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As we bid this year adieu

My heart brims over with gratitude to the families I’ve served the past year during times of anticipating, acknowledging and honoring loss with custom ceremony. As a Life-Cycle Celebrant® creating ceremonies at the end of life, I’ve held space for quiet and personal sunrise and sunset rituals. I’ve helped co-create festive gatherings to celebrate full and mature lives, as well as bittersweet remembrances to honor lives those closest felt were altogether too brief.

One consistently true thread – as I bear witness to the loss of people and animal companions alike – is this:

loss as a universal human experience

brings us closer to the fullness of who we are

AND who we may become.

(Or as John O’Donohue more eloquently puts it in the blessing below: “nearer to our invisible destination.”)

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When we love, we open ourselves to impermanence and it’s omnipresence. Painful, yes. And yet through the muck and darkness, much like the roots of the lotus, we can find our way into moments of beauty. Ultimately, we can bloom and surprise ourselves as we bloom again. It takes work and time. Remembering a life with love and lightness in our hearts may take effort. I am able to witness and personally experience not only the pain, but the beauty possible in this, too.

So it is with this thread of acknowledgment to the families with whom I’ve worked, along with those in the future whom I’ve yet to meet, that I offer these stanzas from a blessing written by poet John O’Donohue:

AT THE END OF THE YEAR

As this year draws to its end,

We give thanks for the gifts it brought

And how they became inlaid within

Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter

with light from beyond themselves;

And from the granite of some secret sorrow

A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,

For all we loved and lost

And for the quiet way it brought us

Nearer to our invisible destination.

With this I offer you a sense of gratitude for whatever this past year held and hopes for a new year full of bringing you closer to yourself AND those you love: to abundance in living soulfully, strength in seeing the wholeness and connection to what is true.

My warmest wishes for a Happy New Year! ~ Kristine

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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.

Family-led Funerals in Tucson

At the end of September I will co-facilitate a new workshop with Jeremy Werner at the Caritas Healing Center, here in Tucson. We will cover what and who is involved with holding a home or family-led funeral in Arizona. Jeremy and I met during a Tucson Death Cafe in the spring. He is a healer devoted to his work and his clients in a clearly attuned way I dearly respect. He is also very interested in the work of empowering individual, family and community death care choices that are natural and family or community-led. As am I!

Upon realizing the unanticipated gift of meeting each other and sharing this mutual interest, we decided to try offering a workshop together where we will explore:

Alternatives and inspiring possibilities for legal and natural family or community-led death care at home, as well as how we may consider death as an emotional opening and healing opportunity. We will offer insight into how the dying process and after death care offers each of us a pathway toward greater personal growth and transformation. Healing meditations and exercises will be included to facilitate understanding. The workshop will run 9:00 AM to noon on Sunday 9.30.13 and an optional lunch will follow from noon to 1:00 PM for those who wish to continue the dialogue. Attendance is limited to 9 participants so please RSVP here by Friday, 9.27.13 to reserve your seat.

During lunch we will begin initial conversations around co-creating a volunteer Tucson Threshold Care Circle, similar to the volunteer community established by this group of women in Viroqua, Wisconsin. I am excited! This promises to be engaging and fun in a heart expanding way. Feel free to please leave a comment below or contact me via email or phone if you have more questions.

Handpainted message on a cardboard transport container

Handpainted message on a cardboard transport container

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.

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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

(1207-1273)

 

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.

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: 

MY TOP FIVE CORE VALUES

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!

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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.

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!

Animal Companion Rituals: A conversation

I asked a recent client, Virginia, to share her thoughts about our experience working together, before, during and after her cat made his final passage. She did so quite graciously and our conversation is below. Her cat, Leopold, was an elderly gent who had quite a memorable presence. I loved meeting him! His personality came through clearly and we were able to co-create very meaningful rituals for his departure.

Cat napping

Cat napping (Photo credit: popitz)

When the time comes to face losing an animal companion and choosing to end his or her life, it is so painfully difficult. Especially when we consider this being a true family member. I’ve faced pet loss many times in the past. Experiencing the comfort of ritual first hand led me to offer services for others and their animals: to provide comfort and healing opportunities around a transition that can otherwise feel clinical, sterile and empty.

Virginia chose to perform goodbye rituals herself, at home with her long-time friend, for which I offered her guidance. She enacted these before the at-home euthanasia appointment. She also chose to have me support and guide her during and after the appointment; and when she was ready to part with him, I transported his body for cremation and also picked up his remains. Here is what Virgina shared about this passage of time:

Kristine: Please describe your desire for having ritual guidance and assistance before Leopold’s transition.

