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Posts from the ‘General Ceremony’ Category

Joining our Sorrows

It’s been a long stretch of time since I last posted on this site. I’m still here in Tucson, doing the work of supporting individuals and families in times of loss, grief and ceremony. I companion folks as a fellow human tenderized by life and death, not an expert in anything. Sometimes I plain listen people into hearing themselves. Sometimes we co-create ritual or ceremony to mark milestones and acknowledge loved ones in public space as it feels safe and comfortable for them. Throughout the past few years, I’ve become more drawn to ‘tending grief’ for people both anticipating dying and mourning a death or multiple deaths. (As is sadly so often is the case during the pandemic.) I find myself bearing witness to the humility and rawness of sorrow, how it threads itself through our lives. I find myself being more closely in touch with my own sorrow, too. It feels as expansive as vast wilderness some days, much like this photo I took while traveling in Argentina.

Wild horses in Patagonia, Argentina

I recently came across a passage in the book by poet Ross Gay called “The Book of Delights” and realized I needed to share it here. As I help people join together to mourn and grieve through ritual or ceremony after times of isolation during the pandemic, it feels like there is a deeper meaning or undercurrent happening compared to before. There is a kind of necessary joining to work through sorrow into joy with community and then maybe back and forth individually, as we do our personal remembering. For example, I can hear the anxiety in peoples’ voices as a memorial draws near and then the dissipation of anxiety as it melts into joy while a ceremony occurs. So naturally, this passage spoke to me about the depths of what happens when we join our sorrow:

“Among the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard anyone say came from my student Bethany, talking about her pedagogical aspirations or ethos, how she wanted to be as a teacher, and what she wanted her classrooms to be: “What if we joined our wildernesses together?” Sit with that for a minute. That the body, the life, might carry a wilderness, an unexplored territory, and that yours and mine might somewhere, somehow, meet. Might, even, join.

And what if the wilderness – perhaps the densest wild in there – thickets, bogs, swamps, uncrossable ravines, and rivers (have I made the metaphor clear?) – is our sorrow? Or to use Smith’s term, the “intolerable.” It astonishes me sometimes – no, often – how every person I get to know – everyone, regardless of everything, by which I mean everything – lives with some profound personal sorrow. Brother addicted. Mother murdered. Dad died in surgery. Rejected by their family. Cancer came back. Evicted. Fetus not okay. Everyone, regardless, always, of everything. Not to mention the existential sorrow we all might be afflicted with, which is that we, and what we love, will soon be annihilated. Which sounds more dramatic than it might. Let me just say dead. Is this, sorrow, of which our impending being no more might be the foundation, the great wilderness?

Is sorrow the true wild?

And if it is – and if we join them – your wild to mine – what’s that?

For joining too, is a kind of annihilation.

What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying.

I’m saying: what if that is joy?”

I do think Ross’s question is one of the best I’ve come across: “Is sorrow the true wild?” I believe it could be. And yes, joining them does bring a kind of joy that may be ephemeral at best, although from what I experience and witness: healing and completely freeing and true.

Encouraging Reading for a Memorial

A couple of weeks ago I worked with a family to co-create a memorial for a brilliantly multi-faceted and talented woman. Her life interconnected with many others through the arts and travel: the Tucson Art Museum, Tucson Opera League, hiking and international travel groups. Her vibrant presence right up until she passed was one of elegance and radiance. These two words kept surfacing again and again as her family members and friends retrospectively described her being in the world.

While listening to families at times like these, my thoughts often turn to how physical absence after someone dear to us passes can flood our senses with how someone was present while alive. Through absence, we may come to more fully know a presence. During grief, there may be an ebb and flow of yearning for this presence. Yet over time, as John O’Donohue wrote in the blessing “For Absence” (posted below), “absence is alive with hidden presence.” It is a paradox, yes. One I believe we may choose to draw comfort from though, after somebody we love dies.

Last month I was in retreat with the Metta Institute for a session called “Opening to Mystery.” I learned more about this paradoxical ‘absence and presence’ concept on a deeply personal and reflective level. One session involved a guided meditation with a story about being in a garden while experiencing the scent of lilacs. The session leader repeated the story twice, with ample space for listening and absorbing the story. A passage from it went something like “we wandered through the garden after a gentle rain, lilac boughs heavy with blossoms, and we were drenched with their scent.” For me, I was flooded with the presence of my late maternal Grandma. I felt as if she and I were walking through the same garden as the subjects of the story, side by side, totally delighted by “being drenched with their scent.” Her absence gave way to a purely radiant presence. And her presence comforted me beyond words. I was completely covered in goosebumps.

