Welcome to the latest addition to the It Still Takes a Village – Working in Baby Loss Interview Series where we take a closer look at those who dedicate their day to day to preventing baby loss and supporting those affected. You can read more interviews, here.
For Leo’s funeral, being unreligious, we weren’t too sure who we could turn to to lead the service. Luckily, our funeral directors put us in contact with a wonderful woman who was a Humanist. She created a really bespoke service, and helped guide us and support us through the process. The funeral process is such a challenge, and I’m so pleased to shed light on those involved throughout this blog series. For today’s spotlight, I’d like to introduce Rosalie…
So, to start us off, please can you let us know a little about your current role?
Sure. I am a celebrant an I run Rituals Today. I create and conduct bespoke ceremonies for any life event with a focus on funerals and weddings. After having careers in theology and consultancy I have been running my own business full-time since October 2017. I also host Death Cafes, co-host grief training for professionals who work with the bereaved and give talks on the future of funerals and on ceremony design.
No day is the same! I have two children so my day starts with making sure they make it to school sound and safe. I then may visit a family to talk about their ideas for a funeral and learn more about the person who has died; write a script; conduct a funeral or do research on readings, music and rituals to include. Alternatively, I might meet a couple to talk about their forthcoming wedding ceremony, or review feedback on a script. I also try to keep up with social media to learn, connect, get inspired or educate others on what I do. I hope that, as result of my work and engagement, people realise that weddings don’t have to be cheesy and that funerals can be beautiful, comforting and healing experiences. Every day I try to create some room for play and relaxing. My work can be very intense and self-care is important. These moments also help me to stay creative and in tune with myself.
What are you currently working on? Is there a particular project or aim that you’d like to share with people.
I am working on a few funerals and weddings, a remembrance dinner I am hosting in November and some articles. I am very interested in alternative ceremony venues and always looking for new, alternative places that are suitable for modern funerals and give room for evolving spiritual, emotional and ritual needs.
“Rituals provide a structure to release emotions, they help mourn endings, celebrate beginnings, they help us reconnect with ourselves and with the people around us. They affirm the complexity of life and open up a spiritual reality in which we feel held.”
What motivated you to do the job that you are doing now?
I have always been interested in the ‘Big Questions’ of life, and how people use creative expressions to give meaning to life-defining experiences. I studied theology to learn more about how the stories and rituals created by religions have helped people in answering the big questions of life. However, I realised that there was so much more: the arts, nature, and other spiritualities. I did not wanted to work in a church and changed my career to become a consultant but always kept a zest for meaning and making a difference in people’s life.
In my thirties, I faced a few life-defining experiences myself.
I got married and as my husband and I are from different backgrounds we created a ceremony that reflected our values and beliefs. It was very special to work together on this ‘rite of passage’ that would mark a new stage in our relationship.
About a year later I had a miscarriage at 13 weeks pregnancy. Grieving this ‘invisible’ loss was a very lonely process and I realised that there we have no rituals to help us with the emotions that come with this type of loss.
A few months later my father died from cancer. It was totally unexpected, but he had prepared a detailed script for his funeral. He wanted the funeral to take place in a theatre and asked us, his family, to do everything. It was an extremely difficult and unreal thing to do, but it gave us comfort that his funeral was as he would have wanted it and working on it was a healing experience.
These experiences made me realise the importance of rituals.
Rituals provide a structure to release emotions, they help mourn endings, celebrate beginnings, they help us reconnect with ourselves and with the people around us. They affirm the complexity of life and open up a spiritual reality in which we feel held.
In a society where an increasing number of people no longer consider themselves religious, it is important to find new rituals. Rituals that use a language and symbolism that appeals to people of different backgrounds and beliefs.
It is my mission to create new ways of doing ritual: starting by the stories, values and beliefs of the people I work with rather than from a given religious or spiritual framework. This does not imply that modern rituals don’t include any religious elements at all. Many rituals rooted in religious traditions are extremely powerful. By adding new elements, new words and new contexts they give new meaning for people in the here and now.
In what ways does your current role allow you to get involved in the baby loss cause?
Baby loss is one aspect of my varied role as a celebrant. Sadly, I meet parents who have lost their baby during pregnancy, birth or after birth. Together, we create a ceremony to say goodbye to their baby.
