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Posts tagged ‘Celebration of Life Tucson’

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

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.

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!

Tips for choosing Music

I’m fresh from a head-to-toe goose bump experience that compels me to write. It happened at the Celebration of Life I led last weekend. And it had to do with musical performance.

Picture Author - DJ1 from Naperville, USA License

Bagpiper ~ Image via Wikipedia

We’ve all heard the tune Amazing Grace countless times, right? Maybe via someone singing or bagpipes playing. (Always better than a recording!) I even sang it once for a family at a graveside committal. It was the first time the song’s meaning reallly sunk into me. It is a beautiful tune with compelling lyrics, despite being mildly omnipresent at memorials.

Back to my goose bump experience, though. Have you ever heard Amazing Grace played on the accordion? By a man, eyes closed, with a stance so grounded he looks to be summoning the Divine right up from the earth through his very feet? And then the Divine comes literally flowing out of his instrument directly into people’s hearts?

Well, there it is. That is what I witnessed. Unreal. With his utterly transcendent musical talent, he reached into people’s hearts with so much grace, the notes felt sacred. Tears were flowing. I swear, the vibrations of every note he played sent healing waves of release into every fiber of our beings. The feeling in the room was surreal. The deceased’s son and daughter jumped to their feet with applause saying, “thank you, thank you!”.

What an exquisite musical choice, made entirely by the family!

This experience along with others, leads me to offering a few tips for musical choices during any celebration, whether focused on new life, love or even loss. Here is what I observe that makes a difference:

  • Family connection to the musician(s). When the family or friends surrounding the honorees really know the musician or musical group, the selection and performance is guided by shared values. Given expectations are spelled out clearly, this makes the music more relevant and full of meaning for everyone attending.
  • Personal history with the music and lyrics. Even if the music is recorded, if the song transports you to a memorable time, it has powerful resonance. It may transport a couple during their wedding to that moment they first met. It may remind a mourning family of when the deceased shone in life. The more shared the history, the more poignant hearing the music becomes.
  • Placing the music at a pivotal point in the ceremony. This may take some stepping back to consider the emotional arc of the whole ceremony. For example, with this accordion performance I’m gushing about: it occurred right after I delivered tough words to hear. Honest words about the nature of the death we were present to grieve. The music kindled a space for emotional expression that was needed, right then, and not a moment later.

As I write, I am so thankful for having these experiences and sharing my observations with you. This is wondrous work families do when they celebrate their loved one’s lives. I am humbled to support families as a ceremonial guide. And as this post attests, I am energized by walking beside them!