When I started this blog I was worried about my audience, and thought I needed to appeal to my “ideal client” and all of that. Since my business includes weddings and funerals, and any rite of passage in between, that covers a lot of ideal people. I’ve been a little self-conscious. You know, you post something about a Death Café, and the brides don’t like it too much. You talk too much about vows and tulle, and the baby boomers glaze over.

The truth is, life is messy, and full of love and loss, every inch of the way. There is no such thing as a major life event that doesn’t contain within it the whole shootin’ match, the entire spectrum of beginnings and endings:  dreams, potential and farewells. What I noticed this week, as I walked some length of a lifeline through ceremony, is how much we share, at whatever stage of life we’re at. I also noticed, (no big surprise) that my clients change me. So I write this blog the way I’ve always written in my life, not so much because I have something to say, but because I need to figure out what just happened.

First thing Monday morning, I married a young couple at the Banff Springs Hotel. This was a joyous occasion. They were teenage sweethearts, who had met at an ice-cream shop and began their relationship nine years ago to the day. They were well suited to each other, they had already tested their relationship, and they adored one another.  And still, the tears! Her father, in the hotel lobby, minutes before he walked his daughter down the aisle. Wiping his eyes, which were already tearing up, he admitted to me that he didn’t realize until that minute that he was losing his little girl, and handing her over to another man. Of course, the absurdity of his statement was also apparent, as she was well grown up and had been with this fellow for many years. Still. The ceremony cemented an understanding, and helped him face the passage of time and meaning.

Later, when we mentioned and brought to mind the parents and grandparents now passed, there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd, which was comprised of the very closest friends and family.  Once again, the sensation of the wheel of time, and our precious part in it, was shared among all the family and friends, and the room was thick with emotion.

Mostly though, there were smiles and laughter, as in, when the bride raised her eyebrows “so high”, when her groom spoke of his pride at this particular skill of hers. The groom look as pleased as punch in his new grey suit. The bride’s confident and powerful recitation of her vows only cracked when she said “the father of our children”. Hope, love, and Orange Juice, all before noon.

The rest of the week, with the help of a community of friends, I walked a place of more sorrow than joy, as we planned and prepared a memorial service for one of the brightest human beings on the planet. This particular community turned a raw and snowy spring day into a riot of colour, with pots and pots of daffodils, tulips and irises. The cavernous school auditorium was transformed into a garden, and there was music and singing, and words to lift our very heavy hearts.  The function of this ceremony was to give us a container; a space for our grief for a time, so we could feel held and embraced by the love that guided our friend’s life.

I noticed as we collectively remembered her ever-present smile (in the face of great challenge), the atmosphere in the room was light, and I felt my own heart soar. To truly bear witness to an exceptional life was inspiring beyond circumstance. In the midst of grief, I noticed myself re-dedicating to life, surprised once again by the middle road we walk between winter and spring, hello and good-bye.

The week rounded out with a trip to the winter wonderland of Lake Louise, where I met the couple from Florida and their twin girls, who were there to renew their vows after ten years of marriage. The big loss this time was luggage that didn’t arrive, which meant the brand new suit and dress also didn’t arrive. But this couple took it in stride, shopped at Cross Iron Mills on the way from the airport, and carried on with their plan.

The ceremony was intimate: just me and the family, and the photographers (and my friend and her guide dog as witnesses).  We were in the empty ballroom at the Chateau, which of course, felt a bit like a castle in a fairy tale for girls who had never seen snow before. When I told the couple’s “love story” to them, I was reminded that days before I had addressed my friend’s grown children with the words, “We know ourselves through our stories.”

These six-year-old girls hung on my every word, and they were especially delighted when their “entrance” was announced within the story – the day they were born, when their parents knew their job was to stay together because they were a family. When the groom read his vows aloud, his daughter looked at him like he was Prince Charming – her mouth rounded in a small “o” of wonder and pleasure.

The girls added their own words to the story within the ceremony, sharing what they love about their family: “My mom and dad take care of me when I’m sick. They take us on trips.  My family gives me cuddles and kisses.” When they stood in a circle and smiled at each other, I sensed this moment would imprint on all of them, and become one of those treasured memories.  No tears this day, just some heartfelt words of thanks for love recognized. And poodle hugs.

It was a big week, and my heart is swelling with gratitude for the “clients” that I was privileged to work with. Because of course, they weren’t clients at all. They were teachers. That’s an ideal I can live with.

It’s not always easy to explain what a personalized or custom ceremony looks like, because each one is unique to the setting, the needs and intentions of the couple. When I work with a couple to create a custom ceremony, I take the time to get to know them, and they take the time to consider the symbols and relationships that they bring to their lives. It is creative work, and unearths some lovely surprises and meaningful connections. As much as I like to think I bring something to the couple, I find their ideas and visions to be inspiring and uplifting.

Today I performed an intimate ceremony for a second marriage, which included immediate family members. It was bitterly cold outside, and as I drove in to Calgary, the radio announcer assured me the temperature was minus 40 with a wind chill. But things were toasty warm inside the couple’s new home, with a comfy chairs pulled up to a cheerful fireplace, and the coffee table set with an elegant blue tablecloth and fresh white candles and flowers.  The mantle was adorned with a pair of carved dragons, two delicate stone eggs, two custom designed rings in their boxes, and a metal disk covered in pink  flowers.  Large sparkling amethysts and carved and raw stones evidenced a rock hounding passion that has been passed from parents to son.

There were six guests, the people who were “home” to the couple, who had met online 18 months earlier: three sons (one of whom joined via Face Time from Afghanistan), and three living parents. The fourth parent was brought into the room by the presence of a lit candle in the shape of a dove.

I had prepared a script, as I do, which was written in consultation with the couple over the last two months. It contained their love story, several poems and readings, and a house blessing. The three of us had collaborated and come up with a beautiful ceremony that spoke of their love, the gratitude they felt at finding one another, and their commitment to living toward their best selves.

As we started the ceremony, I tried my best to keep to the script, but I noticed there was a good deal of improvising as the ceremony proceeded, mostly in the form of additional kisses. I had to stop the proceedings a couple of time so we could find and use the Kleenex. (Note to self, keep some tissues up my sleeve) There was laughter and a bit of fumbling over the candles, but in the end, the family candle burned brightly, and the connection in the room was palpable. The bride and groom successfully recited their vows by heart, and all of us were touched by the deep sense of presence and sincerity in their words.

The bride’s wedding ring had been designed by the groom. A hammered river, representing the journey their blended family was taking together. Five yellow sapphires, collected by the groom when he was a teenager, had been selected by himself and the boys in a careful, collaborative effort.

As a final blessing, I offered the words of D.H. Lawrence, with his poem, Fidelity.

Man and woman are like the earth, that brings forth flowers

In summer, and love, but underneath is rock.

Older than flowers, older than ferns, older than foraminiferae,

Older than plasm altogether is the soul underneath.

 

And when, throughout all the wild chaos of love

Slowly a gem forms, in the ancient, once-more-molten rocks

Of two human hearts, two ancient rocks, a man’s heart and a woman’s,

That is the crystal of peace, the slow hard jewel of trust,

The sapphire of fidelity.

The gem of mutual peace emerging from the wild chaos of love.