As part of our guest blog series, we are delighted to post this article by Julie Keon. Julie is a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant specializing in funerals, and offering ceremony and ritual to honour all of life's big transitions and moments. She is also a death educator. She lives in the Ottawa Valley.
Funerals Are for the Living
I attended a rural high school where all students were bussed in from neighbouring communities unless you were one of the cool kids and had your own car. The student and staff body was made up of farming families and small town folks. There was one memorable class that had a great impact on me. One teacher, who was clearly ahead of her time, offered a death education class. Thirty years ago, this was unheard of and the school board was not particularly fond of a teacher standing her ground and taking a bus load of 16 year olds on a field trip to a funeral home in the nearest city. She told me, years later, that she was often threatened with being fired but she persevered and had a very positive impact on her students as a result.
Recently, I purged my home of everything unnecessary and I came upon an article that I had saved from that class. It was called: “Funerals are for the Living.” I remember reading that handout for the very first time as a young student and how a light bulb went off in my head. My interest in the value of meaningful ceremony was ignited and today I am a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant specializing in creating personalized, meaningful funeral ceremonies for a living.
When someone dies, we naturally gather as a family and community to pay our respects and honour their life which most often includes a funeral service. Funerals are for the living because they help those left behind cope with the loss, grief and separation experienced after death. A ceremony that is crafted to truly reflect the deceased using carefully chosen words, music and ritual helps those who have gathered to feel a sense of celebration. Oftentimes a deep shift occurs within which helps rather than stifles their grief.
There is a rising trend towards another kind of funeral for the living that can have a positive impact on not only the one being honoured, but on the guests as well. Living funerals are celebrations of life that occur before the person dies. It is a time for people to gather with their loved one who is deemed palliative to, for example, say all of the beautiful things they might have said upon their death. In this way, their words are heard by their loved one. Living funerals also have a way of shining a big bright light on the fact that death is near, that death is a reality of life, and that speaking about it and even celebrating in spite of it, can be incredibly moving, healing and freeing.
I attended my first living funeral in Victoria, BC in 1998. I was working in an art gallery and one of our artists was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She hosted a birthday party at the Emily Carr House, and friends and colleagues gathered on a sunny day to honour her life with her instead of without her. There was story-telling, laughter, artwork, beautiful poignant speeches, and the sharing of her favourite foods. I had never experienced anything like it and have never forgotten it either. Knowing that her time was short, she wanted to have a celebration to not only mark this last birthday but to celebrate this day and her life. It was a reminder to all of us that we take so much for granted and that all we really have is the present moment~ the future will one day not be ours. Ted Harrison presented her with a beautiful original painting called “The Poet Greets the Sun” and we were all gifted with a reproduction, a keepsake that still have to this day.
Granted, living funerals might be perceived as narcissistic and egotistical considering you are gathering your favourite people who may want to talk about how great you are and how much you will be missed. I actually think of a living funeral as having a different purpose. If I knew my time was short, I would gather my most beloved friends and family in a celebratory feast/ dance party where I would tell each of them how they had contributed positively to my life. I wouldn’t be as comfortable with sitting down and listening to kind words being spoken. Putting people on pedestals is not my thing.
There is a way to throw a celebration of this kind that will positively impact the honouree and the attendees. Be clear on what the purpose of it is and then plan accordingly. People need to do what works best for them. If having a living funeral will contribute to a more positive death experience then I say, “Go for it!”
©Julie Keon 2017
So much has changed in the field of death and dying practices, from legislation, to funeral options, to home care. In order to keep our readers in touch with these changes, we are inviting guests to contribute to our blog and share their expertise. We're delighted to welcome Barb Phillips to our website, to introduce us to the role of Community Deathcare Practioners. This is a growing practice wherein compassionate and trained individuals educate, guide and assist families to navigate the continuum of care before, during and after death.
Community Deathcare Practioners: believing dying and death are a natural and normal part of life.
What a great honour it is via Laura and Glenda’s blog, to introduce to many readers the relatively new vocation of a Community Deathcare Practitioner in Canada and the myriad of services this role can entail.
I am so appreciative of what Laura and Glenda have created and produced as a Canadian resource document, to house our thoughts, wishes and personal information in one booklet so those we entrust to complete our end of living plans will have a comprehensive and manageable tool to assist them.
Opening conversations about our dying and death time with those who will be caring for us when needed, is one of the most difficult tasks we as a North American culture undertake.
