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Posts from the ‘Memorial Tips’ Category

What is a living wake?

Or even a “pre-wake wake” as I’ve heard such a celebration called lately. This recent front page article in the Arizona Daily Star defines a living wake simply as:

“A party. A big, giant, messy affair where laughter filled in for tears and deep long hugs replaced casual hellos.”

Yes, this begins to describe it. The community minded gentleman highlighted in the article, Pat Connors who owned Pastiche, chose to hold his “pre-wake wake” in his restaurant. It was billed the “Wake me up; A Party for Pat.” And wake folks up, I am certain it did. Friends stood in line for hours to offer Pat their heartfelt goodbyes. What a beautiful, albeit heart wrenching story. One that affirms life midstream hearing the words, “Thank you. I love you. Goodbye.”

After sitting with this story the past week, and ironically eating at Pastiche the night after this wake, posting ideas for anybody considering this kind of celebration felt like a worthy action to take in response. I have experienced the indescribable joy and healing sorrow of helping a few families lead living wakes in Tucson. It is an event that takes a heap of work and can be life changing. In a word, I would call it courageous. It takes courage in our culture to face dying and death squarely. It takes drawing from a deep well of community support to hold a living wake from a place of love, rather than fear. Here are some questions worth looking at if the idea of a living wake resonates with you, either for yourself or somebody you love:

  • What kind of timing makes sense? Living wakes are celebrations of life held while a person with a terminal illness is still alive, alert and oriented to the world. Ideally, the honoree will still be able to hold conversations, albeit brief, and may be able to sit up or ambulate on occasion. It is important to consider whether or not the honoree can withstand the wide range of emotions that present themselves in this kind of gathering, too.
  • Where will we hold the celebration? A place that is familiar and holds meaning may make the most sense, where it won’t be too crowded; and a large comfortable chair can be placed for the honoree to be safe, at ease, to enjoy the guests’ company. One living wake I assisted with involved the honoree’s sons transporting his heavy wood recliner to the venue and placing it in the center of the space.
  • Who is invited? Whoever the honoree feels close to and wants to see before passing onto whatever he or she feels comes next. Being in person to say good bye can be a peaceful and reciprocally healing experience. I’ve witnessed this being a long list of email addresses upwards of a couple to a few hundred people and sometimes it involves a more intimate invitation list with 40-60 folks. This article from the Huffington Post gives another example of a living wake where the honoree said:

“At the party, we all just had this incredible feeling of, ‘we’re all in this together.’ I wanted them to know what a privilege it was to know them and how much they meant to me. The celebration brought me peace.’’

  • How long should a living wake last? This consideration relates directly to the condition of the honoree and how she or he is feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. (The longer the better is not true here!) And yet a range of one hour to three hours maximum, with a planned or scripted ceremony portion being a piece of the longer version as a possibility. Reflect on the time of the day where the person being celebrated has the most energy and work from there with planning.

This kind of celebration is not for everybody, it is true. But for those to whom it appeals, a living wake can truly be a magically uplifting and life-affirming way to look dying and death squarely in the eye and let it bring you to a new appreciation for living.

new moon yuccas

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


Southern Arizona Memorial Gem: Marana Mortuary

I am excited to share that we have a NEW location for natural burial in Southern Arizona: located at the Marana Mortuary and Cemetery in Marana, just northwest of Tucson. I recently met with Douglas Joseph, Funeral Director Manager and Larry VanHorn, Director of Outreach & Marketing, to discuss this welcome news.

Where the farmer parked his tractor.

Where the farmer parked his tractor.

When you visit their facility, you are surrounded by agricultural land and views of the Tortolita mountains. Cows stand like sentries by big old mesquite trees near the natural burial section of the cemetery. Larry shared that the first natural burial to occur in their cemetery was for a local farmer who liked to park his tractor and rest a bit under the shade of this tree. This location thus made perfect sense for his family to provide his final resting place.

