Creative Places to Host Celebration Gatherings

23 08 2012

Recently I had the privilege of participating in two celebration of life gatherings that showed some great creativity; one was the World Trade Center on the waterfront in Seattle, and the other was at the Everett Golf and Country Club in Everett, just north of Seattle.

The choices of these venues reflected the interests of the families, and where they had previously hosted events of various kinds.  The WTC was a place where a birthday party had been celebrated years before, and the Country Club was where a loved one used to play golf.

While there are some distinct advantages of hosting memorials at a funeral home or chapel, considering planning a celebration event at a venue known to the families and friends offers much more variety and options.  The choice is totally up to you and your family; there is no “requirement” that you must hold the service in the funeral home.  I suggest you choose a place that is most meaningful to your loved one and family.  It may be places like the ones shown here, or it may be a restaurant, community center, grange hall, or even a back yard.  There are certainly no rules; just that you are honoring your loved one in a place that would be very meaningful to them and their friends.  Who knows?  Maybe the corner coffee shop will be just the right place!ImageImage


13 10 2009

image002I just had to pass this along – received it from a friend.  I think its important to keep our sense of humor and our perspective on life and death.

A woman died who had a great sense of humor and always used to say that when she died she wanted a parking meter on her grave that says ‘Expired.’  So her nephew got her one on eBay!  The lady’s grave is right by the road so everyone can see it and many people have stopped to get a chuckle…image001

Let’s learn to enjoy our journey as well!


Lessons learned from a life lived

5 07 2009

Each time I have the privilege of helping grieving families celebrate a life lived, I learn things from hearing about what was important to the deceased; their values, convictions, life rules, etc.  I recently did a service for a man who’s life was cut short, and I summarized the following as I observed thing things that were reflected upon.  Good life lessons for us all… 

Live life to the fullest – live “straight ahead.”  Live your life with passion and conviction, like there’s no tomorrow.  We don’t know how much time we have on this earth, and it’s a time frame too short to waste.  In view of this fact, concentrate on the things that are most important in life; treasure the people you care about – build bridges not walls.

Be authentic.  It was said about the person that had passed, “what you saw was what you got.”  This is gut-level brutal honesty about who you are and what you think.  Now it’s true that this can be bad and it can be good (we all have to make sure we have balance in all things here); but people who are authentic are refreshing; there’s no “hidden agenda” where you wonder what is really behind the facade, or wonder which aspect of the person will “show up” on a particular day.  Be true to yourself first of all and to others – have no regrets.

Be dependable and work with integrity.  We need more people who will honor their word and follow through on promises.  Someone who can be counted on to come through no matter what the personal cost.  Employers are looking for men and women who not only give an “honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage,” but who will go above and beyond the call of duty to do those little “extra” things.  These are the attributes that cause someone to be a standout.

Laugh loud and long.  Ah, this is a great one, and laughter really is the “best medicine.”  Life is serious business with stresses and concerns; a sense of humor can really lighten the load and bring healing – not only to you personally but to others around you.  Laughter can de-fuse tense situations and be a game-changer in difficult situations.  It can change people’s whole outlook on life and has been shown to have lasting positive physiological and psychological effects. 

Invest in the next generation.  When we’re dead and gone, what will we be remembered for?  Or for that matter, will those that come after us really want to care to even remember us?  What are we telling the next generation (whether by words or through our actions) about what’s  most important in life?  I was listening as people were commenting about how the deceased loved his grandkids and spent time with them, wanting to be involved in their lives.  This is really what’s most important and what is long remembered – our relationship investment in the next generation.  And it’s a great  feeling knowing you’ve impacted them in some way.


How can I support my friends who are grieving?

8 04 2009

One of the most challenging things we face is when our family and friends lose someone close to them.  Here are some hints that I’ve found helpful through the years…

Provide a listening ear.  We feel we should “say” something, especially in the awkward silences (these moments are really only awkward to us, not to our friend).  But ofttimes the best thing we can do is say nothing; just be available to listen, to simply be “present” with them in their pain.  Provide love and understanding…maybe even the space they need to work through it.  Usually what will be remembered the most by those going through grief will is that you were there for them, not something you said (or “words of advice”) during that time.

Validate their feelings.  We all grieve in unique ways because we are individuals.  No two people respond exactly alike in all situations.  Feelings run the gamut from anger to numbness, and everything in between.  Allow your friend to express what they are feeling without judgement or correction; it is their grief and their feelings.  Simply offer support and validate what they are feeling at the moment.  Try to understand that these emotions may shift from one extreme to another; this is a normal response.

Patience is a virtue.  As your friend works through his or her grief, they may need to recount stories and experiences from the past; this requires patience on your part, especially if they’ve told you the same story over and over.  It is a normal component to the healing process.

How do I refer to the deceased?  When talking to family members, use the deceased persons name.  Their loved one’s memory is very much alive, and it is important to remember this when speaking to the family.  You want to reassure them that they are not forgotten; that you will join them in keeping the memories alive.  Part of the remembrance process is recounting personal stories with the family; they want to hear you talk about these experiences; to laugh and cry together as you relive those times.

Show affection.  A hug or a hand on the shoulder can go a long way to comfort your friend.  Even a warm handshake with a look into their eyes will communicate a message of compassion and care.


Grief and Love

23 03 2009

I attended a funeral service on Saturday for a precious older couple that were killed in an auto accident this past week.  A very sad incident indeed and my heart goes out to the family.  I thought as I watched the two caskets being wheeled down the isle of the church, how unique to be able to leave this earthly life together; yet difficult for the family to lose both a mother and father at the same time.

