Most of my work is around creating ceremonies to mark those really big human milestones – the big three: birth, marriage, death. But lately I’ve been thinking about those lesser life transitions, which may not be quite as momentous, but still have the ability to re-orient the soul.
Today I helped a good friend do the final cleaning of her apartment as she completes her move to a new home. As we swept and mopped, I found myself tearing up with the re-realization that things just don’t ever stay the same! We spent so many sweet afternoons together in that house, watching our kids grow from infants to the independent four year olds they are today. We ate good food, laughed really hard, and supported each other through so many things. It’s not even my apartment, and I’m getting sad here missing it already!
I remember the day about ten years ago that I moved out of a dear apartment and into the house I share with my now husband. I loved that apartment. It was there that I nursed an achingly broken heart, that I reconnected with myself, that I charted the course that I’m following to this day. I remember my boyfriend and I had loaded the last boxes into his truck, and we came back in to do one last check. I leaned back against the living room wall and sank down the floor. Unexpected sobs surged out of me. He sat with me and lent his steady support as I cried it out, as I cried for all I had gone through living there. Moving is a big deal!
Now, ten years later, my family is preparing to move. It’s a big one – back to my hometown of Ithaca, NY. I have all the feelings, sometimes all at once. And I know that a ceremony is going to be in order to help us with the transition. I need to thank this place, say good bye to this place. I need a ceremonial space to grieve what we’re leaving and to let it go, so that we can enter this next phase of our lives with open hearts.
For really, what is life but a series of events that crack our hearts open? I don’t want to miss a single one of those moments. So I’ll be turning to a house-leaving ceremony to guide me through and help me feel it all. And then a house-welcoming ceremony on the other end. And then…, and then…, and so it goes, our lives ever turning. And we, if we’re brave, get to keep our eyes open, our hearts soft, and live it all.
Engagement stories. Everybody who’s engaged or married has one of some sort. And they run the gamut from the streetlights-twinkling-snow-sparkling-down-on-one-knee-said-yes-through-my-tears-of-joy classic, to the totally-wrong-moment-I-wasn’t-sure-took-me-a-week-to-answer reality check and everything in between.
I love hearing people’s stories and it’s what I love best about my work as a celebrant. The gem of any custom wedding ceremony I create is when I tell the couple’s story. Some couples don’t think they have a story, or that it’s not interesting enough. But it always is. Each is as unique as a snowflake.
While how you got engaged is just one small part of your story together, it’s an experience that people want to hear about. So I include it in the wedding ceremony, and family and friends love being taken back to that moment with you, to have a window into that intimate experience that changed your life trajectory.
Wondering how your engagement story can fit into your wedding ceremony? Here’s the twinkling snow story from a fun, sweet couple I worked with this year:
And so the winter before last, in the midst of all those blizzards, T and J took a trip to Boston on a cold and snowy weekend. They stayed in their favorite hotel, the Charlesmark, and J knew this would be his moment to propose. He had the ring with him, and while T got ready for their evening out, J was fidgeting nervously – taking the ring out of the box and then putting it back in the box, taking it out then putting it back again. He practiced getting down on one knee. Up and down he went. He checked yet again to make sure the ring was still there.
They went out to walk around Quincy Market before dinner and J waited for the perfect moment. He found it when they left the market and found themselves in an empty square, the snow fluttering down and twinkling in the light of the street lamps. J knew this was the time and he got down on one knee and asked T to marry him. First she yelled “Shut up, no way!” and then, of course, she said yes. Remembers T, “It was the best moment of my life.”
As the winter holidays approach, engagement season is upon us. What will your story be?
photo by Sandra Costello Photography | www.sandralovesyou.com
Last month I had the sweet opportunity to participate in Valley Wed, a curated local wedding show. Besides it being a beautiful fall day at a quintessential New England apple orchard, the highlight for me was all the open hearted couples I got to meet. I love hearing about how people are thinking about their weddings and about marriage, about bringing their families together and stepping over a threshold into a new stage of life. I was grateful to meet so many good souls!
As part of the wedding show, I got to share this interview about me and my work. I invite you to check it out here. Here’s an excerpt:
After the wedding, what’s the best compliment you could hear about your work? There are two compliments I love to hear. One is when guests ask me how I know the couple. I usually don’t know the couple outside of being their officiant, but my ceremonies are so personal and real that people often assume I am a dear friend.
The other compliment is when the ceremony brings out laughter and tears. When I look out at the guests, the wedding party, the couple, and I see people getting choked up, or something in the ceremony gets people laughing hard, that’s when I know that people are fully present in the moment, and that their hearts are open, and that they’re connecting with each other – and that’s what it’s all about.
Confession: there’s something about weddings that bugs me.
