“He wasn’t religious, so we didn’t have a funeral,” she told me.
I was saddened to learn that my new friend had missed the opportunity to honour her wonderful husband’s life with a relevant and healing ceremony. She’d attended too many convenient, ready-made funerals that failed to resonate, so she decided that doing nothing was better than doing something that didn’t fit.
She couldn’t find a place to go that felt right.
Moments like these are exactly why I became a Life-Cycle Celebrant. It all began after a conversation I had with a funeral director 13 years ago. He expressed concern that people were opting out of funerals because they didn’t know where they fit. Could they have a funeral if they weren’t religious? What if they were spiritual but not part of an organized religion? What if they wanted something nontraditional? Because they couldn’t see an option that fit their beliefs and values, they chose . . . nothing at all.
I think we’ve all been to one of those funeral services that just didn’t feel right. The one that was so disconnected from the person we knew that we fidgeted throughout and uncomfortably wondered if we had misread the date in the obituary or were at the wrong funeral home.
But ceremonies and religion are not mutually exclusive and when it comes to funerals and grief, what brings one individual solace may deliver despair to another. For the religious, it may be inconceivable to imagine a funeral without God, but for others, a religious ceremony imposed on them can result in a funeral experience that falls flat, is uncomfortable and leaves mourners feeling empty and disconnected.
A well-crafted and skillfully delivered funeral ceremony gives our feelings of love and loss a place to go. I love what author Elizabeth Gilbert has to say about the importance of ceremonies in our lives:
The best ceremonies – whether they are religious or secular, modern or traditional, casual or formal – are grounded in authenticity and are a true reflection of the life that has been lived. And if God was not part of that life, then perhaps God should not be part of that death.
A family I recently worked with felt exactly that. Here is what Ralph’s daughter Kimberley had to say about her father’s funeral ceremony:
“My father lived with integrity and authenticity. A religious funeral for him would have been an uncomfortable contradiction to how he chose to live his life. But when he died, we still needed a place to go to express our emotions, and I knew that a party or a few speeches was not enough. The structure of the ceremony provided a safe and meaningful space complete with music, eulogies, and a touching ritual using my mother’s briefcase as a container to hold my dad’s treasures—each brought up individually by family members. At the end, we encircled his urn, surrounding him with our love and memories one last time as we poured his favourite wine and toasted to the man who has forever changed our lives. It was a truly beautiful, inclusive, and healing experience for all who attended.”
With or without God, when someone we love dies, it can be an incredibly healing experience to gather people together for the purpose of connecting, honouring and saying goodbye. And with more officiant options than ever before, there is someone right for your beliefs and circumstances.
Because we all need a place to go.
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AUTHOR: LINDA STUART
Linda Stuart is a Life-Cycle Celebrant/Officiant and Speaker located in Toronto, Ontario. Specializing in funerals and weddings, Linda’s passion is bringing stories to life through meaningful ceremonies.