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Posts from the ‘Celebrations of Life’ Category

Stone Ritual for Memorial

I come from a family of rock hounds. As you might imagine, I inherently love rocks and stones of all sorts. To me, they hold countless stories. And well, no surprise, I’m also in love with storytelling. But the ritual I’m sharing below brings a whole new meaning to telling stories.

At a recent memorial for a woman who was an extraordinary Wife, Grammy, Mom, Sister, and Friend . . . the family offered this participatory ritual for guests to enjoy before and after the service. We held the ceremony at the Tucson Botanical Gardens on an early spring afternoon blessed with gentle rain. Out on the patio, these stones were set on the fountain wall for people to write messages or draw pictures upon. It was a reflective and sacred kind of space, very inviting for people as they remembered her well.


Looks beautiful and thoughtful, right?It is a wonderful idea to include in a Celebration of Life for someone who enjoyed collecting rocks. But wait, the very coolest part is WHY this ritual holds meaning for the family:

The woman we were remembering loved to draw words and pictures on rocks and randomly place them out in the yard for her grandkids (four adorable young boys) to find. From what I gathered, it was rather like an ongoing easter egg hunt in a way, full of surprise and ongoing fun for the boys to find what little treasures of rocks their Grammy hid for them around the front, sides and back of her yard. The day we met to plan the service, a family member even found one such rock with a drawing of a face on it. This felt uncanny and incredibly touching. Everyone was visibly moved when they heard this story during the storytelling in the service.

An example like this is one of many ways we can connect to each other and the person who has passed during times of remembrance. I believe having this kind of a participatory and tactile ritual, holding relevance to the people present as well as the deceased, can be a very unifying element in a memorial or celebration of life. What ideas have you seen, experienced or dreamt up that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear!

Remembrance with rocks at the Tucson Botanical Gardens

Remembrance with rocks at the Tucson Botanical Gardens


Remembrance at San Pedro Chapel

Chapel Interior

Chapel Interior

Yesterday, I was grateful to be with a circle of people to help guide a simple and tender remembrance ceremony honoring a man they intensely loved and admired. We gathered together on a humid monsoon morning in Tucson at the San Pedro Chapel, a perfect place for honoring love and life. I want to share this hidden gem with you because this historic piece of land + chapel in the Old Fort Lowell neighborhood = one naturally intimate setting for a remembrance ceremony or Celebration of Life.

Not only is this venue scenic and reflective of the essence of Tucson — as you can see from my photos —  it is also community-owned and managed, affordable and central. Does it get much better than all of this combined? You can learn more about renting the space here.

The north facing entrance to San Pedro Chapel

The north facing entrance to San Pedro Chapel

View of Catalina Mountains from Chapel

View of Catalina Mountains from Chapel

A Memorial Song for a Strong Woman

Lately, this song has come to mind for a couple of memorial services I’ve co-created with families, for very strong women who inhabited their Mother Archetype with a fierce tenderness. It is an entrancing arrangement to me, composed by Bobby McFerrin. I love the passage as it stands on its own, although this gives a whole fresh breath of life into the healing qualities of the phrases. If you have ever given your voice to acapella song, you can appreciate this group’s harmonies:

The lyrics push thought boundaries as ‘he’ is replaced with ‘she’ in the Psalm’s wording — and some people bristle at this. However, it is a song McFerrin dedicated to his mother and her enduring love. A Mother’s love is for some people, the source of life, similar to the love of God (if belief in God is present). I offer this as an option for anybody who can think beyond the boundaries of he or she, beyond God having a gender. All it takes is simply relating to the divinity of LOVE. Here are the lyrics:

The Lord is my Shepard, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, 
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won’t forsake me,
I’m in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil, 
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever and ever.

Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen

By, Bobby McFerrin

Live music at a Memorial?

Yes! Or at a Celebration of Life . . . or any kind of meaningful remembrance. You might think, “Okay – maybe in a church. I’ve seen that.” True, a pipe organ or a church choir may fit the bill beautifully well in a congregational setting.