Marana Mortuary & Cemetery offers an open, spacious and at once welcoming series of spaces for families to either make arrangements for, grieve, honor or celebrate the lives of their departed. The architecture is modern, the colors are cheerful, plus the interior spaces are all open and flooded by soothing natural light. (Definitely not the gloomy funeral parlor that might come to mind, with doilies and frumpy upholstery!) What I really appreciate is the non-corporate, completely genuine and caring demeanor of everyone I meet when I’ve visited this special place. The calm and pleasing physical environment is merely the icing on the cake.

Entryway at Marana Mortuary

Entryway at Marana Mortuary

Here is bit of the conversation Larry graciously shared with me:

KB: What makes Marana Mortuary and Cemetery unique among other funeral service providers in southern Arizona?

LVH: We are unique because we are only two years old and innovative; with fourteen acres to expand into so we can create new areas of interment and inurnment. We offer several options for cremated remains to be placed in , such as glass front niches indoors, brick niches outdoors or estates. We have a small and friendly staff with a combined experience of over 100 years in the funeral industry. We treat each family with respect and dignity, regardless of their finances. Plus, we are situated in a beautiful country setting.

KB: When did you begin offering green burial and how are families receiving it as a new option?

LVH: We started the project in October 2013 and opened the new portion of the cemetery in January 2014. Most families we serve have expressed an interest and think it is a good idea. Last week, we already experienced our fourth natural burial.

KB: Congratulations! I imagine families appreciate knowing they have this option. You’ve mentioned your chapel is a community gathering place for ceremonies and celebrations beyond remembrance. Can you explain more?

LVH: Our chapel is available for community events of all kinds. For example, those we’ve had range from dance practice, quilting groups, church functions, prayer and bible study groups, non-profit functions and a couple of weddings.

The chapel set for guests.

The chapel set for guests.

KB: That is wonderful! The space is so beautiful I can see how a variety of groups would enjoy it. Can you share any advice for individuals or families as they handle funeral or memorial arrangements for their personal plans or in support of others?

LVH: First, to pre-plan if possible with a Thoughtful Decision Guide (TDG) – which includes pre-planning information for individuals like vital statistics and final wishes you would like fulfilled. We offer these to families at no charge. You can fill this out and make arrangement choices to lock in a price and ease the financial burden on the family. This may also control over spending because of grief or guilt. I also recommend having some type of public memorial or celebration of life. This service optimally includes a circle of family or close kin AND their community of friends. I think it is often overlooked how, if folks choose not to have a public service or memorial, for the next several months the principle mourner(s) may encounter people in the community who just found out or didn’t know about the passing. This may present more of a series of emotional challenges than holding one big meaningful and supportive celebration. We encourage families to find a sense of completion in honoring the life lived — within their community circles — by offering a range of options for holding services or memorials.

KB: This is clear in the work you and your team are doing, Larry. Thank you for sharing your time and knowledge with us today! I look forward to hearing more about your innovative work and seeing our community benefit from what you offer.

Three Questions to Ask for a Eulogy

While I professionally serve and live my calling as a Life-Cycle Celebrant® and Home Funeral Guide – I am first and foremost in my life a friend, sister, and daughter. Lately I’ve experienced many inquiries from friends and relatives about how to approach sensitive end-of-life situations for others in their lives. I am often their first call for insight and treasure these opportunities for discussion and exploration, difficult as they may feel sometimes.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on this: the questions I offer families or individuals, to help create vivid remembrance rituals or eulogize a life they celebrate, are really questions for how we live. The more I say these questions aloud and pass them along in quiet conversation, the more I see them as gifts for NOW, for how we live today. Here are my top three among a larger list:

Question Mark

Transformation (Photo credit: auntiepauline)

1) What is her/his chief legacy?

2) What adjectives most fully describe her/his presence? (both the light and the shadow sides!)

3) How did she/he face challenges in life?

See how easy these are to turn around and apply to ourselves in this moment?

1) What do I choose as my chief legacy?

2) What adjectives most fully describe me?

3) How do I face challenges in life?

I am curious: are you already asking yourself these kinds of questions? Does it make a difference for you? We broach these kinds of topics in our Tucson Death Cafe conversations . . . always a life-affirming experience and likely why I’ve had this light bulb moment about these simple questions this morning!

Thanks in advance anyone who comments . . . you know I do love to hear from you!

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.