One beautiful day last summer, I was sitting out on my friend Linda’s lawn, having tea with her and Jane, another longtime friend. Linda’s father Jim came out to join us, which turned the afternoon tea party into a Special Occasion. Jim is 92 years old and very frail. It isn’t every day that he feels well enough to get out of bed and down the steps to the front yard.
Jane was asking me about my work as a Celebrant during the past year. I was telling her about the weddings, and also spoke of the end-of-life ceremonies I had created and performed. Suddenly, Jim leaned across the table and said, “Hey Jan. Could we talk more about that?”
The conversation that followed was amazing. Jim immediately earned my attention and respect by frankly stating the prospect of his pending demise. Ever the caring and responsible Dad, he expressed his desire to “get things organized” so that his four children and his grandchildren wouldn’t be at a loss to know what to do when he died.
His body may have been failing him, but his mind most certainly was not. Jim asked me a number of questions about the role of a Celebrant, how we could work together, what we could do. He made it clear it was to be a celebration, not some gloomy affair. As my imagination flared in response to his questions, I started to describe some of the things we might do to celebrate his life. He listened intently, and at one point quipped, “Wow, Jan. It sounds great! I can hardly wait to be there!” (That may be one of my favourite jokes of all time.)
The conversation continued. Part of me was the professional, working with Jim to plan his Celebration of Life, and part of me was deeply moved by the opportunity I was being offered to serve Jim and his family, whom I have known for so many years, in this way. Jane later told me that being privy to that conversation was the highlight of her summer.
At the end of our chat, we agreed that we would meet again so I could get the particulars of Jim’s life, and further clarify his wishes. Jim expressed a deep sense of relief and gratitude for being able to talk about these things, and to know that there would be a plan in place.
Jim and I have now met on a few occasions – sometimes with other family members, and sometimes with just each other. As I have gotten to know more about this wonderful man, I have felt humbled by his courage; touched by the mutual dedication of him and his family; and deeply, deeply honoured to be their Funeral Celebrant.
My work as a Celebrant is always rewarding, but at times like this it feels like a calling.
Funeral Celebrant Janis Horne, Modern Celebrant