What happens when the ceremony is outdoors though – in a back yard, local park or special place like the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum or Tucson Botanical Gardens?  These are the types of settings the families with whom I work often choose for their custom ceremonies of remembrance. And live music can work incredibly well. I’ve seen families incorporate live guitar, harp, drums, accordion, bagpipes and vocalists. (Never all at once!)

Folks seem to default to pre-recorded music playing before, during or after ceremonies. With the accessibility of iPod speaker docks and other technology, music can be woven into a ceremony with the help of tech-savvy friends. However, I am writing this post as a huge proponent of musicians performing LIVE music, for three main reasons:

  • Receiving the vibrations of live sound feels cathartic. When you hear and feel live bagpipes, accordion, violin, guitar, drums, cello or acapella human voices – in person – what happens? Most likely, emotions rise to the surface and stir your spirit. Live music can stir the heart and soul with a power greater than spoken word or pre-recorded music.
  • Reflecting on an honoree’s life while hearing a song he or she loved played live is uplifting. Times in our lives and our relationships can be defined by hearing a single song or even a set of powerful lyrics. When music is carefully chosen by kin surrounding the honoree, and performed live, I witness a hard-to-describe ‘tingle’ while connections come alive and people feel uplifted.
  • Sensing a shared response to the music from everyone gathered builds a community experience. I have witnessed mutually recognized tears, nods, laughter and movement – even a standing ovation! – all expressed in response to live music during memorials and celebrations of life.

This is Part One of my wee ‘opinion’ post about live music . . . stay tuned for Part Two where I’ll list resources for live musicians who bring their talents to ceremony spaces in Tucson!

For now, just dream of what it would be like to see have Yo-Yo Ma at a ceremony playing this timeless piece from the Bach Cello Suite:

Remembering our Ancestors: All Souls

This week is big for many reasons. If you are a kid and you live in North America, you are likely psyched about your Halloween costume. (I know for sure I was, back in the trick-or-treating days!) If you are a parent, you’re not so psyched because of the tidal wave of sugar about to come crashing down upon your house.

What if you are a seeker of meaning though? You might find your way to the holidays around this time of year associated with All Soul’s Day, All Hallow’s Eve and Day of the Dead. (aka: Dia de los Muertos.) All of these celebrations have very ancient european, celtic or pre-columbian roots. And the common thread?

Remembering and celebrating our ancestors . . . our dead.

Why do I think this is important as a seeker of meaning myself? Because when we respect and look with gratitude to our ancestors (and our recently deceased loved ones) their sacrifices made and their gifts to us as we survive into this day — we are more present and aware — more able to live fully in this moment. These holidays and cultural celebrations affirm the very breath we take and our collective experience as human beings throughout time. We come to realize we are all beings with a common thread of experiencing loss, sorrow, joy, laughter, connection, grief, tears and wonder. We are not ever alone.

In Tucson, we have the enormous gift of our own festal culture via the All Soul’s Procession. It happens this weekend and draws people literally from around the block and around the world. It is entirely sponsored by OUR COMMUNITY and happens due to the passion of hundreds of people driven to honor and remember our dead with fearless creativity. I volunteer as an Urn Ambassador, letting people know they can place wishes, prayers or symbolic objects into the urn for burning and release to the sky / the heavens above us. This collective experience is unparalleled in the world. Here is a little video for a peek into the celebration: All Souls Promo short from Leslie Ann Epperson on Vimeo.

The Urn Burns (All Souls Procession)

The Urn Burns (All Souls Procession) (Photo credit: cobalt123)

What will you do to remember your ancestors this week? Even lighting a simple candle with gratitude can be a powerful gesture. Please share in the comments . . . it is fun to learn the varied traditions people uphold around these often obscure holidays, when the veil between worlds feels a little thinner.

