Sitting with a family to discuss the funeral or memorial ceremony, while sharing stories, songs and photographs can be a ceremony in itself – a sacred place where the mourning and celebration of a beloved’s life can be expressed with laughter and tears.
Death is often a major transition within a family and community – it can stir a deep sense of community and connection or, isolation, loss and despair – or an ever-changing blend of these qualities. Funerals can be a time of coming together, catching up with dear friends and loved ones or, it can be a time of falling apart with old ‘family wounds’ rising to the surface.
Creating a safe space where, in the conversation, everyone feels a sense of belonging, no matter what arises in the moment, can lead to a deeper connection and a clear direction forward for creating a heartfelt funeral ceremony… or a gathering, a circle, a ritual, that we create together.
“We all feel blessed that you came into our lives when you did. As you know we felt in shock, tired, in grief and a bit lost really. You just entered our home so gently and respectfully. It felt perfectly right for you to join us and direct us in what was required, now that we knew Phil was dying.
You prepared us for what might be ahead. We didn’t feel alone anymore. One thing we all agree upon is that with your support and guidance every action became a sacred ritual. Like the moving of Phil towards the end of his life, so that he could be in a more comfortable, practical space. It was transformative, at such a profound time, to have someone present who honours the passage of a Soul, who makes sacred the terrible loss that is the death of a loved one. It was so beautiful to witness you working with us that I remember thinking, “I want to do what she does!”. It is so important. So needed in our society.
Two rituals stand out for me-one where we all gathered around Phil, after he had died, and anointed him and spoke some words about our love. My granddaughter, Eliza, was included in this beautiful ceremony. I appreciated that inclusion so much.
And then, dear Wendy, when you sat with me to support me to bathe Phil’s body, that memory still brings me to tears. The questions you asked of me, the intimacy of that final touching of his body really helped me while, at the same time, being so raw and terrible.
On that last morning when we were to leave to go to the Hall for his service, your words, ‘I will be there waiting for you’, were so reassuring, enabling us to actually leave the house and go out into the day and face the world, after being enclosed for those last weeks. And having you standing there during that process was wonderful.
The liaising with the funeral director and afterwards the practical help with paper work was also very valuable when I could not think straight. With love and thanks, Marilyn, Ariel, Lia and Jai.”
Death within a family or community can produce heightened emotions and experiences which can be confusing and surreal. Having a celebrant who can offer skilled guidance, empathy and an increased capacity to have difficult conversations and connect with people from all walks of life can help to meet the family’s needs for safety, ease and support at this challenging time.
“Wendy, your support, wisdom, advice, help, care and love – all totally invaluable and utterly appreciated. Where would we have been without you Thank you Wendy from us all for a thousand things. Keep being you. Love Carol – Emerald Beach, NSW”
What do you imagine a funeral ceremony to be? What do you wish to honour? There is a place for the conventions of formal, public ceremonies and for the more intimate rituals that may not be so well known.
For stories and examples of small and intimate rituals, family gatherings and public ceremonies, Wendy’s book, How to Create Inspiring Funeral and Memorial Ceremonies has it all. This practical guide to creating heartfelt and personal funeral and memorial ceremonies has real life ceremony contributions from Wendy, Faridah Cameron, Catherine Campbell, Janice Crawford and Robyn Mills. It covers:
A mourning and celebration circle or ceremony is a space to mourn and celebrate with safety, care and a tangible sense of intimacy and presence whether the ceremony is face to face or online. The intention is to create a safe and confidential space where family and friends can come together to share stories and reflections, mournings and celebrations. Expressions of love and sadness that might not be possible to share in usual circumstances. The mourning and celebration ceremony is for mourning, for connection, ease and getting clarity. A space that is nourishing and supports a sense of belonging and friendship, and holds the tears and laughter.
(In-Person) Mourning and Celebration Circle:
Wendy provided us with support and guidance after Greg’s sudden death. Part of what she offered was a private ceremony for the direct family. There were 20 of us. The ceremony was totally unplanned from our side apart from a little supper afterwards. Each of us got the opportunity to express what was on our mind in the moment; what we shared wasn’t prepared or curated, so it was very spontaneous, raw and open as it was a close circle. I think it has been an invaluable experience for many of us taking part. —Sophie Warburton
We knew nothing about what we were going experience at a private gathering the day before the public funeral of my brother who died suddenly the week before. We trusted my sister in laws decision to have the Mourning and Celebration Ceremony conducted by Wendy who was to guide our family through this experience. There was an invitation to express what was in our hearts: memories of all sorts— funny, sad, quirky, annoying. Some went deeper still expressing what the loss felt like to them: regrets, the loss of future experiences, a shattered dream—there were no taboos, everyone offered what they chose to share. There was one rule to listen and respect the person who was sharing. I found it unique and soothing. The tears flowed, the laughter flowed, insights to others grief was cathartic while appreciation of my brother’s life and family connection bonded us in our grief. Thank you Wendy for offering the opportunity of this genuine circle of expression and conducting it in a calm reassuring manner. —Colleen Wolsey
Looking back the Mourning and Celebration Circle, which we experienced with Wendy, in a private familiar environment was really valuable for me, as my brothers death was tragic and so unexpected. I was looking for answers as to why and trying to accept I was not going to see Greg here in this life again. I had never encountered this type of celebration at any of the funerals I had attended previously so didn’t know what to expect. Wendy immediately put me at ease and her presence just gave me a sense of calm and reassurance. The space created for all our family members in this circle, allowed each and every person to talk openly and honestly without judgement or interjection from anyone. Memories, emotions, stories and tears were shared by all, as painful as it was for many of us. I feel this ceremony helped bring us closer together in our grief and helped prepare us for the next day when a public service was to be held. I would recommend Wendy and her services to anyone contemplating a deeply meaningful and personal memorial service. You will be touched by Wendy’s authentic, peaceful and caring personality and her service will leave you with lasting memories.— Michele (loving sister of Greg)
Online Mourning and Celebration Circle
“Being part of the mourning and celebration circle facilitated by Wendy is an experience that I will never forget. It was a bit of closure in the midst of all the emotional chaos this loss threw me into. By doing it online, it allowed me to connect, support and be supported by people who were also grieving the same loss in different parts of the world. This way, I didn’t feel so alone in my own grief, and found solace in the fact that one of the most important people in my life was being cherished and remembered not only by me.
