It is a beautifully sunny day and we are in the Palma Cemetery, just off the Via Cintura at the Puigpunyent exit. It is a huge area and it is quite a surprise to finally understand the scale of the place after so many years blithely driving past it on my way to something or other. Glynis and I explore the grounds and read the headstones and in between take photos and chat about her life and the evolution of her work.
What’s your “origin story”, how do you come to be where you are now?
GLYNIS GERMAN: So I was born on another island halfway across the world. I’m British by nationality, born in Jamaica, with a Jamaican mum and a Welsh dad, and I’ve been in Mallorca for 30 years. I have done a lot of different things in my life. I’ve milked cows on an Israeli kibbutz I’ve taught English in Brazil. I taught yachties Spanish when I first arrived here but I always had this interest in death. For the past decade, I’ve been a celebrant, enjoying summers of weddings in Mallorca. In 2015, I wanted to deepen my understanding to be able to offer funeral ceremonies. I trained with the fellowship of professional celebrants in the UK, because the UK has got some great individuals already practising this profession. And it was at this time I discovered the Death Cafe, which is a global movement where people have a cup of tea and a piece of cake and talk about death. Since 2019, I’ve been training as an end of life doula, again, with another British organisation “Living well dying well”, and I am now training to become a trainer as I really want to bring the End of Life doula movement to Spain.
Was it a difficult transition for you to become a celebrant?
No. When we know our purpose, it makes the career choices so much easier. Because I never knew before what I was supposed to be doing until I held my very first ceremony and then I realised that this was what I was born to do.
You started out as a wedding celebrant? How many weddings have you done in Mallorca?
Gosh, over the years my top would be fifty in a season, but that number is coming down now. It could be a thousand in total. Luckily, I haven’t done as many funerals. That’s a difficult one, because when people see me at funerals I don’t want them to get the wrong idea when I say “I’ll see you soon!” It’s a small island after all!
What are the qualities you think that are important in being a good celebrant, either for a marriage or for a funeral?
Listening, listening to what’s said, and also being able to hear what’s not said. Remembering that for most people this is their first time and it’s not “just another” funeral. Treating everyone as unique individuals. So I always go in with a fresh eye and approach. Being able to write well is important as well, as I write the text for the ceremonies.
What can someone expect if a loved one of theirs dies in Spain? What are the differences between the UK and here?
I think the tricky one here in Spain for us is the speed at which the remains of the deceased are dealt with. That really is quite shocking for the British. The Spanish are used to somebody dying and then two days later, it’s all done and dusted. But you must know that you do not need to be rushed. You can slow the process down, you need to talk to the funeral director about what the latest date would be that you can delay, and also ask about the additional costs that will be incurred. Then sadly, because sanitary laws are different in Spain to the UK, whereas in the UK, we can wait three weeks. The embalming process will take place at one point in the UK, and you can still see your loved one on the day of the funeral that’s taking place three weeks ahead of time. That’s not going to happen if you wait that long in Spain. So if you were to wait more than 10 days you’re not going to be able to have your loved one’s coffin in the chapel, as it will be in a refrigerated cabinet in a viewing room. You cannot have a wicker coffin and you cannot cremate in cloth like you can in, in the UK, or in cardboard, sadly, you just can’t do that in Spain right now, because of the sanitary laws.
But you don’t have to have that sense of being rushed which I think is the hardest thing for any human to to be dealing with: not only have you lost your loved one, but everybody’s rushing you to say goodbye, so take your time, you know, and even in the dying process, take your time, don’t be rushed. If your loved one is in hospital, or at home, don’t be rushed to take the body away after they have died.
In your work as an end of life doula, what can people kind of expect you to do?
So we are a non medical role, that’s the first thing to understand, we’re not going to be there advising you on when to stop morphine, when to stop any other medication. There are medical professionals who will advise you on that.
When I die, which I hope will be a long time from now I want to die at home. And I would love that my sons felt able to want to be there with me. And I would also hope that the wisest friends that I’m blessed to have, would also be there too, to be able to support my sons to stay in there with me. So, what would I need? A doula is there in the role of coach, we’re there to do what is needed, and we are led by the family.
Our role is to open up the conversation to see what’s needed. We’re there to provide comfort. It’s just like the old days that I’m sure all of our grandparents have had experience of seeing when they were children. What the communities did. You know how the community stepped in how the communities were or a death showing up with food for the family, helping, you know, you would know in those days, which of the village women you called, who would lead everybody in dressing the body and you know which of the men you’d call to be lifting the body. But now in these times we’re having to professionalise that role in the sense that we don’t have the communities that our grandparents grew up with.
How do The Death Cafes tie in with your work?
So the Death Cafe is the best thing! Basically people have met either in their homes or in a cafe or online, to have a cup of tea, and hopefully some cake, to have a chat about death. There is no cost to attend a Death Cafe. Obviously, each pays for their own refreshments. And there are no experts invited to attend, because at the end of the day, nobody in a Death Cafe is actually dead, so nobody knows more than the other! Since December 2015, I’ve been offering these events almost every month, and I’ve done over 1000 Death cafes in English, in Spanish, online, and all over the island. Everyone, everyone is welcome to come.
You can see more about Glynis on her website: glynisgermancelebrant.com and listen to a recent interview with her on the Majorca Mallorca Podcast. The next Death Cafe is in Algaida on February 28 from 11am to 1pm. You can call 666 987 430 to talk to Glynis if you have any other questions.
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