A ceremony of thanks
All ceremonies tell a story. This Saturday I was lucky enough to conduct a ceremony that told a truly compelling and heart-warming story. (In this post names and other details have been removed or slightly amended to protect the family's privacy.) The family at the centre of the ceremony had triumphed over adversity with the support of their extended family and community. They came to me because they saw their son's naming day as a chance to pay tribute to everyone who had brought them to that point.
Let me back up a second and tell you about it from my own perspective. When Mum and Dad first got in touch there seemed nothing extraordinary about them. They were friendly, suburban north Londoners. They were perhaps slightly older than some parents, but not unusually so for educated, professional types. We had a video call initially. This is my preference, because it allows families to get a sense of my style of working and presentation, so they know they're going to get the ceremony they want. We had an instant rapport. When the baby gave me a huge, beautiful grin, and Mum and Dad said he liked me, I knew we'd be working together.
Mum sent me a list of five readings, which caused me to raise an eyebrow. She said there would also be music, which raised the other one. Over-long ceremonies cause the guests to get tired and that doesn’t reflect well on the celebrant. I wondered if all the readings were necessary. If so, I knew this would require careful writing to avoid my sections looking self-indulgent.
Soon afterwards, we met face to face and visited the venue, a bright, newly refurbished community hall. We talked about the layout, seating and choreography for the ceremony and then we popped to a local cafe, so I could learn about the family themselves and what they wanted me to say.
Mum and Dad told me they had been about to give up after on IVF when their son was conceived. The pregnancy wasn’t easy and they worried that Mum's health issues would affect the child. But no, he grew normally. All the scans looked fine. Happy days.
Then Mum went into premature labour. They spent some anxious weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and then months going back and forth to hospital with their new baby's health issues. He had to have an operation. It was exhausting and terrifying. This is where the community comes in.
If you ever believed the hype that modern Britain is a lonely, divided place without goodwill or generosity of spirit, I present this story as the counterpoint. The parents' neighbours, family, and friends rallied around and got them through. They cooked meals, cleaned, cared for pets, built nursery furniture, gave advice and emotional support, and just plain old showed up to help. Some repeatedly travelled hundreds of miles to be there.
So the ceremony had to be the length it had to be to allow for every person who had helped the family to have their moment in the sun. The final draft of the script included several new last minute additions and yet more descriptions of kindness and generosity shown. I edited my own sections to keep it all within forty minutes, the maximum I felt comfortable to preside over.
The day of the ceremony itself was bright and humid. The hall was decorated in baby blue bunting. Pimms and lemonade was served.
At 2pm we began the naming and, in spite of the heat and the excitement, the little boy at the heart of it all was quiet and smiling throughout. There were tears from the guests and from the parents. The readers spoke brilliantly. The music, an original composition by a relative, was charming and moving.
I leave you with a few words from the ceremony script.
[Mum] and [Dad] tell me that without the support of their friends, family and local community, they could never have got through those early weeks after the birth. [Baby]’s health difficulties and his operation in the first few months of his life were almost unbearable, but, with all of you to help take the load, they made it.
Now he is the healthy child you see before you, developing normally, and surprisingly chilled out, happy and stoical. Apparently, the adversity of his early life seems to have given him a sense of perspective and he takes minor upsets, like jabs, in his stride.
His parents say he is ‘as perfect as could be’. [Dad] called him ‘a ten out of ten baby’ and [Mum] says he is ‘full of joy’.
I hope that he always has such a strong, positive group of people around him, that he keeps his sense of perspective, and lives a life 'full of joy'.