As an addendum to what the Exit Planner offers my hope is that what I will be speaking to will be valuable information and a resource to augment and support your end of living advance health care plans as well as informing you about the rights of families to conduct your own home based death care, vigil and transportation of your deceased without the assistance, if you so wish, of a funeral home.
Under the Canadian Deathcare Practitioner title lies subtitles if you will, that describe various roles we as practitioners can fulfill. ie: Thanadoula, Death Doula, Death Midwife, Soul Midwife, Home Funeral Guide, Psychopomp, Transition Guide etc.
For myself, Thanadoula/Home Funeral Guide/Life-Cycle Celebrant are the titles to describe how I support others to become more conscious and engaged in pre-post death care and to help minimize fearfulness about dying and death and invite individuals to become more connected to real life.
In simple terms Thanadoula means “ one who serves the dying”.
The Thanadoula role has been introduced in response to families and individuals increasing need to information, knowledge and skills; and the decrease in the number of educators and counsellors who are trained in end of living care. Thanadoula’s are relationally based educators who offer counsel based on family values, beliefs and practices.
A Thanadoula accepts death, dying and grief as normal and healthy components of life and as such models a willingness to bring presence to those areas that our deeply death denying culture would otherwise have us avoid.
Services can include but are not limited to:
Five years ago we published Exit: The Life and Death Planner and now we’ve launched a new website. In the last few years our book has reached clients from California to Toronto, from Australia to England. We’ve had the opportunity to give presentations to seniors groups and we’ve participated in educational seminars and conferences. Along the way we’ve met wonderful people and learned more about the subject of organizing ones affairs and planning for difficult times.
In the next year, we hope to invite experts in various areas to contribute their thoughts and expertise to our blog because this topic is huge, and there is always new information on the subject of Death and Dying. Indeed, since we published, Canadian federal law has changed, and those facing imminent death now have the right to doctor assisted death. Also, when we wrote the book, we were unaware of the services of thanadoulas, end-of-life transition guides. We hope our blogs will give us an opportunity to fill in some of these missing pieces and update the public.
We love hearing from you. Please continue to write and tell us about your own experiences. Meanwhile, we wish you a fruitful, peaceful New Year.
Glenda & Laura
Both Glenda and Laura have been busy these last few weeks with renovations to their homes which translates into a big spring cleaning and decluttering. Some of the decisions are very easy to make, others are more challenging. What about those clothes that we hope we’ll fit into once we lose 10 pounds? What about that beautiful tablecloth bought on a whim in Thailand eight years ago that is still waiting for the perfect occasion? What about that birthday present from a friend that you don’t really like but feel badly about ditching. Well, it’s time. When we prepare for the future, we never know what’s around the corner, but we can clean out the clutter from the past.
Although it’s good to let go of things, one of Laura’s friends told her “Don’t get rid of the stuff that tugs at your heart.” So as Laura goes through this process, she has items attached to memories that she can now pass along to other people, but the ones that tug on her heart will stay with her until the next decluttering.
Glenda likes to approach things with this in mind: if I’m not using it, maybe someone else will love it. She also realizes, that in the end, things are just things, and it’s our hearts and imagination that forms attachments. Although she loves to live in a home that is aesthetically pleasing, really, she may not need to keep all the items packed away in the cupboards. It can be a huge relief to say good-bye to things that stay in the dark.
There are many places to give items to: our children, our friends, charitable societies, or places like Covenant House that provide shelter for street kids. It’s worth exploring these options. For those of you who live in the Vancouver area, the Marpole Curling Club (Laura curls out of there) is having it’s annual Garage Sale on Saturday April 30th 7 Sunday May 1st from 9:00am – 3:30pm. Please come have a hot dog and browse at all the sale items.
Good luck on your spring cleaning. Who knows, with all that stuff out of the way, you might even have time to devote to Exit: The Life and Death Planner, making plans for the future.
Exit: The Life and Death Planner aims to be helpful and informative. Our book/PDF is used primarily as a handbook wherein you record all your pertinent information. However, we do like to keep you entertained as you work through the chapters, and to this end, we’ve included some amusing and thoughtful quotes about life, death, and other relevant topics. Our readers always enjoy these quotes. We thought we’d share a few of our favorites in this blog.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.” - Mahatma Gandhi
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me… Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” - Steve Jobs
“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” - Haruki Murakami
“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” - Woody Allen
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” - Thomas Campbell
“I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” - Winston Churchill
“Never say you know a man until you have divided an inheritance with him.” - Johann Kaspar Lavater
“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” - Rabindranath Tagore