Wendy guided us through the whole experience with care and reassurance, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe and held in a virtual space, nor physical space, for that matter. Wendy’s soothing presence was crucial for everyone to feel comfortable with sharing, knowing they wouldn’t be judged or receive unsolicited advice, which happens a lot when opening up during these hard times. Her wonderful facilitating skills made every moment of silence, every collective breath, every remark appear right when it was needed.
I’m so grateful for having had the opportunity to experience such a space, so distinct from how our society normally deals with, or actually ignores, these still taboo topics of death and grief.” Helena – Portugal
“I am privileged and very grateful to have experienced two mourning and celebration circles of colleagues who passed on which you facilitated. In both circles, I experienced a quality of presence that was reassuring and safe. I sensed a general ease from the other participants as well being invited to share the pain and joy of losing a dear one and a work colleague.
Being an African man, I do acknowledge burying my late mother, brother and a late sister who I never went to the burial due to school commitment. In both deaths, I held back the tears and pain because I am a man and needed to be strong – whatever that meant then. Fast forward to the invitation for you to support hold space in the two circles and here I am/was reassured it’s okay to cry, to let out the tears and hold the pain instead of suppressing it.
The structure to share what the loss means to each participant in the circle, and what we fondly remember somehow honours the memory of a loved and dear one. Different pieces being woven together to make a whole and complete visual.
I found the collective breaths after each sharing a collective healing. I easily let out the tears, safely being vulnerable in a space full of care and love.
I am deeply grateful and bow to your openness to support me when the people around me expect me to hold space yet am lost for ideas and strength to be present myself. Asante Wendy, for what you bring to souls so torn by loss and at times lost on what to do such as I was, when two people left “too soon” to my shock.
With tender love and care from the village, as I tend the trees.” Sam Odhiambo, Nairobi, Kenya
There were many challenges for grieving families during the pandemic. Through necessity, the trials increased the choices for those who cannot not make the travel arrangements.
Click here for a comprehensive checklist to support you ‘getting your affairs in order’ whether you are young, old, healthy or been given a terminal diagnosis – there is no time like now to give consideration to some very important questions and in doing so, live more fully.
An experienced celebrant can work with an individual or the whole family at any stage to make plans, discuss options and create an outline for the ceremony, even well before it may be needed.
To connect with Wendy and an amazing group of people who love to talk on this topic, you may also wish to join her program, Celebrating This Precious Life – Honest Conversations about Death and Dying.
If you’d like to cover a broader range of topics relating to Death and Dying, then you may want to join Wendy’s six month program which is for celebrants, family, friends, health care workers, social workers. Monthly sessions where we meet to talk about ‘Death and Dying’. Come to one or come to them all. Join in with a group of honest, friendly people who are insightful and engaging. For more detailed information click HERE.
I appreciated joining a group of interesting, thoughtful people, willing to explore those conversations that can be difficult to have in my own family, especially while there is active illness being dealt with. Wendy’s guidance keeps the conversations open and safe and gently probes each participant to a new level of understanding. Masterful facilitation and the ripples continue in my daily life. I am grateful to have had this opportunity. Kathrine Fraser, Celebrant, New Zealand.
This program has captured my heart and awareness in so many ways! Before this course I had not given much thought to the death and dying process. The last 30 years of my life have been focused on life and living. This year I turned 70 and realized that at this stage of my life It might be time to address the subject of death and dying. During our months together, and in our conversations and contemplation on life and death, my first realization was that I am the ancestry for my family and I am the legacy! What is the legacy I will leave? In turning towards the beautiful and deep inquiry into these questions of life, death, preparation of death and legacy, I became very aware of all that was needed to leave this beautiful life in peace and feeling complete. You have provided and embraced me with incredible tools and skills needed for this next chapter of my life with deep acceptance, compassion, and understanding. The connection with the amazing soulful participants from all over the world has me so deeply and will be in my heart forever. One of my dear friends, who was with us during this course, sent me this quote and I feel it sums up our time together. “When we are helped to face the reality of our mortality, we can gently begin to assess our own end of life needs”. Sanctuary & Funeral Home in Australia. In Love, Appreciation and Gratitude, BJ Garcia, Texas, USA
“Wendy’s course is so full and rich. There’s so much to learn about the practicals of the life journey, and to uncover the deep learnings that come from within. All in all – a very special uncovering of how it just might feel if you are given an ‘end date’. I’m so grateful to be part of this group.” Julie Weston – Celebrant, Australia
“The program and Wendys presence and guidance have benefited my life, relationships and decisions profoundly! I am 22 years old and I have learned so much about myself and my desires, perceptions and deepened the connection with myself and others. Because I started talking about death, suffering and disconnection with my family, friends and colleagues they got really curious and also inspired. I love the gatherings and practices that brought me back to myself and supported me to speak and listen from my heart – being authentic and present. Talking about death during the sessions, I have started feeling more and more alive and intensified my relationships.” (Elisa, Student, Germany)