Sometimes when I tell people what I do, my eyes light up and I talk a little faster, and they catch on, and see how wonderful the work is. They lean in, listening. Then they step back, a little disappointed. “I’m already married, and I hope I don’t need end of life services any time soon,” they say to me, a bit of a nervous laugh in their voice because of that last bit.
This is when I laugh out loud, because I get that. It wasn’t long ago when I felt the same way. I wonder if we’ve conditioned ourselves in our current culture to be miserly around ritual and ceremony. It’s not that we don’t celebrate and honour each other – we never hesitate to throw a party, and that’s a great thing. What I’m taking about is the slowed down version of celebrating, the intentional ceremony, where we take the time to tell the story of the honoree, and to put their celebration in perspective. Life passes at such a dizzying pace, it’s hard to step out of the way, and pause. But what a gift it is when we actually do it.
The truth is, “our whole life could be a ritual”.
We could learn to stop when the sun goes down and when the sun comes up. We could learn to listen to the wind; we could learn to notice that it’s raining or snowing or hailing or calm. We could reconnect with the weather that is ourselves, and we could realize that it’s sad. The sadder it is, and the vaster it is, the more our heart opens. We can stop thinking that good practice is when it’s smooth and calm, and bad practice is when it’s rough and dark. If we can hold it all in our hearts, then we can make a proper cup of tea.”
&mdash Pema Chodran, Wisdom of No Escape
When my mom moved out of her home of 30 years into assisted living, I instinctively organized an impromptu ceremony with the friends that had gathered to help. I believe that helped ease a very emotionally difficult transition, but I like to think I now have a better understanding of how we could have prepared for that occasion.
I have had some fine conversations over a cup of tea (maybe more over wine, truth be told) about life and death and all the points in between. I sense a hunger for making our celebrations more meaningful. For the baby showers to be less about gifts and more about support for the parents-to-be, more about creating community. For the 50th and 60th birthdays to be less about flamingos and more about the changing role of elderhood.
The possibilities are endless, and speak to the creative potential inherent in our lives. As in other ceremonies, our individual stories fuel the process, all the while placing us within the context of the wider whole.
If you would like assistance in marking a passage, and creating a moment to acknowledge something significant in your life, call me.
And remember, it’s never too late to make a ceremony. A death, or a loss from years ago that was not properly acknowledged is a valid opportunity for ritual, and can be healing and transformative.
Your whole life is worth attention; your story is waiting to be told.
Thank you so much for the poem and everything else. I just finished my ceremony by the river. It got my heart racing. It felt good. I watched the paper travel away and sink under the water. After that a big osprey flew by in front of me and skimmed the water and landed across the river from me. It felt symbolic. It was a beautiful experience. – Jesse