An Unusual Celebration of Marriage and a Lifetime Commitment of Joy, Love and Adventures

July 15th, 2015

Submitted by Jill Satin and Bryce Morrison

I have been a BHA accredited celebrant for 10 years this June. As celebrants we enter people’s lives for the briefest of moments at some of the most challenging, sad and painful times or the most joyful and happy celebrations.  I know that for celebrants after the important client interview each ceremony is pondered over for many long hours then created into meaningful and constructive words on paper – our scripts.  As we conduct our ceremony, (which is another skill in itself) through the spoken word and performance  we celebrants provide a perspective – small anchors for memories, grieving or kindness, hope and happiness. One of the reasons I love being a celebrant is that it continues to stretch and challenge me to deliver the best scripts and ceremonies for people no matter what the occasion, background and whatever the twists and turns of personal histories.

In November of 2014 the BHA approached me with an unusual request on behalf of long standing BHA member to write and conduct a marriage ceremony  for  him  despite the fact that his partner had died in 2013.  I was greatly intrigued and uncertain if this was a ceremony I could write, never mind conduct.  I met the charming and brilliant Bryce Morrison in December, and we then over many visits and hours talking about his deceased partner Lyndon Scarffe, we came up with  a script.

Celebrants are not grief counsellors or therapists and good boundaries are hugely important for all to protect not only our clients and also ourselves.  I know that Bryce would not mind me sharing that his grief for Lyndon was still hugely raw and my job of delivery suddenly became even more complicated by the fact that Bryce had found new love and a new partner.

I now had three principals at this ceremony… two to marry (one of whom was dead) and the third of these… a new love to be embraced and included. Bryce and I did of course have some wonderful irreverent moments full of tears and laughter imagining all the options.

As I delivered the ceremony on a cold but beautiful twilight evening in January 2015 in central London to a close group of Bryce and Lyndon’s family and closest friends.  I said by way of introduction…

I have described our ceremony today as part memorial to Lyndon; part a conversation about love, grieving and loss, and ultimately a  celebration of commitment and finding renewal and new love…. in other words , a journey through the complexity and joys of the rich tapestry of life.

I am so proud to know Bryce and his new partner Maxie and equally feel that I had a small understanding of the man who was the marvellous Lyndon. It was a wonderful ceremony to be part of, and Bryce made good his and Lyndon’s wishes and promise to marry. (Same sex marriages are now finally recognized since December 2014)  It was a huge relief and joy for Bryce to speak his commitments as he saw them to his now lifelong husband Lyndon. It was a hugely moving moment and a great privilege to have written and conducted this most unique ceremony. I know that it was helpful, healing and educational to all those that took  part and witnessed it.

We all work so hard. Often funerals, wedding and namings blur over the years. However the really challenging and memorable ceremonies and the people they are about stay with us.  These unique ceremonies improve us as humanists,   teach and enrich us and remind us of all the different ways to have known and experienced sorrow and grief and the diversity of the measure, depth and expression of love. How lucky we are to be celebrants!

 

Firstly, both Lyndon and myself saw religion in all its forms as the cause of nothing but mayhem, violence and dissent down the centuries. We were (and I remain) committed Humanists but also without wishing to be rigidly labelled, ‘free thinkers’.  Our civil ceremony in 2005 was the happiest day of my life and led me to wish for further confirmation of our relationship through marriage. Sadly and, indeed, tragically, Lyndon’s illness and subsequent death made this impossible and so I turned to Andrew Copson for help and advice, both of which he gave unsparingly.

I would describe the ceremony as the second happiest day of my life, a time for dark reflection but principally for the joy of finding that the bitterness of knowing that so many radiantly happy experiences could never be repeated, was changing into a greater calm, serenity and gratitude.  None of this would have occurred without the incomparable help of my councillor, Sandra Cashmore who saw me through a time of near suicidal grief, seeing me every week for two years. My astonishment, too, at finding further happiness with Maxie–a love I know Lyndon would have wanted for me– made me move forward rather than back. A feeling that I would never love nor be loved again was transcended and erased and although I think of Lyndon and feel his presence every  day those two years of tears have finally turned into a great deal of joy and laughter.

The ceremony itself took place in my flat before those friends who remained close and steadfast during a seemingly unbearable sadness and grief (unlike those of a religious disposition and, more particularly, a Roman Catholic disposition, who despite protestations of undying love and devotion evaporated never to be heard from again). There was an almost palpable sense in the room of sharing and euphoria. The ‘celebration’ rather than ‘service’ was unforgettably planned and overseen by Jill Satin who asked me to speak at length about my first meeting with Lyndon (mischievous and hilarious) and are subsequent life together for nearly 37 years, a time when, as I said at Lyndon’s funeral, being in love turned quickly and awe-inspiringly into love itself, and an intuitive knowledge that neither of us could live without the other. I remember quoting Blake’s ‘never seek to tell thy love’ while at the same time struggling against all odds to articulate something of my past happiness and present terrible sense of loss. I also quoted Iris Murdoch and her donnish affirmation that ‘love is the only thing that matters.’ A startlingly brief but true statement by one of our most distinguished philosophers as well as novelists.

There was a wonderful sense of to and fro between Jill and myself. Maxie sat beside me throughout, a strong support (he had, after all, been through a related bereavement ten years ago).  Jill insisted I said something about my love in Spanish (Lyndon’s beloved second and sometimes first language; he had lived in Spain for some years) which I floundered through, not through lack of practise, but because it struck such a raw and emotional note.

There were smiles and laughter as those who knew Lyndon’s loving and mischievous nature recalled puns and jokes and one joyful experience after another. All this such a far cry from ‘dost though take this man to be…etc. As one friend put it, ‘I think that was the strangest but also the nicest wedding I have ever been to.’ We all retired to a little much loved Italian restaurant where we all felt–I certainly did– as if our spirits had been truly lifted and with a determination to meet each year to remember this wonderful occasion.

Thank you, all of you, for playing such a major part in bringing back to life, a life I thought was gone forever.