Saturday, 10 August 2013

Loneliness in bereavement, loneliness in death work

It's a commonplace that being bereaved can be a lonely and isolating experience, perhaps particularly in cultures in which emotional restraint and an assumed stoicism is the norm. (Are we Brits just now emerging from this norm and creating another? In my celebrancy work I come across plenty of stiff upper lips, but also plenty of wobbly lips and hugs.)

It's certainly true that each of us has to grieve alone, in so far as each must follow her unique journey of grief, each of us in her own way. But I think that grieving, the state of being for a while a bereaved person, can also bring people together. Not only in the obvious sense that family and friends may gather to support and help you, but because sometimes people will empathise, people you don't know especially well, and offer help -  emotional, practical or both. 

Recently, a couple I know were bereaved in tragic circumstances. New neighbours they had met only three times turned up with a casserole for my friends' supper, and took their young daughter off for a playtime whilst we talked. No fuss, no silly "Oh, I know how you feel, I remember when I..." Just essential, heartwarming neighbourliness exactly when it was needed.

Then there is the potential loneliness of funeral workers. Secular celebrancy can be a lonely business, in that it can generate high levels of uncertainty about the rightness of what we've written. I used to worry, in my more paranoid moments, that I'd be recognised and avoided in the street. I think this has happened only once. Celebrancy is in some areas increasingly competitive, so "colleagues" are less likely to provide the shoulder to cry on or the listening ear. The celebrancy organisations (BHA, IoCF, Greenfuse etc) offer some kind of support network, opinions on the efficacy of which, er, vary; nothing to stop celebrants from setting up a closed forum of like-minded people around the country. Could be of enormous value.

I think it must be much more of a problem for funeral directors/undertakers. The remnants of the old taboo about body-handling; the idea that the sight of the undertaker in his formal gear is a little chilling, a memento mori when we are not used to such reminders (in our culture, at least); the thought that we don't want to have to meet one any time soon; and the fiercely competitive nature of the business would, I imagine, create isolation in one prone to such feelings.

Actually, some undertakers I work with are generally quite jolly people. One is a lay preacher, an energetic, friendly man well known in his community; another is also well-known sociable, has a quip ready when people say "nice to see you, X, but not too often, eh?" (well, he manages not to yawn, at least!) 

Other seem to suffer a bit more from the various pressures of the work. Of course, any good undertaker takes the work seriously

but do they feel isolated by their work? I'd be interested to hear about it.

In fact, I'd be interested to hear about anything from anyone. It's so lonely being a blogger, you've no idea, you tap tap away, throw your thoughts upon the aether, and what comes back? Nothing. It's so.........sniffle sob sniffle....isolating......

Oh, suit yourselves, as Frankie Howerd used to say!


  1. Actually it's Ru Callender here Gloria.
    It can indeed be a lonely business. Thankfully I do this work with my wife so we have transformed loneliness and social isolation into marital bickering, but yes, staring into the abyss until it stares back at you isn't for everyone.

  2. You're a frontiersman Anonymous Ru and so is your wife; you bring back for the rest of us what the abyss has taught you, and not so many people could do that.

    But I hope you sustain youselves with more than marital bickering - though I'm sure it's of the highest order! What about furious dancing and beautiful rivers?