“Tears will leave no stains, time will ease the pain,

For every life that fades, something beautiful remains.”

The sunlit formal room, filled with attentive mourners and the family of the deceased, was utterly quiet as I began to read the closing poem, Something Beautiful Remains (author unknown) chosen for the Celebration of Life I had just officiated. The words resonated in my own heart as I spoke them, and I felt compassion well up in my eyes for the heartache of those who had gathered to celebrate the life of their loved one who was a wife, a mom, a sister, a friend, and a cousin.

Feelings of loss are so hard to put into words; we speak of loss as an emptiness, a deep pain in our heart, a wrenching sorrow. The word bereaved comes from the root word reave, meaning “to rob” or “to deprive.” When we lose someone we love, we feel robbed of their presence in our lives.  Even when a death is expected, such as after a lingering illness like Alzheimer’s disease, we still feel shocked by death, as if we can’t believe it. Death reminds us of the impermanent nature of life.

“We’re living in a world of stars and dust,

Between heaven ‘n all that surrounds us,

We’re travelers here, spirits passing through,

And the love we give, is all that will endure.”

The purpose of a Celebration of Life is to provide a ritual that allows the living to say goodbye, a ritual that honors the life and spirit of the deceased by being faithful to that person’s values and beliefs so that it feels authentic and true. We all contain multitudes; none of us are one-dimensional human beings and we each have contradictions in ourselves. The ceremony, thus, should celebrate the contrasts in the deceased’s personality as we would appreciate the many colors in a sunset or a sunrise. For this celebration, I interviewed seven people who loved the deceased, and created a composite “soul sketch” (or memorial portrait) as the foundation for a simple, but elegant, service.

“Just like a rose after the rain,

Something beautiful remains.”

The family of the deceased had honored her wishes not to have a funeral and they had made arrangements for cremation, but wanted to give other family and friends an opportunity to “pay their respects.” The setting chosen was an historic old building, once the site of Suffragette meetings at the turn of the century. This was fitting given the deceased’s love of history, and, in particular, her fascination with the Victorian Age. The heartfelt service consisted of story-telling, poetry, song lyrics, and sharing. A close friend read a poem that expressed the deceased’s sentiments about grief titled, “Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep.” My role was to give the service shape and set a tone for our gathering. Family and friends chuckled and cried through the memories we revisited. Most of the stories told were about her kindness, her artistry, and how she was the heart of her family, and that family was what she lived for.

“Now the darkness falls, the sun’s going down,

One by one, the stars are coming out, and the

Tide, coming in, washes footprints from the sand.

One days ends, a new day must begin.”

After the service, everyone was invited to take home a few recipe cards, held in a decorative box on the memory table, of the deceased’s favorite foods that she enjoyed making over the years. A buffet of other favorites was set out in a lovely bright room sparkling with shining silverware, beautiful bouquets of flowers, and lace tablecloths. Family and friends were clearly hurting, but they had not tried to protect themselves from grief; instead, they had allowed themselves to feel their love, loss, and grief openly and fully.

“Now though we are apart,

You’re forever in my dreams,

Forever in my heart.”

Grief is not meant to be a solo journey; it is meant to be shared. When we express our grief together in a ceremony that provides a safe place for our pain,  we not only honor the dead, but we give ourselves permission to cry, to talk, and to take part in powerful ritual and creative activities that will help us heal now and in the years to come. Based on my experience as a Celebrant and as a fellow human being, I believe that grief is far more destructive when it is suppressed, rather than when it is expressed. Whatever form the ceremony takes, be it a funeral or a celebration of life, the rituals are designed to offer healing and encouragement for a healthy journey through grief. Depending on the family’s needs, they can also offer spiritual meaning and comfort without a religious context. Society is changing and the ways we prepare for the final passage of life have evolved, yet the basic human need to grieve with companionship, ritual, ceremony, and rites of passage endures.

“Tears will leave no stains, time will ease the pain,

For every life that fades, something beautiful remains.”

 

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Elaine Voci

Elaine is a Life Coach in private practice, specializing in life and bereavement coaching and is the author of eight inspirational and educational books. She is also a Certified Life Cycle Celebrant and provides individuals and families in the greater Indianapolis area with personalized and unique ceremonies that mark life’s important transitions. Since 2014, Elaine has hosted and facilitated a quarterly Death Café. When not facilitating programs, coaching, or writing books, she blogs at http://blog.elainevoci.com/ and updates her website, www.elainevoci.com As a Life Cycle Celebrant, I have been trained in the art of ceremony and rituals. I conduct ceremonies of transition, such as weddings, funerals, celebrations of life, baby blessings, new home blessings, and ritual passages such as retirement ceremonies. My life's work and my best thinking on the topics of grief, resilience, and self-compassion are represented in my written books, blogs, workshops, and coaching. I am true to my Italian heritage: I enjoy people, music, good food and wine, and creating hospitality in my home, and in my community engagements. I volunteer with the Immigrant Welcome Center, and have served the Celebrant Foundation as a contributing blog writer. In 2018 and again this year, I have been named one of the Top Ten Best Life Coaches in Indianapolis by expertise.com and it makes me feel happy to contribute to the community through my work.

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