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.
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.
While I work beside a family or community to co-create a Celebration of Life, it is a delicate time. Yet the sense of joyful remembrance is palpable, too. This week, one family with whom I’m working is particularly inspiring. Their confidential story brought me to post in a universal sense, about the value of holding a Celebration of Life.
The deceased may have departed some time ago; weeks or even months have passed. With the passage of time, the rawness of loss seems less harsh, as compared to a funeral near the time of death. Yet grief may surface unexpectedly, too. It is this upwelling – of painful loss felt in a public space – that I think people may fear. There is a sense of vulnerability that coincides. And so often as a result in our culture, no ceremony is held to acknowledge, let alone truly celebrate the life lived.
So why then, hold a Celebration of Life? Based on my experiences leading, supporting and witnessing families and communities through these events, here is my take:
- Guests mingle in a comfortable place, to help each other carry what is too big to carry alone. Holding a hand, sharing a story, looking into eyes full of tears, offering to help with end-of-life ‘chores’, embracing – within a relaxed or familiar setting – all of these exchanges help to ease the burden of loss. (Likely venues I’ve seen include parks, HOA clubhouses, favorite family restaurants, homes, or boutique resorts that hold meaning somehow.)
- Everyone present has a collective moment to recognize what it meant for the deceased to live. This is inextricably linked to having a ceremony or ritual portion of the Celebration. What I usually suggest is a brief ‘program’ piece during the gathering, where I help people pause and reflect upon the honoree. (It might just involve a standing ovation!) The collective power of those moments tap into something bigger than all of us combined.
- It supports and reminds the mourners that life is full of connection, despite their loss. Yes, it is a fragile or vulnerable time. And yet, there is always one or more stories that yield knowing smiles, nodding heads and even great waterfalls of laughter. The delight in knowing connections live on and might even expand post-death is a great consolation. A great healing.
These are just a few ideas among MANY reasons why holding a Celebration of Life is plain good and worthwhile. Do you have more to contribute? If so, please do!
Surfers hold a Celebration of Life in Southern California ~ Image via Wikipedia