There, I said it. I know, I know, marrying people is part of how I make my living. So it’s kind of scary to put this confession out there. But I am realizing it’s extremely important to put it out there. And here’s why:
Weddings are amazing occasions – wonder-full occasions. We pour our hearts and souls into them. We spend hours planning and preparing for them. We invest a chunk of change into them. And that is all well and good. But what bugs me is when we are encouraged by mainstream society and the “wedding industrial complex” to throw all our energies into planning our weddings, without throwing at least equal energies into planning our marriages.
Weddings are not the end result in and of themselves (though doesn’t it feel like it, at the end of the day, when the last guest has gone home and you get to put your feet up and take your hair down?) Your wedding, at its best, is a symbol of your union. It symbolizes the joining of two lives, the purposeful converging of two paths, the agreement to chart your course together. And once the wedding is over, it’s the marriage part where things can get really interesting.
Imagine a marriage full of purpose, a regenerative marriage, a marriage in service to the world. How can you use this partnership that you’ve created and nurtured to restore the world to “a better, higher, or more worthy state”?
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.
We did it! The Hot Chocolate Run Wedding was a blast. Jennifer and Shawn raised over $5,000 for Safe Passage, and they looked simply smashing in their running/wedding outfits. Plus, there were hot chocolate and cookies for everyone!
The wedding was both tiny (no attendants, no music, no walking down the aisle), and huge (broadcast over giant speakers to reach 7,000 cheering runners and supporters). And we were both freezing (cause it’s December after all), and warm (cause how can you not have a warm fuzzy heart with all the love and community and excitement going on?)
And I loved that Shawn and Jennifer took a stand against the wedding industrial complex – rather than registering for gifts, they asked their friends and family to make donations to Safe Passage, the organization near and dear to their hearts. There was no worry about a fancy dress, makeup artists, or party favors. It was, truly and completely, all about the love!
The ceremony itself was the epitome of “short and sweet”. Due to the precision timing involved with getting three waves of runners and walkers across the start line, we were limited to just three minutes for the ceremony! But even in just three minutes, the ceremony was personal and unique, and included a bit of Jennifer and Shawn’s story, vows and ring exchange, and of course, the kiss!
I closed the ceremony with this wish for the couple:
Our wish for you is the same vision you hold out for all others: that your relationship be healthy, strong, and connected for all your days together.
And, actually, that’s what I wish for all of you, too. May it be so.
To see a short, beautifully filmed video of the event, click here.
To read a write-up in our local paper, click here.
Last week I got a call from someone asking if I could possibly officiate her wedding, which is coming right up, on December 6. She said it was kind of a crazy story, perhaps too complicated for a voicemail, and could I call her back. Intrigued, I called right away, and was delighted by what I heard. Jennifer is a friend of friends, and though we haven’t connected much in the past, I’m sure we’ve met before at parties and community events. She and her fiance, Shawn, have this great idea to get married next month at a big fundraising event in our community: The Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage.
The Hot Chocolate Run is a community celebration of Safe Passage, the Hampshire County (MA) organization addressing domestic violence. Since 1977, Safe Passage has helped thousands of families achieve safety, build justice, and rebuild their lives in the wake of domestic violence. The Hot Chocolate Run has had an incredible impact on the lives of women and children affected by domestic violence and has helped Safe Passage respond to thousands of people in abusive relationships over the past ten years. The event has supported safe shelter, legal assistance, and critical counseling services for adults and kids who have lived with violence in their homes.
Jennifer explained that she and Shawn had met several years ago through the Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage. Jennifer first participated in the run in 2004, and remembers that after the race she started complaining to a friend about how it had gone. The friend proactively suggested, “Instead of complaining, why don’t you volunteer next time?” So Jennifer did, and she became a critical volunteer and supporter every year since. Three years ago she met her fiance when she was working on the race and, as she says, “I took notice of a guy on social media named Shawn Reynolds who was running the HCR as his first 5K but was somehow also a top fundraiser. He was incredibly funny and hot as a baker.” The two got together, and this fall Shawn asked her to marry him. She said she would.
When Jennifer called last month and asked me to be her officiant, I was thrilled. I love a good story, I love love, and I love hope and community and determination trouncing violence and isolation, which is exactly what the Hot Chocolate Run and this wedding are about.
So I’m very excited to be running in the Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage next month. I’m running because I love to run, especially in cold weather; because I love marrying people (and how often do I get to go for a run with a couple I just married? Uh, never!); and because I whole heartedly support Safe Passage and their crucial work in the community not just in the essential services they provide families, but also in their success in raising awareness across the board about domestic violence, which impacts all of us in one way or another.
If you’d like to learn more about Safe Passage, Jennifer and Shawn’s story, and to support the cause, visit their fundraising page.