I’m sharing all this as a context from which to share O’Donohue’s “For Absence” – which could be very encouraging to read at a Memorial during the service – or even in a quiet period of reflection with close family during the time prior to a ceremony. It is from his book of blessings to which I continually turn, called “To Bless the Space Between Us”:

IMG_6087May you know that absence is alive with hidden

presence, that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.

May the absences in your life grow full of eternal echo.

May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere

where the presences that have left you dwell.

May you be generous in your embrace of loss.

May the sore well of grief turn into a seamless flow

of presence.

May your compassion reach out to the ones we never

hear from.

May you have the courage to speak for the excluded


May you become the gracious and passionate

subject of your own life.

May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle

words of false belonging.

May you be embraced by God in whom dawn and

twilight are one.

May your longing inhabit its dreams within the

Great Belonging.

Do you value custom ceremony?

You are likely reading this because a) either you already do, or b) you’re not quite sure and find yourself googling for information to make a decision. My answer: yes. Yes, I do. I value custom ceremony experiences beyond words and devote my practice to bringing these into existence. (As usual, I find myself employing words for wordless experiences!) Reading my values and how they possibly relate to what you seek to experience might help.

And so here I am as a Life-Cycle Celebrant® in Tucson, sharing the what and why behind my core values for Sweetgrass Ceremonies: 


Core values

1) Expanding a sense of connection

All with a sense of ease and joy between people, animal companions and place. I love to support and expand relationships amongst you, your family members and your guests, your animal friends and the special places you gather for celebration. So often the couples and families I serve have a connection to each other and the place where the memoria occurs at the center of their priorities for the event. Our work together expands and deepens this connection.

2) Co-creating meaningful experiences

Through crafting, guiding and leading custom ceremonies based on YOUR stories, beliefs and values. I am committed to hearing what is important to you and then holding up a mirror, so you see these things reflected back to you in your ceremony. I infuse the universal meaning or symbolism into the personal symbols, stories or exchanges – so everyone present can tap into the meaning.

3) Offering relevant ceremony elements

Ceremonies come to life through a feeling of timeless, relevant and uplifting moments. With my whole heart, I believe we open ourselves to living these moments when we lean into both the joy and the work of life or the happiness and the sorrow. I believe there is space for belly laughter and gentle tears, all during the same ceremony. Together we find expressive and fun elements to express what is true for you, wherever you find yourself in life.

4) Surpassing ideas of what is possible

I actively listen to help you suss out what you want to experience and then present alternatives for both meeting and exceeding your visions. This is born out of collaboration. I love to hear your seed ideas and form collaborative remembrance rituals, for example, that nobody at your ceremony has ever seen before.

5) Being calm, open-minded and confident

The day of an event can be full of anticipation and even sometimes, full-on anxiety. I always arrive on the day-of feeling rested, calmly present (well in advance of ‘go-time’) and ready for whatever lies ahead with an open mind. I take this work very seriously – it is my livelihood! I am professional in every way: from how I speak to how I guide people pre-ceremony to how I dress. I strongly value helping you feel as calm, comfortable and confident as possible, so naturally, it helps if I am too!


P.S. Custom and co-created experiences open us up to a different world of what is possible. As a Western culture, we do have some reliably staid norms around events like funerals. As a result, people might close the door on holding the event at all, due to either having experienced the same generic sequence of events over and over, or feeling intimidated by entering an awkward fray of blending beliefs or cultures in a contemporary and dynamic world.

To this sentiment I say: “Be Fearless!” Open the door to what is possible during a custom ceremony. Take a leap and value the work of co-creating a custom ceremony. Find yourself a Life-Cycle Celebrant® to help guide your efforts. Write or call me to begin the conversation! I have faith you’ll be satisfied by doing so.

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.

Can simple = meaningful?

Yes. Most definitely, in fact! Observing simplicity while remembering a life may even foster more meaning and participation.  And these happen to be two qualities I wholeheartedly encourage families to adopt during remembrance.

When people openly speak their own final wishes to me (and what a relief when they do!), I often hear this refrain: “I just want my funeral to be a celebration. Nothing big, just simple.” And likewise, families may be following either verbal or written directions for a ‘simple’ memorial. I help guide them toward supportive and unique ceremonial elements to meet this request.