Virginia: He was my buddy for many years: I lived with him longer than I’ve lived with anyone else. I’m spiritual, but not religious, so I don’t have any prescribed rituals for honoring relationships and transitions. I needed a way to honor my relationship with him, the joy and comfort that he gave me, and his death.

Kristine: In what ways did you find ritual support helpful during his transition and afterward?

Virginia: Your guidance and support with rituals made me feel like a had a meaningful path to follow: before, during and after Leopold’s death. Before, I spent time honoring our relationship. During, we prepared and honored his body. We also allowed grief to flow, in my home. Afterward, I used some of the same rituals that you had suggested prior, and performed these to remember, celebrate and honor his spirit; and continue feeling connected to him.

Kristine: Please describe any thoughts about how your experience may have been different without choosing ritual assistance.

Virginia: Based on my previous experience with pet deaths, I probably would have felt more like I was stumbling through the process, with emptiness.

Kristine: Anything else?

Virginia: I was so grateful for your guidance: it made my dearest cat’s transition an exceptional and memorable time, which is what I wanted it to be.

Kristine: This is a gift to hear, Virginia. I am grateful for your courage and choices to make it a comforting time of remembrance. Thanks for sharing your experience with others!

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

Forever

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

Forever.

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.

A Death Cafe in Tucson, really?

We gathered at the Community Room at Bookman's Used Book Store.

We gathered at the Community Room at Bookman’s Used Book Store.

Yes, it is true. On December 4, 2012 co-facilitator Cindy Whitehead and I launched a Death Cafe right here in the Old Pueblo. We had quite a lively time, the fourteen of us who met for tea and conversation about death and dying. We shared compelling, cathartic and sometimes humorous stories. We swapped contacts and resources. We all learned.

And we all left our cafe experience feeling affirmed and uplifted — because yes — talking openly about death may help you realize how life is so GOOD! As a Life-Cycle Celebrant® who works with people to help acknowledge end-of-life and after death milestones through ceremonies like memorials, I am familiar with this territory. Cindy is very familiar as well, because she currently works as a hospice nurse in Tucson.

The point of holding a Death Cafe is to open a safe and relaxed conversation about the all too often taboo ‘d’ word, so we may build awareness of impermanence and thereby make the most of our [finite] lives. Turns out all twelve of our guests strongly agreed the cafe was a positive experience. A few mentioned their relief while being in a place where people actively ‘de-mystified death’. People used words like these to describe their experience:

“surprising           interesting                fun             informative          refreshing

educational              lively              different           humorous             thought-provoking”

I do realize this is not for everybody. Facing death and dying in our western, often youth-worshiping culture is not easy. The idea may take some time to warm up to for folks; the name itself is a kind of filter so people who feel a readiness or curiosity for the topics may be relatively at ease. It is not an event meant for people who are in the processes of either actively dying or freshly navigating bereavement. These are straits where specific support groups via care networks or hospice may have a clear and actively helpful role.

I chewed on the idea of launching a Tucson Death Cafe for a few months last summer, based upon the brave work of Lizzy Miles bringing the concept to the U.S.  from Jon Underwood in the U.K. For two years prior, I held and led monthly meetings in the Meetup format, mostly considering natural and family-led death care topics. The appeal of the Death Cafe is much stronger than the Meetup format. It is open, informal, completely accessible and organic – with international momentum – which makes it such an expansive and heart-opening experience to facilitate!

Here are a few of the guiding principles we follow:

  • The event is free from ideology: It is against Death Café principles to lead participants towards any conclusions about life, death or life after death, apart from your own thoughts.
  • The event will feel safe and nurturing, which includes offering nice refreshments!
  • The event is accessible and respectful of all, regardless of gender orientation, religion/faith, ethnicity, and disability.
  • The conversations shared are confidential.  No individual stories should be retold.

And to this list I might add a Tucson dimension, where Dia de los Muertos culture is so present: whenever you find blingy shoes or accessories like these, please feel free wear them to our next death cafe . . . and please enjoy living each beautiful day in front of you, too.

My official TDC shoes!

My official TDC shoes!

To learn more about us locally please visit: http://www.facebook.com/TucsonDeathCafe. We meet first Tuesdays at 4:00PM, in the Community Room at Bookman’s on Grant and Campbell. Since New Year’s Day is on the next first Tuesday, we’ll next meet January 8, 2013.