Part I: Tips for Planning a Memorial

Celebrating a Life: Planning a memorial

We live in a society that is uncomfortable with death, grief, and mourning. And when it comes to memorials and other celebrations of life we don’t always know how to create them or what to do.  Not surprising, after all most people have had little experience.But let me tell you this — people usually know what they DON’T WANT.  The families I serve in ceremony at end of life DO NOT want maudlin displays of plastic mourning, and they DO NO WANT stale rites by rote.

They want real, truthful, honest memorials that capture the essence of the person they loved. And they long for the memorial to be done well so that it is a stepping stone that will help them grieve and mourn. Most people want me to tell them that what they are experiencing is normal. And it is. Every single time.

With a few exceptions the individuals and families I work with are not formally religious. They usually consider themselves spiritual but not religious. Which tells me, “we want something meaningful with no dogma.” They connect to what is personal, meaningful, and memorable. Because of the intensity of their grief, these lovely men and women nearly always find it difficult to articulate their innermost feelings without support and guidance.

Once I invite those feelings in, let them know I’m comfortable with whatever comes up, and begin asking them gentle but perceptive questions… boy oh boy the stories start tumbling out and feelings come along with them! This is why I especially love the family interviews. It’s so powerful to witness this collective remembering and unfolding of hearts. That is my path as a Celebrant… to help people express the inexpressible so it may be shared with others.

When is the right time to plan a Memorial?

Usually when someone we love passes away, we move quickly to hold a ceremony to honour that person. It feels important to do so. There is often a sense of urgency for many people. But I also  work with families who wait several months (if the body has been cremated). They want to be able to plan and participate in a memorial ceremony when they are more present than in those early dark days of shock.

Families hold memorials at different times. In my practice, I tell people that we can create a ceremony whenever it suits them. Some have a more immediate public memorial, with a more intimate family gathering at a later date, perhaps to scatter or inter cremated remains.  I also tell them that whatever and whenever, it can be however they need it to be.  I threw the cookie cutters out a long time ago. In fact, I never used them… even in real life cooking!

Please join me next week for Part II of my 4-part series on “Tips for Planning a Memorial, Celebration of Life, or other Ceremony of Remembrance.” In PART TWO:  I’ll talk about the specifics such as When, Where, Who, Reception, Music, etc.

by Master Celebrant Michele Davidson



One thought on “Part I: Tips for Planning a Memorial

  1. I write to simply appreciate your message from way down south in the Sonoran Desert, Michele!

    And as a fellow Life-Cycle Celebrant, share how I resonate with your phrases “meaning without dogma” and “expressing the inexpressible”. The families I serve desire these elements too. Often they feel uncertain if it is possible. Indeed, when we guide folks through connecting “to what is personal, meaningful, memorable” pure expressions occur, sans dogma! And it is so powerful to witness. ~ Kristine

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