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Posts tagged ‘Death’

When does a family-led funeral make sense?

The simplest answer to this question is twofold: 1) when a death occurs at home; and 2) when care and vigil for a loved one after death feels natural to the circle of caregivers present.

While sitting with an extended family in their home yesterday, we discussed questions or concerns about holding vigil for a family member who may make her final transition at home. They are preparing for this possibility with painstaking care, profound love, and gracefully awake open-heartedness.  Their collective relief after our conversation made a lasting imprint upon me. They voiced how natural our conversation felt, despite not sensing the greatest fluency in the matter at hand. They acknowledged feeling more at ease with the moments, days, weeks or months ahead. The ‘left-brain’ information I offered in a time of heart-centered transformation and transition seemed like a kind of rare sustenance for their journey.

Family Conversation

If you live in a state where caring for our own is legal, having an open discussion about alternatives and factual choices for family-led care may bring more relief than you imagine possible. (Here is the most current place you can access state by state information.) Might this kind of discussion feel challenging and emotional? Yes. Can there be humor and tears woven throughout? Absolutely! Whether you are holding the conversation for clarifying your own wishes or planning for a close family member, the work it takes to hold the discussion will result in emotional, mental, perhaps spiritual or physical and sometimes even financial relief. (All this said, many variables surely exist. Depending upon location, nature of death or other factors, family-led care or home vigil is not for everyone.)

These thoughts from Nancy Jewel Poer, an author and maven of family-led care, expands on the simplistic answers I’ve offered above:

“To care for a death at home requires a group of people willing to help when needed and at least a few with full awareness of what needs to be done. This extensive ritual may not be possible or appropriate in many cases. What is practical, good and right for any person and their family is what needs to be done. But regardless of circumstances, of religious views, traditions, cultural mores or cultural cynicism, this is a deeply important time for all involved. Contemplation and support of the spiritual destiny and legacy of the dying one, and compassionate support of the survivors, always, always brings goodness into the universal scheme of life.” (Excerpt from her book “Living into Dying: A Journal of Spiritual and Practical Deathcare for Family and Community.”)

Soon, I’ll be posting dialogue from a family I assisted, while they cared for their own mother at home, after her final transition. What they share will shed further light onto answering this question of when a family-led funeral makes sense. If you have any individual questions or would like a community presentation, please feel free to contact me either by phone or email, or the contact form on this blog.

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Knowing Death | Valuing Life

Lately I’ve shared a string of delicately expansive interactions with clients and friends. I’m continuously awed by the ways people open themselves into vulnerable space in my presence, as we co-create and enact ceremonies for their lives. It is likely because the people I serve live with great authenticity. Maybe it is also due in part to how I listen or observe like few have before. Whatever the causes, I am grateful for these openings.

My clients know themselves and their relations with a steadiness. They know they want meaningful ceremonies to acknowledge their life milestones. They want to share the experience with a close circle of people they love. Somehow together, we summon quite a lot of courage. We lean into the vulnerable places and with this leaning, we open channels of grace. Curiously enough, this happens during weddings as well as during end of life or death rites. (Yes, I lead ceremonies for the whole spectrum of life milestones!)

A continuous thread I’ve noticed during these recent interactions is this: awareness of death. Not a macabre or frightened kind of awareness. Rather, a genteel acknowledgment. A familiarity. Whether a Father or Mother has passed, a Grandfather or a sister, the death imparts a familiarity with the fragile nature of life. Kind of like knowing a certain tree that grows natively in your landscape. It is always present. It lives through different seasons; sometimes looking pleasant and other times looking bleak. No matter the tree’s state of being, it reminds you of the cycles in life. These cycles present the impermanence of life, right alongside the beauty.

Malus domestica: Flowering tree. Deutsch: Apfe...

Next to this thread of awareness, I’ve noticed a sister-thread.  These dynamic and authentic people all live and interact with a really humble love. I sense their gratitude. It is palpable. I see emotions well up in their whole bodies, as if to say, “this moment is why I am alive!” I witness how they absolutely adore each other. They are most certainly not bumbling through life on auto-pilot. They are here to fully absorb the big-juicy-joyful parts of life, yet not blithely. They don’t fear giving a nod – often in the form of remembrance – to the messiness lying directly counterpoint.

The people of whom I speak truly and consciously value life.

All this to say, I felt surprised to find two articles today, on this very topic. The research presented underscores my observations of a relatively positive pattern. In a death distancing culture, it is rare to see the topic presented in a positive light. Yet both of these articles do just this! This post speaks to how thinking about mortality may bring us to a place of discerning more of what we value in life. Beyond entertaining those values, this post points to research suggesting how death awareness may even improve our physical health.

Yes. This is fragile territory. And yet, there is nowhere else I would rather be companioning the people I serve.

Can simple = meaningful?

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.

Spring flowers

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.

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!

Connections & Choices for Bereaved

As a Life Cycle Celebrant, I serve people at all stages of life’s milestones: new life, love and loss. I recently completed in-depth training about caring for our own at home – to help families care for their own departed. Today I found relevant articles that revealed two themes underpinning why I do this work: choices and connection for bereaved families.

One tells of the burgeoning home funeral trend, where we are returning to practices we know from our ancestors. The sobering photo in the article shows an elderly rancher looking at his coffin, handmade by his sons. It is a still shot from the film “A Family Undertaking“, which offers glimpses into contemporary family-led funerals. The other article tells how families are decreasing their funeral or memorial spending out of necessity during this slow economy. According to the independent funeral homes interviewed, families are more frequently opting out of the costliest line items and simplifying by choosing direct cremation.

Is the slow economy the only driver, I wonder? Or is this trend away from heavy spending on energy and material intensive products (steel caskets, concrete vaults and embalming) really a broader indicator? Is it a wake up call for not only Baby Boomers – yet all of us – to notice how we may return to simpler, less costly choices at the end of the road? Choices that involve deep connections through family care, support from a home funeral guide and perhaps even natural burial?

An interesting convergence of themes I think, these choices and connections for grieving families. Is a home funeral right for everyone? Well, no. Yet, with healthy planning and families holding an intention for death care at home, the end of the road may potentially become more emotionally healing and less costly in many ways.