able to handle it. I had action plans in place should I not feel up to the ceremony on the day, but deep down I knew that I could do it, and if I wasn’t going to back myself, who on earth else would.
- I think there was also a sense that I would not be able to watch other people be married. Though this also baffled me. I know my circumstances, I know my own loss. But I refuse to let my loss make me feel jaded about the gains other people make. Love is great, marriage is beautiful, and now more than ever, I believe in both.
It was a big lesson in learning to back myself and if anything, it was statements like this that propelled me even further to forge ahead.
It goes without saying that my couples empowered me to take back control of my life from a work perspective and it was the most wonderful feeling.
My future clients.
I won’t lie, it has been tricky. Actually it has been more than tricky, it has been really bloody hard.
New clients are hard to navigate, though getting easier with time.
My whole world had been turned on its head and yet here I was trying to make sense of my new world, my new narrative and how people might react to this.
I hadn’t realised how much of my own story, when it came to meeting new couples, was wrapped up in my experiences when it came to marriage and my relationship with Craig. Where I used to talk so naturally and comfortably about this, it suddenly felt awkward. I was scared of bringing up my wedding or Craig in case they asked me about it, and I had to admit that not all was what it seemed. Or that emotionally I might be having a tough day and end up crying. Or that I’d put a dampener on what is a time of celebration.
Of course, none of this has actually happened but it has been stressful as I’ve tried to work out how I integrate my past, with my present and my future.
Sometimes I tell clients, sometimes I don’t. I’m still figuring it out and probably always will be.
So what did 450 weddings and a funeral teach me?
It taught me that I love my work as a celebrant and that I’m good at it. It taught me that it’s a truly beautiful thing to share in moments of happiness. But it also taught me what I’m a capable of and that at heart I’m a bit of a comeback kid and the world had better look out.
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Interested in Jo, and her life? Read her post This is me to get to know Jo.