Estranged and Together Again

I was contacted by a family member who had been estranged from their younger sibling for over fifty years until just a few months before they died from a terminal illness. No-one else in the family wanted a ceremony but this sibling and their partner really did.

I visited the couple in their home and we talked for a few hours about family, loss and grief; and the importance of rituals and ceremonies for those left behind. All stories that wanted to be told.

The deceased had been through a difficult life and was estranged not only from siblings but also from their own children and grandchildren. It was a tough story; and there was also beauty. We found our way through to what could be said that would be a celebration of a life while being true and authentic and most importantly, connecting for those who came to the ceremony.

There were tears for so many reasons: the persons death, the estrangement, the lack of connection, for past grievances and lost opportunities. And yet, it’s my experience that healing can happen when people feel they have been heard, when they tell stories and get to grieve (however that looks).

We all need to belong and to feel like we matter. I felt this was a thread that ran through all their lives and I could weave into the ceremony.

During the ceremony, at which the family were surprised at how many people came, space was given for guests to speak and three people got up and told such contrasting stories you might have imagined they were for different people. We never know how someone touches another. Here are a few excerpts from the ceremony with the names changed to protect their privacy.

The Invitation to Connect to What is True

‘Chris wouldn’t have wanted much fuss for their funeral and yet to gather as a family honours the changes that are taking place at this time in your lives.  When someone dies it stirs a myriad of responses, memories and stories. Times like this can stir other sorrows, loss and grief. Death reminds us of our frailties and also, how coming together as a family and community can bring a sense of care and connection.

We acknowledge that Chris’s life, like all of ours, was marked by moments of joy and sorrow, success and struggles, and yes, mistakes and regrets.

When speaking with Chris’s sister, Lyn and her husband, Peter, last weekend they shared many stories of their younger days together. Lyn spoke of childhood memories, mischief and shared laughter which serve as a reminder of simpler times, when joy could be found in the smallest of moments. From playful antics in Smithton to adventures in Camperdown, Chris cherished the bonds of family. Being the fifth child of eight, they were looked after by many of their siblings and there were certainly many adventures and fun times to be had alongside the inevitable challenges. Chris served proudly in the army during their youth and during this time they took out on his own. Though they may not have been one to share their stories, seek the spotlight, or keep in touch, their presence touched your lives in one way or another.

I’d like to invite you to take this time to share the stories and memories you have of your time with Chris, to give voice to what you want remembered and what you will miss. I would like to ask his sister, Lyn, to start by reading her tribute….’

Closing Words

As each of you reflect on Chris’s life, may your memory of them inspire you to seek what you need in order to be true to yourself, to be at peace and create a sense of belonging in your own lives.  By coming together there is an acknowledgement that each of you are touched by Chris’s death, even if you have different responses. May your grieving move gently through you. May you receive the care and support you need at this time.

When I write and conduct ceremonies, it is my wish to look for ways to connect to the needs of the families coming together: Mourning. Safety. Connection. Celebration. And, for this family, I felt a strong need for authenticity, truth-telling, and creating a space of belonging and ease for connection. Bridges were built. It was honest and real. It was sad and you could feel the pain in the room. The deceased’s grandchildren had never met their other family members. The ceremony created pathways for connection. Everyone that I spoke with afterwards was moved by the ceremony. Magic can and does happen.

The family wrote to me afterwards, ‘Thank you for the wonderful support and guidance you gave to us during this time.  As you would be aware we had no idea what to do and the fact that you listened to us talk about our family memories was really comforting.  I think because everybody is different and has different responses to the losing of someone you will know that you need different approaches to how you deal with their situations. Some people don’t like to be told how.  You just listening to us was very comforting; and your show of compassion and presentation at the funeral also showed care and connection to our situation. We had comments from the family saying how happy they were with the way you conducted the ceremony.  Thank you so much for your help.”

Interesting celebrant note, I spent hours writing, rewriting how to say difficult things with a kindness and presence. I finally finished it and thought it was perfect. Microsoft Word shut down. All gone. Nothing to do, but have a momentary sense of disbelief, then I sat down and wrote a new copy that was completely fresh, unaffected and, I can see now, perfect. Maybe not as polished as the first one but less…perfect which in itself is perfect. Not so overthought!

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