Celebration of Life Venues in Tucson

Serene landscaping at Hacienda del Sol

Serene landscaping at Hacienda del Sol

One of the first questions a family usually asks me as their Celebrant while we co-create a memorial or celebration of life relates to WHERE to hold the event. That is, if the family chooses not to hold it at a private residence, which is possible and often preferable, depending upon the number of guests.

So I offer this wee list of locations in Tucson where I’ve led celebrations. Families I work with have found the venues (along with staff members) to be welcoming and the settings comfortable. I gravitate toward places where genuine warmth and professionalism are of central importance to staff members, with a level of sincere caring from everyone supporting the event. Based upon my experiences, you’ll find such qualities in these places:

Hacienda del Sol

 This historic guest ranch and resort offers smaller and more intimates spaces as well as grander size for larger guest attendance. The Hacienda Room (with patio) or Inner Courtyard can be very beautiful. There are PDFs to click on and view helpful space layouts here.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

 The Desert Garden (which has covered space and a little cooling spring) is the space I’ve usually led remembrance ceremonies in at the museum. It is a very tranquil setting, with larger areas for central group seating during a ceremony and smaller ‘mingling’ spaces for refreshments and conversations afterward. You can learn more about the Desert Garden and other rental spaces here.


The Desert Garden set up with refreshments at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Tohono Chul Park

From the Tea House to the Performance Garden – both indoor and outdoor locations can be reserved at the park. There are plenty of natural and peaceful spaces open for walks and quiet reflection before, during or after an event here.

Performance Garden at Tohono Chul

Performance Garden at Tohono Chul

Tucson Botanical Gardens

 Likely the most centrally located of all venue choices. Smaller indoor and outdoor spaces are available – this is not a space for a guest range much larger than 100, although for intimate gatherings some of the spaces could be perfect. For memorials, they usually have more flexibility with food service.

Small Family ceremony set up at Botanical Gardens

Small Family ceremony set up at Botanical Gardens

 Tucson Museum of Art

 Certainly the most urban-feeling space I’ve listed here – though the Moore courtyard is smaller and intimate. Both indoor and outdoor spaces are available to rent here and this is a FANTASTIC space for celebrating art aficianados!

Afternoon shadows at Tucson Museum of Art courtyard

Afternoon shadows at Tucson Museum of Art courtyard

Hotel Congress

If the person to be celebrated loved a party or history or a robust bar scene, I can’t think of a better place than Copper Hall at Hotel Congress! It incorporates all of the above.

Tubac Golf Resort & Spa

A bit of a drive down I-19, yet worth it. Temperatures are usually 7-10 degrees cooler there and the scenery is beautiful. The Otero ‘Boardroom’ as shown here is really a small, intimate house with a calm patio and lawn, views of Santa Rita mountains. It is a scenic and comfortable setting; a very soothing place to be for a remembrance.

View of the Santa Rita Mountains from Tubac Golf Resort's Otero Lawn

View of the Santa Rita Mountains from Tubac Golf Resort’s Otero Lawn

Are you seeking resources and help with planning a memorial or celebration of life in Tucson or Southern Arizona? Let me know if this was helpful or please contact me if you have more questions. I am always willing to help a remembrance happen with as much meaning and grace as possible!

To grieve or not to grieve?

I wonder sometimes. Our culture in the west seems to hold this notion that closure is necessary, and we ought to soldier on past a loss after only a week or a month. While working with families after a death has occurred, I put out the notion of grief as natural and individual, much like our own fingerprints. Everyone of us, I believe, grieves differently. And a common thread seems to be: it takes time.


