With All Due Respect

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to create a memorial ceremony for a family who wished to inter the ashes of Anna, their dear family member whom they had lost to suicide about eighteen months earlier. During this time, their life-changing grief has not abated; it has evolved to different levels, but remains ever present. The purpose of the ceremony was not only to place Anna in her final resting place, but also to provide comfort by keeping her memory alive as part of all who had ever known and loved her.

We walked in together, everyone carrying a flower, which was placed beside her photograph. Flowers, in their infinite variety and beauty, offered splendid colour and joy that set the stage for the rest of the ceremony.  We then began a “litany of remembrance.” After the initial [to be expected] silence, the memories began to flow – from the parents, the siblings, the friends and even the little grandchildren. Funny, poignant, touching anecdotes that vividly portrayed the person that she had been, and always will be, in their hearts. One family member offered each of us a spritz of Anna’s signature cologne, the scent of which clearly evoked her personality. After each memory was spoken, we repeated “We will remember you.”

This family has its roots in Africa, which Anna carried deep in her soul. She became one with Africa, and soil lovingly imported from Namibia and Kenya was sprinkled in her burial site with her ashes so that Africa would become part of her. In recognition of her Canadian life, sand from a beach in Victoria was also added to her new home.  With deep courage and love, Anna’s mother read “The Journey”, a poem by David Whyte, which ended with “You are not leaving. Even as the light fades quickly now, you are arriving.”

The closing ritual involved apples, Anna’s favourite snack, which she would often begin, and rarely finish. Apples were given to every member of the family, who took a bite or two, and then planted and left the core behind. Who knows, maybe someday there will be an apple orchard at the site, a living testimony to this family’s love.

Throughout every step of this poignant ceremony, those present participated with gravity, respect, and their full attention. I was so impressed with their innate understanding and acceptance of the importance of symbolism and ritual in putting Anna to rest and moving on with their lives, while always keeping her alive in their hearts. It is an experience I will forever cherish.

Funeral Celebrant Janis Horne

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