Why Ceremony is Important
If you’re one who reads obituaries, you will notice that more people are choosing not to have a memorial service or ceremony of any kind. There are a variety of reasons for this growing trend. Some are concerned with cost. Family members may be scattered in different places in the world. Some may have experienced religious funeral service before and find that it doesn’t resonate with them. Or they may not know anyone who can guide them in creating and facilitating a ceremony that genuinely reflects their loved one’s life and values.
A ceremony is a way to honour and remember your dead. Whether you have 88 family members and friends, or a more intimate group of 8. Whether you have tea and treats in your own home or in a rented hall, a picnic in the park, or a rowdy toast of beer in a local brewery, ceremony is an opportunity to gather and reconnect.
What if the person who died didn’t want any service or ceremony at all? An end of life ceremony is about the deceased, but it is for those who are living. It’s for those who are left behind – family and friends who may want time to reflect on how they want the deceased to be remembered. How they can continue to carry the torch of the person’s legacy to the world. A ceremony is a space to think about how this death has impacted their own lives.
Alan D. Wolfelt, death educator and grief counsellor, frames authentic ceremonies through their benefits to the grief process. Meaningful ceremonies help us acknowledge the reality of our person’s death, move toward the pain of the loss, remember the person who died, and develop a new self-identity. It helps us search for meaning after a death. Authentic ceremonies also allow us to receive ongoing support from others.
As human beings we create ceremonies in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.
– Elizabeth Gilbert
The Making of a Ceremony
There are two fundamental yet different aspects of funeral-based ceremonies. The creation and officiating of the service itself and the logistics of planning the event.
Creating and designing a meaningful ceremony requires knowledge of ritual and creative ability around ceremony writing. When officiating a ceremony, one should be comfortable with working with other professionals who help to make the service happen, and should provide a warm presence at the ceremony, speaking to and guiding all those involved. All of this describes the work of a Celebrant.
The event and logistics planning looks at both the big picture as well as the many little details that come with any small or big event. Both the atmosphere and feel of a venue, as well as curated choices of food, flowers and decorations, should reflect the life and values of the departed and be responsive to the needs of the family. Then there’s organizing, ordering and coordinating with vendor staff. This is the work of a Ceremony Planner and Ceremony Coordinator.
Most people probably don’t want to think of a Celebration of Life or a Funeral Ceremony as similar to a wedding. But in many aspects, they are quite similar. You really don’t want the officiant of your wedding – whether a justice of peace, a life-cycle celebrant, a priest, rabbi or imam – to suggest the menu for your reception! And you don’t ask him or her to make sure that your bridal entourage will be where they ought to be when they’re needed. You hire a wedding planner and/or wedding coordinator for that, or request your cousin Anna who is an organized, detail-oriented and “cool under pressure” kind of person.
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