This  past weekend I had sensations of my own personal grief upwelling; I acknowledged it and let it move through, remaining as porous as I could. I thoroughly felt my sadness – albeit painful – and thanked it at the same time for the honesty and truth it brings me. Likely no coincidence in how the next day, I went head long into working with a family to co-create a Celebration of Life for their father, brother, husband, and mostly — plain incredible and fun-loving-big-laughter-generous-hearted friend. I am always in awe of a family willing to share quiet reflection, tears, hilarious stories, and belly laughs with me while we step into the space of co-creating a custom celebration of their beloved’s life. The tears say grief is raw and present. The smiles and stories say grief moves through us, because somehow, the essence of those we love is imprinted within us indelibly.


I am deeply thankful for this work. As I’ve approached building this Celebration of Life from a well of gratitude today, I came across this poem and need to share it. I believe in grieving – in the transformative healing power it has when we open ourselves to it. And at the same time, I believe in what the Sufi poet Rumi shares with us here. I sense him asking us to pause. To listen to the world’s greater heart beat, in a way. When we do, we need not grieve. For it keeps softly thumping . . . and somehow the rhythm safely holds us. Always.


Don’t Grieve


By, Rumi



Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round

in another form. The child weaned from mother’s milk

now drinks wine and honey mixed.


God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,

from cell to cell.  As rainwater, down into flowerbed.

As roses, up from ground.

Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,

now a cliff covered with vines,

now a horse being saddled.

It hides within these,

Til one day it cracks them open.


Part of the self leaves the body when we sleep

and changes shape. You might say, “Last night

I was a cypress tree, a small bed of tulips,

a field of grapevines.” Then the phantasm goes away.

You’re back in the room.

I don’t want to make anyone fearful.

Hear what’s behind what I say.


Ta dum dum, taa dum, ta ta dum.

There’s the light gold of wheat in the sun

and the gold of bread made from that wheat.

I have neither. I’m only talking about them,


As a town in the desert looks up

at stars on a clear night

Night lights of Tucson on a clear night.

Tucson looking up at the sky on a clear night.

Elegant Memorial Song

This morning a student of mine shared this song with our class. It is so moving and potentially perfect for including in a memorial or celebration of life, I am promptly sharing it with you. Quite happily, I teach Fundamentals of Celebrancy for the Celebrant Foundation & Institute. We look at the theory and practice behind creating custom ceremonies for couples and families. Through this work, I continually stretch myself as a Life-Cycle Celebrant, and learn from my amazingly talented students.

Here are the song lyrics, in case while listening you are carried away into the song and don’t catch all the words:

Carry, by Tori Amos

Love, hold my hand
Help me see with the dawn
That those that have left
Are not gone
But they carry on
As stars looking down
As nature’s sons
And daughters of the heavens
You will not ever be forgotten by me
In the procession of the mighty stars
Your name is sung and tattooed now on my heart
Here I will carry, carry, carry you


You have touched my life
So that now
Cathedrals of sound are singing, are singing
The waves have come to walk with you
To where you will live in the land of you,
Land of you
You will not ever be forgotten by me
In the procession of the mighty stars
Your name is sung and tattooed now on my heart
Here I will carry, carry, carry you
Here I will carry, carry, carry you


P.S. Tori is playing a character in this video, because the album ‘Night of Hunters’ is a song cycle about a couple’s relationship told from the woman’s perspective on a night in Ireland, where she meets two spirits: Ariel and the Fire Muse.

Tips for a Moving Eulogy

While I love writing and leading custom remembrance ceremonies for people or their animal companions in Tucson, I enjoy assisting others in the art of doing so as well. I offer consulting for families who may be planning a memorial or celebration of life anywhere, by assisting them with creating their own meaningful ceremony script to deliver themselves. I am also an instructor for the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, currently leading a course in Funeral Celebrancy and Ceremonies for Healing. Recent sections we explored in class and subsequent conversations with students, combined with this article I just read, compelled me to pen this post.