Spring flowers

Whether a funeral (body present), memorial (ashes present) or Celebration of Life (party with or without remains) is the ‘final wish’ you or your kin make known,  the level of simplicity sought is a personal decision. Someone may even want a living celebration before they transition. Honoring a life legacy while the honoree is still living can be a poignantly wonderful experience.

Amidst these choices, please remember this: simplicity need not mean no ceremony at all. Because truly, any remembrance ceremony is held in support of those grieving. It is a supportive community effort. Ceremony gives us a chance to help carry what may be too big to carry alone: acknowledging loss. And doing so in relevant, personal ways provide deeply meaningful places to begin healing.

This article — highlighting the Celebrant Foundation & Institute where I trained and now instruct — explains an array of possibilities for personal celebrations of a life well lived. Yes, for mourners of a Tarzan enthusiast, it may prove a very cathartic ceremonial element for everyone to howl like Tarzan during a memorial! Or if you loved Big Band music with a passion, why not specify an actual Big swing Band to play at your Celebration of Life?

The more we enter this kind of free and creative final wishes dialogue before a death occurs, the more we may be able to face death humbly, as a natural part of life. Challenging? Maybe. Yet it can be a very healthy and liberating conversation to hold. And the more transparency about the choices, the healthier! A great tool to help families accomplish this sometimes elusive, yet always necessary conversation: Five Wishes. This document can really help serve as a catalyst. There is even a section about funeral or memorial wishes. Properly signed, it meets the legal requirements for advance directives in these states.

Seeing Opportunities for Transformation

I believe we can transform the way we view end of life passages. Today. Not next year or a few years from now. As this article points out, in western culture we are making changes both individually and collectively about how we handle death and remembrance. Says Judith Johnson,

“People are choosing memorial services and celebrations in addition to or instead of a traditional funeral. This allows for a more personalized ritual customized to the particular beliefs and sensibilities of the deceased. It also allows for both mourning the loss of a loved one and celebrating the life he or she lived.”

And I add to her observation: people finding opportunity in holding Celebrations of Life as a support ritual for caregivers, family and friends. A celebration may occur prior to a final transition (aka a Living Funeral) or afterward. The motivation here is tapping into a mutual sense of connection – a safe place to pause, remember or celebrate – in whatever belief framework is relevant.

Hip hip horray! Artists celebrating at Skagen ...

Image via Wikipedia

Often a person will request no funeral, no service, nothing – in their final wishes. Maybe this is due to being a very private person. It is more likely though, his or her request has more to do with having sat through one too many drawn out funeral services where afterlife of the deceased was the focus, not supporting the mourners through storytelling and truly celebrating the life of someone well-loved.

Here is where I see the opportunity for transformation: shifting our focus. Viewing death as a natural part of life and thereby choosing rituals or services that fit our stories, values and belief systems. It takes work, yes. And I’ll keep posting ideas and resources about why it is worthwhile.

Celebrating Life & Death in 2012

By posting entries to this blog, my primary hope is to share and build resources. I will offer meaningful ways of acknowledging living into dying – and ultimately, death – with creative rituals and ceremony.

While reading last night, I came across this passage by Ronald Grimes in his book ‘Deeply into the Bone‘:

Social, economic and political forces only partly account for shifts in death ways. Rites also emerge or decline when a people’s way of imagining a passage changes. How death is imagined in America depends on who is doing the imagining.

Mr. Grimes got me thinking: how we celebrate life and death is truly up to our Great Imaginations! (When we give ourselves the permission, of course.) It is the choice of: an individual; a family; or a collection of friends to put their imaginations to use.

So where is my imagination headed for blogging here this year? I will bring you:

Spring bloom from a grave


  • Stories and Interviews ~ from clients I’ve served in Tucson, who charted their own celebrations and reconfigured death rites into what has meaning based on their stories, beliefs and values.
  • Resources in North America ~ highlights about people and grassroots organizations providing natural and family centered death care or memorial services and products.
  • Inspirations for music and prose ~ expressly for celebrating a life, from artists around the world!
  • Simple and real-life ideas ~ for honoring losses of varied kinds, including animal companions. (Sorry – no drippy, lofty language full of grandeur and promises of afterlife!)

Anything else you are interested in on these topics? Please comment and let me know. I look forward to building a conversation!

What is a Life-Cycle Celebrant®?

