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More and more, we choose to remember and celebrate our departed in personal and meaningful ways. Surely, an increasingly wide range of possibilities exist for doing so! Are you seeking an authentic and relevant remembrance for a loved one? If so, I can help you.

You may be searching for a way to bring a sense of light ceremonial structure to a very public Celebration of Life, or trying to find guidance for a quietly private ash-scattering ritual.

In any case, finding someone to compose and lead the ceremony whose presence ‘feels just right’ is so important. It may be you once did, yet don’t currently have connections with a religious institution, so finding someone to officiate feels like an added challenge during already tough times. As you walk through the maze of finding an officiant that fits, you’ll have questions, right?

I thought so. Here are a few questions I’m used to fielding, with my answers below. (Since you’re reading these now, once we meet in person, we’ll have that much more time to focus on you and your family.)

I hope this list helps you get an idea of how I work, when you choose me to compose and lead a memorial service or a Celebration of Life — or support you  during a family-led home vigil:

San Rafael Valley, Arizona

Are you willing to perform a ceremony at an outdoor or secular site?

Yes, this is where I most often conduct ceremonies. The site usually holds meaning to or is sacred for the family. This might mean a more upscale resort or a naturally scenic place with wide open sky and vistas.

What faiths do you serve?

Any and all. (Or none!) Agnostic, Baha’i Faith, Buddhist, Christian (no denomination), Hindu, Jewish, Shinto, Taoist. I work with families and their deceased who come from different traditions or cultures, finding a middle-way to meet varied needs for honoring their loved ones life.

How do you ‘get to know’ the family and or the deceased?

When a family calls me, the first thing we do (after determining if I am available for their ceremony date and time) is meet in person. I visit the family home, or if loved ones are traveling from out of state, we can Skype or use FaceTime. When folks come to town, we meet at whatever hotel or resort is their place of lodging. I sit with a circle of the closest family members for often one to two hours. We pace ourselves gently and slowly during a life review of the deceased, catalyzed by questions I bring to the meeting. I work with individuals and families to honor both people and/or animal companions.

How quickly can you compose a ceremony if the service is scheduled soon after death?

Depending on my schedule at the time, and the availability of family to help provide their reflections, I can co-create and lead a ceremony within a few days to a week. I have met a family in the afternoon prior to the service, then written an entirely custom ceremony overnight (after a long series of phone and email consultation prior!).

What is your attire for the ceremony?

Usually upscale casual, with direction from the family. My attire will most likely depend upon the setting.

Will you travel to lead a ceremony or assist a family with care at home?

When the timing and location fits my schedule, absolutely. I do have a travel fee and arrangements for overnight stays are agreed to in my Agreement for Services with the family.

Do you have a list of readings or rituals pre-selected, from which a family must choose?

No, I offer alternatives and suggestions. Families may freely choose what readings or rituals they want, if any. AND – – – I find this is where people find surprising satisfaction in customizing their ceremony. I offer ideas for new kinds of prose, poetry and ritual that they may not have seen, experienced or heard of prior. And with relief, they realize it is exactly what they hoped to find.

How long are your ceremonies?

This is up to the family. Usually, memorials and Celebrations of Life are around 45 minutes to an hour long; sometimes longer if there is a free-form remembrance section where people tell stories about the deceased.

How are you different from clergy hired by funeral homes?

The differences will vary, depending on place and time. Yet the consistent difference is: I am trained in the art of co-creating ceremony and spend on average 20 hours crafting an entirely custom experience for families, based on the essence of their loved one’s life.

How much do you charge for custom ceremonies and family-led funeral services?

This varies depending upon the type of ceremony a family seeks. Because people have varying needs, I offer a range of pricing that includes simple committal ceremonies to more complex and elaborate celebrations involving multiple parties, readings, music and ritual. (To compose and lead a custom ceremony, my fees begin at $350.) PLEASE NOTE: I am a consultant and am in no way considered a funeral director. Any fees or donations I receive are for consulting or educational services. In the case of home funerals, any funds received are for assistance to a family in charge of leading their own funeral, as per Arizona Revised Statutes.

Do you supply a sound system?

No, although I have taken voice lessons and can project naturally to an audience up to 50-75 people depending on the venue. I can also coordinate with a venue to have voice amplification supplied on site.

What kind of training do you have for this work?

I have spent a great deal of time being with people who are dying and reflecting upon my own death. I have trained at both Upaya Institute and the Metta Institute with Roshi Joan Halifax and Frank Ostaseski, respectively. This work gives me the ability to companion the dying and the people caring for them or celebrating them in a way that bears witness and offers wholehearted presence without anxiety or judgment.

I am also one of a few Life-Cycle Celebrants®  with a long practice of working with families since 2009. I possess a rare combination of ceremony crafting experience and voice training.  I studied the Fundamentals of Celebrancy with the Celebrant Foundation & Institute, which offers an anthropological review of how the world celebrates rites of passage like birth, marriage and death.

In addition to my Celebrant training, I am a Home Funeral Guide; completing my training in 2009 by Jerrigrace Lyons of Final Passages in Sebastopol, California. Jerrigrace has assisted nearly 1,000 families with caring for their own. In many states, including Washington, we can legally care for our own. It is a profound honor to assist families who choose to be their own funeral director.

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