The Rituals we didn’t attend, the friends we miss... Mari Howard

Ritual -- what does this mean to you? Rituals can be traditional, religious, political: think of all the rituals we love (maybe the family time-honoured way to do Passover or Christmas -- those little add-ones which are especially ‘ours’ woven into or onto our religious or traditional festival practice. Our favourite way to celebrate family achievements such as anniversaries or graduations -- even publishing a first book.)  Rituals have honoured the arriving, mating, passing, process as far  back as -- well, as far back as human life can be traced. In ritual, we as humans find satisfaction, celebration, closure. In a known ritual, we find satisfaction or comfort.

So when locked down by the pandemic, or even beyond that, for those of us who need to be a bit more careful as we move back into the ‘normal’ world again, ritual is much missed. We haven’t celebrated, or honoured, important life events of family and friends along with our circle of family and friends. 

In the shower, I was thinking (as you do, it’s a great place for writers, working out  a difficult scene in a novel -- the dialogue effortlessly flowing, unlike at the desk). My showering thoughts a few days ago wandered, homed in on, the group of family and friends whose passing we haven’t been free to mark with ritual. How missed they are from the ‘return to normal life’. Five of them. None caught Covid, and one was spared the entire horrible phase of winter 2019 onwards: all were enormously valuable to us and made our lives brighter in their individual ways. 

Just before Christmas 2019, before the news of the strange new deadly virus far away in China hit the headlines, we as an extended family celebrated the life of Oliver, my brother in law, a quiet, intelligent presence in at the centre of a noisy, argumentative family. A career diplomat, Oliver was also a family one, pouring oil on troubled waters, being a ‘still centre’. The losing thing, after a very short illness, was a bit of a shock to everyone, despite he was in his mid-80s. The service at Blackfriars was done just perfectly for the Catholic/Secular/Muslim large extended family, few of whom are ‘religious’, and the lunch afterwards was a wonderful way to meet up and observe the interacting generations -- so many grandchildren from several large families! 

My good friend, bouncy Liz, left us in 2021. She was by then a newly retired GP, and much missed by her patients.  Liz was a support for my writing, commissioned several paintings from me, was my companion in retail therapy when we shopped, lunched, and put the world to rights. Liz had always been full of energy, baking and cooking for numerous events at her church, even sometimes after a day in the surgery! She loved people and animals and at one point had eight cats! And she always had a wonderful smile. Liz wasn’t a perfect person, (none of us are!), but a really wonderful, caring, and fun friend to so many.  

That was 2021. Last week came the funeral of Nicola, local self-taught wildlife and nature photographer. It’s almost impossible to realise she’s no longer to be found in the nature reserve, utterly quiet and still, camera focussed on some tiny or very shy creature, a damselfly, a fox, or the first discovery of a particular fungus in our area. I’ve learned a lot about observation simply by being with as well as chatting with Nicola. She would always share things -- point out a bird (kingfisher, tree creeper) or an insect, (damselfly on a blade of grass, hardly visible unless one was really looking, or a ‘bee-fly’ visiting a flower), so others shared the joys of her acute observation. 

Gina and Georgie, a poet and a priest, are also gone from the human scene. Both worked, in their separate ways, as counsellors, and cared deeply about people, both gave themselves in long hours, and both also equally enjoyed a glass of wine chatting with friends, a celebration, and the quiet, meditative times. Unassuming Gina’s poetry had a naughty side typically her own: Georgie founded and successfully ran a ‘spiritual growth centre’ to which she had a skill with inviting some fantastic speakers for Quiet Days centring on art and literature. 

The world seems messier since the pandemic: war in Ukraine, extraordinary political turmoil in the most unexpected places, climate in crisis. Although, there’s never a time in history when all is quiet, peaceful, in no need of exceptional friends. I am hoping today’s youngsters, struggling through school and college years against the backdrop of all the uncertainty around the climate, the politics, and the inequalities, can still grow up ready to care, inspire, and be celebrated for their thoughtfulness, their friendships, and their capacity for laughter and fun alongside inspiration, diplomacy, and caring.

I also hope our rituals -- acknowledging and celebrating rites of passage or religious beliefs -- will never become forgotten, set aside, or dispensed with. They don’t need to be outrageously lavish or original, but they do need be special to the person, people, or event celebrated: we are all unique. 


Peter Leyland said…
Thank you Mari for a wonderfully moving post celebrating friendships that are no longer and looking at how we remember people that we loved. I really liked the portrait of Nicola who seemed really special, but all clearly meant much to you.

By a strange coincidence I am meeting a group of loved friends over 50 years next Saturday and this is followed on the Monday by the funeral of another friend, unrelated to that group, but who I will dearly miss.
Two celebrations of lives well lived.

All best from me, Peter
Thank you Peter: yes, Nicola was an amazing person - unlike everyone else, not a graduate but a person who had, when unable to work due to a rare blood condition, turned to first to nursing kittens at the local Animal Sanctuary and then to teach herself wildlife photography, and become an authoritative supplier of 'sightings' to be recorded in our county. And lovely & generous with it.
Griselda Heppel said…
What a moving, insightful, measured post this is. Losing friends and family during lockdown was bad enough but not being able to get together and celebrate them, comforting each other, made it so much worse. Very sorry you lost your brother in law and dear friends, two of whom, Gina and Georgie, I knew too. Georgie's death came completely out of the blue, I didn't even know she was ill and couldn't believe we'd lost her. Not being able to attend her funeral except online was so sad. Your celebrating all these people here goes some way to making up for that lack of common ritual. Thank you for this lovely piece.

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