In writing my page about my services as a funeral officiant, telling the story of my experience at my young cousin’s funeral ceremony was the first thing that came to mind. I have been thinking again and again about this formative loss, and how I felt so failed by the funeral ceremony, even at the age of eleven. I wonder if the priest was even aware of the influence he could have had in that moment? I wonder how life might have looked different me, if instead of anger and confusion, I was left with a glimpse of understanding, or a feeling of being held.
I spoke about my experience recently with my aunt, the mother of my young cousin. She wrote me, “I re-read the priest’s eulogy: very poor indeed. In my emotional state of that saddest of sad days of my life, I did not notice the poor comments he made. What you remember was true. It was basically that we had nurtured this beautiful flower so now God wanted her for his garden. Pathetic.”
I think that it’s safe to say that what one of the things that drive me to create beautiful, eloquent and truly meaningful funeral ceremonies is to never have a mother say, about her daughter’s eulogy, “Very poor indeed.” I am glad to know that the priest’s “poor comments” went unnoticed by my aunt at that time, but what might it have felt like for her if the opposite were true…? If he had shared words and stories that upheld her in her grief, that provided true sustenance for her long process of mourning…? Obviously, I can’t know if her journey of deep grief (and mine, for that matter) would have been different with a better funeral ceremony experience. Even the best funerals are not a panacea that somehow erase the work of grieving that will inevitably follow it’s own path, in it’s own time. However…. what is the impact of a good ceremony, a ceremony that gets it right?
I often wish I could time travel, 20, 30, 40 years into the future, to ask folks who have worked with me, “What was the impact of this ceremony on your life?” I have this feeling that the impact, long term, is subtle, but also essential. Maybe marking our rites of passage in an authentic way simply has us feel that life is good. Maybe we are just feeling left a bit more connected, a bit more in tune with the natural rhythms of life. Maybe we just avoid feeling disconnected, confused, and meaningless, as our primary expression. (Not sure that we humans can ever completely avoid those feelings, but perhaps they don’t have to take center stage.)
I know that when I connect with couples a year or two or three after their wedding ceremony, they are still talking about it with a sense of wonder. They are still hearing from their community how deeply the ceremony impacted them. They are still lit up about their ceremony, and, at the risk of sounding too woo-woo, that feeling is still infusing their relationship with light.
It’s my deepest hope and aspiration that these ceremonies, created with love, kindness, realness, and honesty, keep on having an effect, long after the ceremony is over. That they help us create some context and meaning for lives, which then sustains us through the ups and downs. As I often share with my clients, we all know life can be hard, painful, with moments that are quite sorrowful. We may as well create as much beauty as we can. And maybe that’s the simplest answer to my musings about the impact of a good ceremony: It brings more beauty into our lives.