Mixed Feelings

When I talk to folks about my Celebrant practice, I share that I create and perform wedding ceremonies. Almost universally, the reaction is that it must be wonderful to be involved in such joyous, positive events. (And it is!) When I go on to say that I also create and perform end-of-life ceremonies, there is almost always an immediate inverse reaction that it must be terribly sad and hard to help people in this way.

Yes, sometimes it is hard to serve the community in times of sadness and grief. Especially when someone is taken too young, or tragically, or needlessly. There is a lot of grief expressed as people come in to the room; tears and hugs are freely exchanged. It’s extremely poignant to see people sharing their emotions so openly.

However, I’ve often noticed that there is also a sense of anticipation lingering among the tears. Even though the reason for coming together is sad, people are inevitably gladdened to see relatives or friends or neighbours that they may have lost touch with. These people often represent a different era in someone’s life; perhaps childhood, a previous marriage, a different town. It’s always good to see them again; touching to know that they still care. Amid the expressions of sorrow, there’s also cries of surprise and joy.

If the memorial or celebration of life ceremony has served its intended purpose, to comfort, console, and say good- bye, then it is human nature to reach out to each other to affirm life once again. It’s all about connection. Human beings are genetically wired to seek connection with each other. In my opinion, that’s why these ceremonies, and the receptions afterwards, are so important. They give us a chance to accept death as part of life.

Of course, the grieving and sense of loss will return in the months and years to come, but coming together to celebrate someone’s life is a temporary reprieve when those closest to the deceased get to share the load – and the memories — with everyone else.

Sometimes, watching the crowd have a glass of wine together, chatting and laughing as they re-establish their bond with one another, it’s hard to tell whether they have come together for a sorrowful or a joyous occasion. The behavior is much the same.

And, that’s exactly how it should be.

Funeral Celebrant Janis Horne – for Modern Celebrant


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