If nothing else, living through 2020 has been a great reminder to us all of how precious our loved ones are. We’ve been challenged as a society in a way that none of us could have imagined, and as we head towards the end of these demanding times, we can start to raise our heads above the parapets and look to the horizon at better times ahead.

So, have we changed or will we revert to as we were before COVID-19? I hope that we embrace our freedoms with new and positive energy and with a shared kindness for those around us. I hope our communities have strengthened and bonded through this year and we remember the amazing acts of generosity; both of time and money, and who will ever be able to forget the tremendous efforts of Captain Tom. The nights we stood outside clapping or banging saucepans as if imaginary powers could carry that incandescent sound of love and support to every key worker in the country; particularly to all those working in the NHS in what truly must have been testing times.

Our ceremonies grew smaller if they happened at all. According to the “Hitched” website, over 71% of couples due to marry this year had to postpone their plans. With no alternative, funerals went ahead with only a handful of family/friends able to be present and even then, loved ones having to sit two metres apart – at a time when hugging someone is the most natural form of sharing a grief-stricken moment.

But we have learnt lessons from this experience, and some of them maybe for the better or at least allow us more choice in the ceremonies we plan.

Micro-weddings have shown that celebrations although smaller can be warmer, more intimate, and, again, according to “Hitched”, over half the couples postponing their wedding until 2021 have reduced the number of guests invited to their weddings. And the “sequel wedding” is growing in trend; a small intimate ceremony followed at a later date by a larger party to celebrate the couples’ union.

Only 13 people, including myself, attended a funeral I conducted in early July. The unexpected death of someone too young to leave this world, and whose children and partner were broken. Held at the beautiful Matara Centre, near Nailsworth, we gathered in a small circle around his cardboard coffin in a woodland glade and spoke of the love he gave to his family and each, in turn, took a moment to speak of their love back. Halfway through the ceremony, we lit candles and at the same time, so did all his friends who weren’t able to be present. Photos of lit candles were added to his partner’s Facebook page, providing her with immense comfort. The occasion was sadly beautiful but so fitting for a man who loved nature and just being with his family. Later that month a larger gathering was held to celebrate his life; friends sharing stories about him with fondness and love. The two occasions were so different, but each one right in their own way.

So, if anything, the pandemic has created more choices regarding the ceremonies we conduct and hold and that can’t be a bad thing. Challenging times have stretched our imaginations creatively and who would have thought that Zoom would play such a part in our lives, uniting us with those who physically couldn’t be present but who were still able to join us from a safe distance.

This year we lost loved ones when we were least expecting it. There has been an increase in those suffering from mental health issues, and our economy has been challenged like never before. Our society, along with the rest of the world, has been tested. But, in a country that had been politically divided over Brexit, perhaps we have been healed as we joined forces against a common enemy.

As we move towards 2021 with bated breath, let’s hope that our celebrations will be joyous be they large or small, that funerals or celebrations of life are attended by those that need to be present and more than anything we can hug one another again with love, kindness and support.

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