Recently I stood in a meadow with nearly 300 good and gentle people who stood together shoulder-to-shoulder, united by three things – love, compassion, and their sorrow at the loss of a young person.
This past month has seen me called to create a meaningful Ceremonies of Remembrance for four different families after the death of a loved one. Two were suicides (more common than people are aware.)
Like many of the families I have the immense privilege to work with as a Celebrant in my ceremonial practice, they wanted a heart based way to honour their loved one but weren’t quite sure how to make it happen. The days after a death have a suspended quality… things don’t quite feel real…so it’s no wonder that people struggle to find their way when it comes to planning the memorial, celebration of life, or funeral. (Did you know that people often have strong preferences for what to call the ceremony?)
Here’s how I offer support as a Funeral Celebrant:
First I spend a couple of hours with family members. Ideally together so I get a sense of dynamics. Telling stories as a family seems to enliven memories and help them flow. I’m deeply present and attuned, asking questions and listening with all my sense to discover who she was, what he stood for, his life story, the people she loved, what she liked and disliked. Also to bear witness to all the feelings in the room. Tears, laughter, pain… everything is embraced. The latter also helps me guide the family to figure out who wants to (and who might actually be able to) speak at the memorial service.
I suggest readings, ritual if desired, and typically write everything in the ceremony, including the soul sketch and excepting family words. The soul sketch is a beautiful tapestry of a person’s life — a great joy for me to write. I weave in the many threads of the life as a whole, with layers of words and thoughts based on what the family has shared with me. And then family members add colour and depth with their special memories relating to their relationship e.g. ‘what it was like to have Ben for a brother-in-law’. Often friends will speak as well. If asked, I can provide guidance on content.
I love that, very often, it is the young people of the family who go through family photos and create a video portrait.
The day of, I arrive early and when guests are settled and the family is ready, I begin. I speak my words in such a way that creates a container for the emotions present in the space. To create a sense of safety where family and friends can mourn but also smile and laugh through their tears. All emotions at a memorial are natural… I don’t believe there is a ‘correct’ way to be.
I also name grief and speak to the responsibility of community to support a family whose loved one has died. Death leaves a void that can never be filled, but the support of others not just the day of the ceremony, but in the weeks and months ahead is so helpful to the healing process. This is particularly true when the deceased has claimed his or her own life.
Memorial and Celebration of Life ceremonies can be healing experiences when real and honest. When the family is part of the creation the ceremony is very powerful.
With much heart,
Funeral Celebrant Michele Davidson, Founder Modern Celebrant