Recently, I helped a family create celebration of life service for a family after the death of their beloved wife, mother and grandmother. The loved one had requested no memorial or end of life service, but the family felt something was missing so they reached out for assistance. A big step, especially since they didn't know what to expect.
In a very short period of time, we selected songs and readings, developed a ritual, reviewed key moments in her life, and focused on all the wonderful memories they had--many of which others in family hadn't heard before--brought both tears and laughter to the family.
More family members heard about what was happening, read the draft of the service, and added their own memories and thoughts. The family was also inspired to review photos together, think of their loved ones favorite things, and to focus on, instead of turn away in pain from, the one they had lost. Some memories had to be condensed, photos winnowed down, but so much was included, and through the undertaking, particularly by the time we reviewed the final service the day before public gathering, something had shifted in family members who participated.
At the service, there were tears and so many hugs, but there was also deep, knowing laughter. As I read the thoughts and memories shared with me to those in attendance, pointed to the photos they had gathered, tears fell and laughter sprang up in various groups--family, co-workers, friends-- and several times throughout the entire room.
Of course, their grief was still there. Grieving doesn't end, it simply changes. But, in creating a service for their loved, the family also felt the unique and rare joy experienced when the closeness of death wholeheartedly reveals the preciousness and wonder of life. Their burden seemed lightened, ever so slightly, and they celebrated a life that touched them and so many others.
After my goodbyes to those I had worked with and a few others who I had met, I turned to look back at everyone there, heard their laughter, and was so grateful for the opportunity to play any role in helping them to remember the joy in love and in life, and to share it with their community.