Recent weeks have brought death to my office door. I have been called upon to work with a number of families who have experienced the death of a loved one. When people see me celebrating marriages and births so joyfully, they sometimes forget that I work on “the death stuff” too. In fact, my primary motivator in becoming a Celebrant was to work with families in the raw times of their lives… by providing deeply meaningful End-of-life Ceremonies.
It may sound odd but I feel at ease around death. I’ve experienced a somewhat shocking number of deaths of friends and family, some of which were tragic deaths including suicide. Instead of numbing out, I chose to fully experience the complexity of grief, with all its swings of emotion. To move towards sorrow and not away from it.
In 2006 I trained as a Palliative Care and Hospice volunteer. This has been a great gift in my life. To be with people at the moment of death, and to be of comfort to their families, is a tremendous privilege. I also learned a lot about living from some very forthright souls in the final days, weeks, and months as they prepared to die.
This mindful awareness is what I bring to the families I work with in my practice as a Funeral Celebrant. Helping people create a Celebration of Life, Memorial Service, Ash-Scattering, or Committal Ceremony isn’t ‘just a job’ to me! Oh my gosh… so FAR from it!
I love to hear their stories. I see how the telling helps to make things real especially in the first week after a loved one’s death. That’s a weirdly unstable time… I suspect that our brains simply cannot compute that the person who was, is no longer.
My gift is to draw out the stories and the memories in a way that illuminates the deceased in the fullness of his or her being. And then to weave all the threads into a beautiful tapestry — the actual Celebration of Life Ceremony or Memorial Service.
Often people ask me to write the eulogy. I have to use all my senses when I am with the family so I can absorb the personality of their loved one. As you can well imagine, it’s hard to write a Memorial Eulogy for someone you’ve never met. And to have it be a ‘bang on’ portrait of the person. It’s an extraordinary experience for me!
Here is a quote from a Blackfoot elder that I like…
“What is Life? It is the flash of a firefly at night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”