Something was said by the minister leading the service that caught my attention; I wrote it down.  He said, “when you experience grief, you’re experiencing love, because you loved them so much.”  That may seem like an elementary truth about loss, but his words stuck with me.  While I understand a number of the dynamics of grief and loss, I’ve never really considered the feeling of grief to be associated with experiencing love.  I usually don’t expect to feel pain as part of love, but I suppose it is part of the risk of loving; that we may lose something we hold dear.  To feel the pain is to come to grips with our loss of someone we loved (and still love).  I guess you could call grief an equal-opportunity emotion; it knows no gender, race, or socio-economic status.  Personally, I would rather feel the warm, tingly feelings and emotions and skip the other, but in reality we cannot have one without the possibility of the other. 

Grief is the evidence of how we have loved; the pain we feel is the longing of love for the object of its affections.   In one sense it is the salve of the soul that is part of our human design; grief begins it’s process of bringing healing.  If you don’t fully allow yourself the time to “feel” these emotions, you’ll short-circuit the body’s natural mending mechanism.

So the question is; how do you process loss?  What is your natural reaction to grief and pain…do you stuff it or deny it?  Or do you give yourself the time to actually feel the emotion and work through it?  The sooner you allow yourself to experience that intense feeling of loss (and believe me, we’ll do anything we can to evade it), the sooner you can begin the process of moving along with life in a healthy manner.  And yes, it is more easily said than accomplished.  How true the saying, “grief is hard work.”  But it is part of the experience of love.

“The Dash”

19 03 2009

I read this popular poem at a celebration gathering yesterday…it highlights not only the brevity of life but investing in the things that you could say are “recession proof”…

The Dash, by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of her birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that she spent alive on earth…
and now only those who loved her
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own;
the cars….the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard…
are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real,
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,
and more often wear a smile…
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they
say about how you spend your dash?

So how are you spending your “dash” my friend?


The most important things in life

12 03 2009

You can learn so much from listening to people giving eulogies at a funeral.

This afternoon I had the privilege of participating in a celebration gathering for a sweet little 91 year old woman.  As is generally my custom, and if the family agrees to it, I enjoy opening up the floor for those present to say something about the person.  This is actually the part of the service I call the “centerpiece” of the whole thing; a chance to hear people share memories from their life experiences.  Of course you never know what you’re going to get when you open things up like this…you could call it a risk (which I kind of enjoy…maybe what Forrest Gump would call “like a box of chocolates…”), but I’ve never really had an problems with any of the speakers (and today was no exception to this).  I enjoyed hearing the stories of this woman’s life from family and friends.  I laughed and cried with everyone else.

What this brought up for me again was this; what people talk about at these gatherings reveal what is most important in life: our relationships.  That’s really the bottom line.  What you’ll notice is that when speakers talk of events and shared exeperiences from life, it’s their relationship with the person that is most treasured, and the most lasting memory and legacy.  Notice it’s not the bank accounts, houses, cars, or stock portfolios that are discussed at all; these simply do not last, and in the final analysis are not important at all.

So it really begs the question, what am I treating in my life as most important to me?  Do I treasure the special people in my life and invest in them?  What will be said at my celebration of life gathering?  Or do I place so much emphasis on the accumulation and enjoyment of material blessings that there won’t be many relationship investments to speak of?  Hmm.  Something to consider big time. 

I’m curious about your experiences with what I’ve written about here.  Do you concur with my assessment as to what’s important in life?  Have you been to a funeral or memorial (or similar gathering) where someone didn’t have many relationships (or bad ones at that?)?  How did that make you feel?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

A Beautiful Day at Tahoma National Cemetery

7 03 2009

Hello friends – welcome to my world!

I’m excited to begin my own unique journey into the “blogosphere”, as I describe my experiences walking with families through the process of planning and facilitating Celebrations of Life Gatherings (funerals, memorials, burials, etc.).  I love observing life and how each of us influences so many other lives in many ways.  There are so many things I learn by observing these gatherings, and I hope to share them with you as well.  Here goes…

This afternoon I visited Tahoma National Cemetery where I had the privilege of taking part in a burial service there.  Each time I participate in one of these I am struck by the beauty of the grounds and the clockwork precision with which the services are conducted.  It is also an emotionally moving experience to observe how the men and women who serve our country are honored and dignified in being layed in their final resting places.  Enlisted men and women are provided with full military honors in keeping with their respective branches of their services; this usually includes a color guard that folds and presents the United States flag to the next of kin, a “21 gun salute” (which actually is 3 volleys fired into the air, rarely if ever actually 21 guns), and the playing of “taps” at the service conclusion.  It is an amazing experience to behold; one that I thoroughly enjoy each time I attend.  The dependent spouse is, upon their death, provided by the government with a burial space as well and the shelter area with which to have a brief service, only without the military honors that those enlisted share.

One of the things I enjoy doing during a typical gathering is to give those in attendance the opportunity to speak in tribute in an “open floor” sort of format.  When people speak up, it is most always about the things that really matter most; not the possessions and money the deceased had but issues of relationship and investment in the lives of others.   These are the important issues of life, the things that live on in the memories of those we leave behind.  I enjoy hearing all these stories, from the sometimes “edgy” funny, gut-laughter moments to the more serious expressions of issues such as character, faith, and integrity.  Each of these expressions has a place in a Celebration of Life Gathering, and become an important part in the grief process.

Today was no exception; funny stories, serious reflections, tears…I love hearing more about the person we are honoring and how they impacted the lives around them.  And in taking part I too am influenced.

I love this journey!