I met with Nancy’s family a few months ago when her daughter, Michelle rang and asked for support to prepare for her mum’s death which was imminent. Michelle wrote to me, “How fortunate I feel to have your support during the dying, death and celebration of my dear Mum! I felt an ease and lovely connection with you. Your first suggestion was to create spaciousness in this time. The first of many nuggets of gold. Your ability to gently but confidently navigate us through this time created a lightness that allowed me to breath and feel empowered.”
When we began the planning we considered what was important to her mum and everyone involved, what might be needed, what was possible, and I encouraged Michelle to have the sometimes hard conversations with her mum and her family.
Nancy got to help choose the music and also declared she wanted her ashes made into fireworks. When Michelle looked at this option it was quite tricky and expensive.
I emailed Michelle the day after we spoke, “I woke this morning and thought about your mum’s firecracker way of being (and her wish for actual fireworks as part of her farewell.) I wondered about the closing song for her funeral ceremony being accompanied by a fireworks video like this one: but with the backing music of your choice. And, here’s another fireworks display.”
After meeting online with Michelle and her sister, Emma, they were clear they would like an intimate family ceremony and then a larger public memorial ceremony at a later date. I drafted two ceremonies: a ‘mourning and celebration ceremony’ and a memorial service. With Nancy, they completed the song choice, discussed the flowers and photo slideshow.
As the family lived up on the Gold Coast, in the planning stages we were not sure if I would be available when Nancy died so I wrote all my notes with the intention that another celebrant could pick up the ceremonies and conduct them. When the time came, the family chose funeral director, Michael Currie from Brunswick Valley Funerals, and he organised the ceremony to be held at his premises in Mullumbimby. After Nancy died, I was available the weekend they wanted to hold the ceremony.
The family weren’t sure about having an Order of Service booklet so I recommended they create a bookmark as a memento instead. The bookmark had a beautiful photo of Nancy, her date of birth and death and a small quote. It was perfect for Nancy’s family.
I drove the 2.5 hours to Mullumbimby early Saturday morning and arrived to start the ceremony at 10am. They had memorabilia, flowers and a beautiful photo of Nancy on the coffin. The chairs were in chapel style and I asked the funeral director if it was ok to rearrange the chairs. He was very helpful and accommodating.
Michelle continues, ‘Wendy, you have a delightful presence that permeated the space, particularly during Mum’s mourning and celebration ceremony. I received this message from my younger sister, Lucy, “Thank you for all the time and effort you both (Michelle and Emma) put in today. The ceremony was beautiful.”
Michelle wrote, “Mum would have loved it—laughing, crying and some great stories. I found it nurturing to my heart and soul and the ceremony honoured Mum beautifully. My cousin, Carole from New Zealand wrote, ‘I couldn’t hold the tears at that last song and loved bringing in Kiwi and fireworks. Just beautiful.’ Michelle closed with, ‘Wendy, I feel at peace with how things unfolded. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.’ (Michelle Sheard) Ps. The Funeral Director, Michael Currie commented that we had a “very good celebrant”.
Nancy’s beautiful handmade coffin was at the front of the funeral directors small room. We were just able to form a circle within the space with our 20 chairs and Nancy’s coffin. I sat near Nancy’s coffin and we all remained seated for the whole ceremony. I welcomed everyone and offered an Acknowledgement of Country. I shared what would happen in the Mourning and Celebration Circle and how the ceremony would unfold to the end. I spoke very little other than to support people to speak what was most alive in their heart about their relationship with Nancy or about their grief. I made a few requests and guidelines to ensure the smooth flow of the ceremony and that everyone would be heard if they wanted to speak. There was to be no fixing grief, no consoling, no questions… just deep listening to what was being shared. People could pass if they wanted to.
After nearly everyone had spoken, with tears and laughter, I closed the ceremony with:
Nancy was an abundance of energy—a firecracker of light and colour and music and love. You will remember Nancy for her strength, resourcefulness, and capacity to dream and make things happen. May you turn to her as a source of inspiration and support.
You will remember Nancy for her sense of curiosity and adventure, her wild ways, her playful presence. We all journey with different challenges, and Nancy had her trials, all held within her magical way of being. She was devoted to her Buddhist teaching and to her astrology and astronomy—as above, so below—honouring the dance of being a spirit being in a human body. May your memory of Nancy, help you to breathe easy into your humanness, your wholeness.
You will always remember Nancy for her generosity of spirit… always leaving with something in your hand… and heart. Nancy was a whisperer of children and animals, she was passionate about her plants, of all kinds. May you feel nourished when you think of how she fed and nurtured you, tended a beautiful environment and helped you with your own gardens.
Nancy will be remembered for her great love of her family….(included family names). Nancy was a wonderful mum, nan and nanna. May you always know that you were and always will be loved by her.
Matariki is a time, in Maori culture, usually in midwinter, this coming year on the 28th June 2024, to acknowledge the dead and to release their spirits to become stars. It is a time of reflection about the bounty and the harvest. We speak the name of Matariki now, in honour of Nancy’s Maori heritage, her love of astronomy and the love of her connection to the natural world; and to link this moment— this time of reflection, of harvest, this gathering of family and friends at this time of transition—to the stars of Matariki, and acknowledge Nancy’s death and her return to …stardust. Nancy has always been at home in the celestial heavens.
Adapted prayer by the Venerable Master Hsing Yun
Buddha said, ‘All things born must die, all unions made must separate. Whatever we acquire we cannot take with us; only our karma never leaves us.’ …the coming and going of life passes in endless succession; … the flame of life will never cease; …the change from life to death is like changing residence.
To close the ceremony people were invited to place a flower on Nancy’s coffin and then the ‘fireworks’ began—fireworks video footage with Andrea Bocelli’s soundtrack, It’s Time to Say Goodbye!
A truly beautiful mourning and celebration ceremony.
Mum never followed the traditional path during her lifetime – seeking excitement, happiness and adventure she was always pushing boundaries, choosing alternatives – which is why her funeral needed to be a little different. The classic church service with incomprehensible hymns was just not mum. May even have horrified her. So it was a huge stroke of luck that we were recommended Wendy Haynes. Wendy not only managed to immediately grasp how we wanted to celebrate her send-off but made suggestions to make it so much more. She turned what was looking to be a huge, daunting task into an easy, incredibly moving event that was everything we wanted and so much more. Inclusive, funny, personal, loving. I cannot thank Wendy enough for what she did for us.