This Fall my dear grandfather passed away. We knew it was coming – his health had been failing gradually for a number of years, then quickly over a couple of weeks. I brought my family out to see him one more time and we spent the weekend with him. He wasn’t talking, but I could tell he knew we were there, and his wink and smile let me know he was glad we had come. Still, when at last I got the news a few days later that he had died, I was shaken, sad, grateful all at once. So it is when an elder passes on.
My uncle took to making the arrangements. There were a lot of family travel schedules to accommodate and decisions to make. It was decided to hold calling hours right away, and my uncle asked if I wanted to come out for them, making another 9 hour round trip in the space of a week. I didn’t have to think twice.
This may sound weird, but I love calling hours. I love the chance to have waves of people pass in front of me and share stories about my grandpa. And what stories they shared! As the funeral home filled up and the line began to snake out the door, the place started to seem less like a wake and more like, well, a giant party! My grandfather was a true character, and it seemed like everyone who came to pay their respects had a story to tell. At one point I was belly laughing and just about peed my pants. What a perfect parting gift!
In addition to the calling hours, there was also the question of the funeral itself. My grandfather was a secular man through and through so there was no thought of wrangling a person of the cloth. But still, we wanted something, something heartfelt and unmistakably “grandpa” – some sort of ceremony as we laid his ashes to rest. I immediately knew we needed to find a Celebrant.
It crossed my mind to create and present the ceremony myself, but I wasn’t sure I could (or even wanted to) hold the space in the way it needed to be held. Rather than having a formal role, I wanted to be enfolded in the arms of my family – just a regular griever. So I declined the opportunity and instead set to finding the perfect Celebrant for my family.
And perfect she was. I knew just by her website and our brief phone call that Rebecca Schillenback of Full Circle Ceremonies would do right by my family and my grandfather’s memory. What she did for us was brilliant and cathartic and amazing. It was my first time at a Celebrant-led funeral!
A few days before the service, my mom and stepdad, uncles and aunts, and many of my cousins gathered together to share stories with Rebecca and look at old photographs and articles. She asked intriguing questions and in her warm and openhearted way gathered the stories and began to put together the story of his life.
The day for the funeral arrived. We gathered together on a cold, rainy morning, forgoing the cemetery for my uncle’s warm and familiar living room. We pulled chairs and couches into a circle and listened to Rebecca share the story of Grandpa’s life. Our tears flowed. We ate grandpa’s favorite candy (M&Ms) and sang his favorite song (“You Are My Sunshine”). We laughed at his hijinks and cried as we remembered the amazing love he and my grandmother shared. The entire ceremony was perfectly true to my grandfather and his stories, his values, his way of being in the world. It was truly a gift.
And as for me, Celebrant Megan, I am awaiting my first opportunity to perform a Celebrant funeral. I look forward to it with a full heart. I can’t wait to sit with a family at a most poignant time, listen as the stories wash over me, and weave together a moving, cathartic, hopeful, and above all true and personal celebration of a life.