Updated: Apr 16
photo by Noe Fornells @Unsplash
Update from the Gently Down the Stream Department:
I have been writing a lot of funerals... when I am writing a service I sometimes find myself leaving in a sentence that I would otherwise edit out, either for being off-point or too pointed. There is this moment when my mind hovers and my hand hesitates to delete. So I leave in the line that may cause a ripple in the communal pond. And then after the service, there is that one person who comes and stands by me and (when no one else is near) leans in to tell me that those very words, the ones I almost erased, were so important for them to hear.
There is no script when you write sacred text for people who are unchurched, or multi-spiritual, or otherwise don't wish or need to name a deity. The words I weave reflect a sort of trust exercise. I reach into what I learn of the person who has died, their life as reflected in the days, dreams, and relationships their people describe to me. From there, ceremony unfolds.
The funeral this week was for a person with dementia who died suddenly. Their people had not said good bye, they were unprepared and raw in their sorrow. There were funeral home visiting hours with an open casket. I tucked myself into a corner to watch the ebb and flow, witnessing the silence that emerges between the living and the dead. Into this silence we speak the first words of the service. When we have chosen these words well, the people gathered take in and release a collective breath. And with this breath we enter into ceremony together.
I am a nondenominational (not religious in ANY way) funeral Celebrant. It is unconventional, even radical, to invite people into sacred space without invoking a deity or protector, only calling to our very human hearts to beat steadily together so we can hear the drum of life. It is outside many people's experience to designate a time that is safe for strong feelings and deep reflection without the imposition of belief, boffo props, or a promise of salvation crossing an officiant's lips.
I am so grateful for the trust people place in me to say what is true, to see their loss and sorrow without flinching from it, and to end the proceedings in a place where they feel grounded and able to navigate the flow of life. I hope when I die that my humanity will be honored in this way. With a breath. With hearts beating together. With good stories and gentle silence. And that my family and friends will step into their day ready to put their backs into living, and humming to themselves... "merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream."