The Honoured Guest: Saying Goodbye in the time of Covid-19

This evening I was grateful and honoured to participate in an online session run by Yelala. Yelala offers earth centred, feminist Jewish spirituality practices and this evenings session was an exploration of grief and presence in these times. In the session the hosts Kohenet Rachel Rose Reid and Lucy Hopkins shared and explored rituals for funerals and grief when we cannot be there.

During the session I was reminded of the tradition of the ‘Empty Chair’ which comes from my Pagan tradition and is usually used around Samhain (Halloween), our time of honouring our ancestral dead. What follows in this blog post is an offering, for whatever tradition you may be rooted in, a composite of what Rachel and Lucy shared and the concept of the ‘Empty Chair’.

The ‘Empty Chair’ refers to the tradition of leaving a chair and a place set at the table at Samhain celebrations. I have reflected the tradition also in Samhain ritual circles, by leaving an empty space in the circle and lighting an extra candle. The idea being that this welcomes our beloved dead to the table or into the circle at a time when we believe the veil between the worlds is thin. That they can come and be part of our celebrations and share in the feasts and ceremonies.

During the session with Yelala, many ideas came up of a similar nature but in focusing on a specific person whom we love who has died. Thinking about what things we might use, things we might bring into a space to honour a person who has died but who we cannot be with or whose funeral we cannot attend.

So here is a suggestion, if this is you in these times of Covid-19.

Choose a day and a time. The person you love is coming to visit, they are coming to your home. How are you going to prepare?

Would you clean the house? Might you put flowers on the table and clean towels in the bathroom? Favourite wine glasses or sturdy mugs and a teapot?

And what about yourself? Best dress or comfy togs? Perhaps you might do your hair and make-up or put on your favourite pair of shoes.

So then, once all is ready, it is time to welcome your most honoured guest. Perhaps you light a candle, put out their photograph, write their name or say it out loud.

Pour the tea or the wine, serve their favourite cake or biscuit. Sit and be in their company. Talk to them. Speak your memories. Speak or sing a blessing upon their name.

Make space for them, make space for your grief, make space to say goodbye.

In my tradition we say – what is remembered, lives.

(c) Awen Clement – 27th April 2020

Awen is a funeral celebrant and pagan priest seeking to support the grieving through rites and rituals, weaving new traditions from older echoes.

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