When people ‘get’ what I do as a Celebrant, they realllllly get it. Readily. Eyes brighten and tense shoulders drop. Not only do they get it, they dig it. People I serve at Sweetgrass are relieved to know they have a choice for ceremony guidance that is beyond the ordinary. I love to see their relief and excitement about what is possible!

Sometimes I see furrowed brows for a few moments. That is okay. Once in awhile folks truly hear what I do – only by asking what I don’t do. “So you’re not ______? Or ______?” “No,” I patiently say. It takes awhile until we reach their ‘aha’ moment.

After a recent flurry of these defining conversations, I am moved to post more here. I’ll describe what a Life-Cycle Celebrant® is and is not, plus tell some stories to give historical perspective.

Most notably, we are part of a world-wide movement that is more than 3,000 people strong. We create and lead custom ceremonies for individuals, communities and organizations that transcend the ordinary. We hold ceremonial space for occasions from ‘womb to tomb’. We come with no judgments. We base our work on the stories, beliefs and values of people we serve.

A composed satellite photograph of North Ameri...

Celebrancy gains momentum as a movement in North America ~ Image via Wikipedia

Here is the thumbnail version of the movement: Civil Celebrancy began in Australia, during the early 1970s. It was initiated by the government, offering people flexibility for holding meaningful ceremonies. Civil Celebrants in Australia ‘marry or bury’ people in settings outside of the church or government registry offices, while still upholding the Laws of the Commonwealth. Today, the majority of weddings and funerals in Australia are composed and led by Civil Celebrants.

Now leap from AU in the 70’s to the U.S. in 2001. A core group of women in New York and New Jersey witnessed a yawning chasm in our culture, days after September 11th. They saw, felt and heard community yearnings for ritual or ceremonial ways to acknowledge heaving losses. They saw how people not associated with a church or government body needed to gather and make meaning somehow. So, they enacted multi-generational, multi-faith or non-faith, inclusive and relevant ceremonies.  For example, they led memorials at train stations in NJ. Such locations were silent reminders of loss, where cars parked by people who would never return sat eerily empty.

After experiencing these post 9/11 scenarios, this core group began investigating the work of our Civil Celebrant friends in Australia. They gleaned lessons from the Aussies and brought pieces of the model to North America. Through a true labor of love and enlightenment, they founded the Celebrant Foundation & Institute in 2001: where I was certified as a Life-Cycle Celebrant® and where I currently teach Funeral Celebrancy. The Institute offers specific training in the art of co-creating rituals and ceremonies for all of life’s milestones. Upon successful completion, students are certified to provide the utmost professionalism and quality services, and agree to perform those under a Code of Ethics.

And well, if it helps to round out this explanation by saying what I am not (yet some other Life-Cycle Celebrants may well be!), then I offer this brief list. I am not celibate. I am not an attorney or event planner; a judge, county clerk, funeral director, counselor, chaplain, pastor or life coach. (Cue to unfurrow the brow.) 😉

As a full-time practicing Celebrant, I am a highly attuned ceremonial guide. I meet you where you are in your life experience. I work with you and/or your animal companions. I help you celebrate and acknowledge new life, love and loss – in a way that feels real for you.

Trends for ‘greener’ funerals

Last week I got a call from a TV Producer researching  trends in green burial and family-led home funerals. We enjoyed an open and engaging dialogue. She mentioned how she and her colleagues have discussed the topic for a few months.

More and more people are considering and even talking about (!) simpler, more meaningful after-death care and burial alternatives. I observe people seeking more personal relevance, less impact on family finances and more earth friendliness than what they usually find in today’s standard funeral practices. A recent USA Today article about the green burial trend in South Dakota reads, “People, especially baby boomers, are seeking a return to simpler times, simpler practices.” Wendell Thompson’s quote in this article nails it:

“I want something simple, dignified and environmentally sound.”

I serve as a Life Cycle Celebrant and Home Funeral Guide to help this dialogue flourish in southern Arizona. Based on training and first-hand work I’ve completed, I believe how profoundly meaningful and surprisingly achievable after-death care within families and communities is, when it fits for people.

The TV Producer’s questions indicated she is not just skimming the surface of this subject.  I hope her research efforts lead to an awareness-building production. If folks in Beverly Hills are exploring ways we can more meaningfully handle after-death care and the funeral process – and thoughtfully highlight the theme on TV somehow – I am encouraged.