A baby funeral is a very delicate and emotional thing to do. By carefully listening to the parent’s feelings and wishes I gently offer them some options to consider. For example, as part of the ceremony, we can include a naming ritual for the baby. In this ritual, we welcome the child into the world. I ask parents how they would like their child to be named which will be the name it will always be known by.
A baby funeral may include a reading, a few words from the parents, lighting of a candle, music, silence, a final farewell. Parents may cover the basket with flowers, with feathers, or with a blanket. There is no template or right or wrong way of doing a funeral for a baby, it’s important to do something that is right for the parents.
“There is no template or right or wrong way of doing a funeral for a baby, it’s important to do something that is right for the parents.”
What are the biggest frustrations or constraints that you face in supporting those affected by baby loss or preventing baby loss in the first place?
I breaks my heart when parents tell me that professionals or other people in their environment talk about their baby as an ‘object’, or avoiding the topic all together.
Do you think that Baby Loss is still a taboo, and if so, why? Do you encounter issues with it being a taboo in your day to day work?
Yes, we don’t talk openly about baby loss and the complex emotions that come with it. I think this is because it’s such a sensitive and emotional subject and by talking about it, it becomes real: a reality that most people don’t want to think about. I also think that most people don’t know what to say to a bereaved parent and as a result avoid talking to them about their experience. This is really sad, because talking about pregnancy and baby loss will help understand that it is something that happens and may happen to everyone; it will help demystify the experience and help people to support parents in their grief and help them share their stories and feelings.
Who else do you work alongside in terms of baby loss support or prevention? Are there any charities that support you, or perhaps a colleague that you couldn’t manage without?
Arranging a baby funeral is team work. I work closely together with funeral directors and crematorium or cemetery staff. It’s important they all understand the importance of a good baby funeral, and that this might involve less traditional elements. We all need to support the parents, both practically and emotionally, and listen to their needs rather than pushing a service or product.
“Even in the darkest of times, we can be a spark in the lives of others.”
When the job is hard, what one thing reminds you to keep on keeping on?
Even in the darkest of times, we can be a spark in the lives of others.
It truly moves me when bereaved parents write me a note to thank me saying that have made the unbearable a little more bearable for them.
We are in a shift change with the understanding and awareness of baby loss. What would you say to someone just starting out in a job associated to baby loss?
Never assume anything. Every story is unique, every baby loss experience and every parent is unique. Listen and don’t judge. If you don’t know what to say, say that you don’t know what to say. Being present in silence or by giving a hug is also a way of making bereaved parents feel supported.
It’s likely that a newly bereaved parent is reading this. What would you like to say to them?
Your child will always be your child and you will always be their parent. Be kind to yourself. If you’d like to have a funeral ceremony for your baby choose a funeral director and an officiant you feel safe and comfortable with; someone who listens to your story and helps you say farewell to your baby in a way that feels right for you.
“Every story is unique, every baby loss experience and every parent is unique.”
We have some ambitious targets for baby loss currently in the UK. What are your specific hopes for the future in terms of maternity and baby loss?
That we talk openly about maternity and baby loss and that parents are being supported in everything they need to say farewell to their baby.
In the Netherlands, the water method is used to say goodbye to premature babies. Foetuses are kept in water which keeps their skin light and their tiny and fragile bodies intact. This allows parents and others to keep their babies with them and to take time to say their farewells. I am not aware of this method being used in the UK yet but it would be great if parents could have this option here too.
More information: http://www.watermethode.nl/ (The site has an English version)
Thank you so much for taking part in this interview series. Lastly, before we finish – Is there anything else about you or your job that you’d like to let people know about?
Parents who have experiences a pregnancy or baby loss might find comfort in my blog ‘How to grieve and invisible loss: 5 rituals for miscarriage’: http://www.ritualstoday.co.uk/how-to-grieve-an-invisible-loss-5-rituals-for-miscarriage/
In September, I won the National Celebrants Award for Outstanding Funeral Practice. I was stunned and extremely honoured. A representative of the judges said the following, which moved me deeply:
“Rosalie had nominations from both funeral directors and families but what set her apart was that some of her nominations came from funerals in very difficult circumstances, one for a stillborn baby which said ‘She filled the process of saying goodbye with beauty and light and most importantly understanding. Her words are part of how we now remember our baby and will remain so into the future.”
To continue to follow the work of Rosalie, visit the links below:
This blog post is part of an ongoing spotlight on those working in baby loss. To read more from It Still Takes a Village series, visit the hub page here.