You might agree it is a fortunate occasion to hear a thoughtful, well-crafted and meaningful eulogy. (I’m guessing you might also agree it is a rare occasion?) Rather than delve into why I think this may be so, I’ve got some tips on how to make it so! Eulogizing a life can feel daunting. So, reverting to a chronological-style obit presentation of a life often becomes the default approach. Here are a few ideas on how to depart from this mode:

  • Ask yourself, “What did it mean for  _______ to live?” This gets to the heart of why we write and share eulogies: reflecting on the legacy this person leaves us to reconcile. We pause. We learn from their example: their opportunities, relationships or even sometimes, their struggles.
  • What stories bring his or her essence into the room? Storytelling may be the most powerful tool we have for conveying a legacy. Vignettes from a life, in full color and sensory description, bring the essence of a person right into the room. When a eulogy is moving and truly stirs emotions, we feel closer to the honoree. We can feel his or her presence through our senses and our memories.
  • Be daring with your narrative. Weave in actual quotes from the deceased and the people who were caregivers or were close throughout life. The article I cited earlier, including a eulogy excerpt from the author about his mother, offers masterful examples of bright dialogue, like this:

Easily bored, my mother wanted mothering to be edifying.  If it was merely tedious, she didn’t have the patience for it. Instead of plying me with food like the stereotypical Jewish mother, by my teenage years she declared that she was so sick and tired of answering my incessant questions about what food was on hand that food was thereafter off limits as a topic of conversation between us. From then on, she proclaimed, she and I would speak only of literary matters.
“So,” I would say, sauntering into the kitchen and opening the refrigerator door, “do you think Camus liked bologna?  Think Sartre would have enjoyed it if there’d been any mustard to go with it?”
She would cackle and call me a horse’s ass.  And in my dubiously affectionate fashion, I had a name for her, too. I called her “The Duchess.”   For she was also the most refined person I knew, sensitive to language and music and art, attuned to every nuance of expression and gesture.

  • Don’t shy away from the tough stuff. Lightly touch upon what may have been challenging about the honoree’s character. If the eulogy sanctifies a person we know did not live as a saint (and who does?), it is distracting and falls flat upon the listeners’ ears. Again, this passage from ‘A Thousand Shades of Life’ illuminates my point:

But her mothering was spotty, full of static-y offs and ons, like a wire in a loose connection — sometimes yes, more often no.  My other name for her was “Motherly” — because she wasn’t, with me, anyway.  We had a shortage of tender moments between us; they were usually more operatic — high hilarity, or threats and recriminations. But there was one moment that was so gentle that even years later it shines with a dull glow.

Compelling, yes? You really want to keep reading/listening. And something about this naked honesty might even resonate with you, too.

I certainly don’t wish the task of writing a eulogy upon anyone, anytime soon. If you are in a context where you need to however, my hope is you find these tips helpful. And at the very least, you feel inspired by the fantastic writing I’ve shared.

Sending light with song at Memorials

More likely than not, you have experienced the power of song during a Celebration of Life or Memorial, yes? Maybe you felt goosebumps wash over you. Or maybe the song was so cathartic, it opened up whatever held back your unshed tears.

I am fresh from a retreat where I sang for nearly three days – during a Southwest Gathering of Threshold Choirs – led by our founder Kate Munger. I attended with two other sisters from Tucson, joining a circle of women from Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Silver City, Austin and more. Together, we felt first hand the power of healing songs; written to celebrate life, acknowledge love, provide support and soothe the pangs of loss. I am feeling enormously blessed for being a member of the Tucson Threshold Choir. Thus, needed to share here what a resource we are locally, regionally and nationally.

Here is an ‘introductory’ video, featuring the ‘Grandmother’ of our Choir movement, Kate:


Here are a few song lyrics to go with what you hear in this video:

“I am sending you light / To heal you / To hold you / I am sending you light / To hold you in love”

This is an example of a song we recently sang, at a bi-annual Celebration of Life for a Tucson Hospice. We sing to people in various settings, not only at bedside. The songs are simple and beautiful. Our Choirs’ sounds reach out to help people remember and heal with love.

Please feel free to write with any questions or comments about the Threshold Choir movement and the music we create!