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The Importance of Ceremony

The only cure

I know

is a good ceremony!

There is a connection between “curing” and “ceremony”, L. M. Silko understood this when she wrote her book entitled “Ceremony”, a novel that in its most realized form is seen in the literary world as a cure of sorts since the writing process itself is known to possess therapeutic value. “Ceremony,” fiercely celebrates the relationship between the writer and the healing process one experiences when feelings and the written word collide ceremoniously on paper. 

Although the reference was to the literary author and his or her ability to transform pain into happiness, or illness into cure through the writing process and the written word, I can easily draw the same correlation between the funeral director and the ceremonies provided through the creation of the funeral rite. As death care professionals, we take the written word of the deceased obituary and bring it to life through the art of ceremony.  We take the bereaved’ s pain and sorrow, along with the written word in the death announcement, and through the expression of

love and sorrow create a place and time of therapeutic value. We, the funeral professionals are the silent witnesses to a family’s grief. We are the keepers of story. We are the scribes of truth; about the love that existed and the experiences that will transcend time. We, through the art of ceremony, get their dead where they need to go, and the living to where they need to be so they can heal.

In September, the month before my beloved husband David died we spent endless hours talking about and planning his funeral. For some, this might seem strange even somewhat Macomb, but for David and I it was another step in acknowledging the reality of his illness. We had come face to face with our fears of being apart; we spent many a night holding each other in fear of the day that we would have to let each other go. We talked about what that day would look like for me when he was no longer here on this earth. We spent hours planning and preparing for something

that neither of us was prepared for. It was important to me that David knew how much he was loved and how deeply he was going to be missed, so it seemed only natural that David would play a part in his service of remembrance after he was gone. Together we planned a service that spoke to the Glory of God. It was important to David, and to me, to give all the Glory to our Heavenly Father. We chose to have praise and worship service, a service filled with some of David’s favorite songs. I hired an artist to paint a mural at the beginning of the service that

would reveal David’s final words to those who attended.

At the beginning of the service the children and our closest family gathered at David’s casket. We said our goodbyes, and then along with my loving family I covered David with a blanket, kissed his forehead, and slowly closed the lid of the casket. With tear soaked cheeks, we walked out of the chapel to Lauren Daigle’s, Trust In You, A song that David chose to remind us to trust in the goodness of Gods mercy even when the mountains we want moved remain.

Remaining at the head and the foot of David’s casket was Andrew and my niece Liz, both dressed in their Class A uniforms, Sgt. Andrew K. Margocs representing the United States Army and Lieutenant Elizabeth J. Black representing the United States Navy. As the music softened and began to fade, together they stepped around to the front of David’s casket. In perfect unison, and upon Andrew’s command, they saluted the man that they had come to love and respect. I could hear Andrews commands as they marched in step. The chapel was silent as he called out

another command to halt. Slowly they pivoted back to face the casket, and again in perfect unison and with glove covered hands, blew David a last kiss goodbye.

As the praise and worship band began to play Steven Curtis Chapmans, Glorious Unfolding, lights came up on the artist and the enormous blank canvas placed at the foot of David’s casket. Just as we had planned, each amazing stroke of the paintbrush began to reveal the message David wanted to convey. David met with Ashley, the artist just days before his death. He told her exactly what he envisioned and the message he wanted to leave us all with.

His message was this…

A couple weeks before he died, we were sitting on the couch and out of the blue, and out of a sound sleep he sat up and announced that “we had it all wrong”. “What do we have wrong” I asked. The idea of the bucket list he said. He was emphatic in tone when he said that “our bucket list shouldn’t be filled with the things we want to do for ourselves; our bucket list should be filled with things we want to do for others”.

And so it was to be, as the music unfolded so did the artistry. Upon the ending of the music what was revealed was a beautiful painting of David at Jesus’s feet with a bucket by his side inscribed with the words, “David’s Bucket List”.

One might think that this was the end of the unfolding during his ceremony, but you’re wrong. With the spotlight remaining on the canvas and the music ending, the artist took her seat. What happened next shocked everyone in attendance. We had planned weeks earlier for David to speak at his own funeral. Being of the belief that there is healing value in the funeral, I encouraged David to record a voiceover that could be played after Ashely finished painting. This was epic, this was the most touching moment in his service, this was precisely the place, the moment in time when the written, or spoken words of David’s own voice ceremoniously collided

with the hearts of those mourning his loss. David’s voice was projected over the chapel, and this is what he said.

“I guess that I’m the last person you ever thought you would hear from today. This was Shelly’s idea to have a voiceover giving you an insight into the painting that Ashley did. Within a couple days of my diagnosis, My daughter Aimee asked what was on my bucket list. This took me by surprise since I never really thought about making a bucket list. Don’t get the idea that I’ve been everywhere and done everything, that’s certainly not the case. It’s just that early on in my life I saw people chasing after the latest and greatest, the most expensive, the best and I also saw

those people as unhappy and unfulfilled. So it seemed that having a lot of personal wants was a bad idea. So my bucket list never got started. A benefit of facing your own mortality is that it opens your eyes, and to borrow from the sermon series we did, “It Awakens” you. Four or five months into the chemo treatments I finally saw what was right in front of me all along, I was just blind to it. The bucket list shouldn’t be what we want to do for yourself, it should be about the things we want to do for others. And so I pray that my testimony serves as a reminder of what Jesus would want our bucket list to look like. And finally, with a tip of the hat to Jimmy Hendrix,

“If I don’t see you no more in this world, I’ll see you in the next one…and don’t be late, don’t be late!”

For me, it was important that his services be representative of the man I loved and the man David was. For both of us, it was important that David’s services speak to the glory of God. I think that was accomplished, we were successful in giving glory to God, but most importantly, it paid tremendous tribute to a man who showed us all how to live gracefully and on purpose in the face of death.

The remainder of the service was a succession of beautiful words that spoke of the man that David was. I spoke after the painting and after the voiceover finished. I thanked everyone who had come to sit with David in his months of illness and his hours of weakness. I expressed gratitude for all of the love, and I shared our views on the blessings we received throughout our time together. I expressed how important it was to David to have a visible death, and why death and the love people share should be shared and celebrated even in the wake of illness and death.

For me, I believe that healing only comes when the “dead get to where they need to go and the living get to where they need to be” and this can only happen when we allow ourselves to lean into the pain and grief that death brings. It is only by leaning into the grief and experiencing it that we can begin to come full circle and heal from it emerging a fully loved and fully reflection of the love we shared and were meant to experience.


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