Saturday, February 27, 2016

Celebrations of Life

Death is a part of life, they always say. From the moment we are born, we are aging toward our eventual mortality.

Some die young, only living a few moments. None of us know when tragedy could strike - a wrong turn made by a distracted, drowsy, or drunk driver . . . an illness that takes a loved one unexpectedly . . . a disease that tears a family's life apart slowly, eroding lives over time. But no matter the clich├ęs we hear or read, and despite the inevitability of death, we always mourn, we are always caught unaware, we always grieve, it is always a tragedy. The commonplace nature of death doesn't relieve our pain. Does anything relieve our pain, the pain of death, the pain of life, the pain of being human?

Well, of course! Many things. Sunrises and sunsets. Holding hands. Fresh, healing foods. Water. But since these things are in our daily lives, all around us, they are actually as commonplace as death. When we are hit by the close, personal implications of losing someone we love, they can be difficult to see. Everything can be . . . all the many people still around us that we love . . . hope . . . meaning . . . purpose. It takes us a while to grieve, to move through the thick clouds of grief, to heal, to begin to see beautiful things clearly again. And when we have lost loved ones to death, especially under unexpected or particularly harsh, confusing, or inexplicable circumstances, even when we do see a sunrise again, we imagine the person we miss there with us, and that pain of knowing they are not here does forever tint our glasses. It doesn't taint our experiences, always negatively, forever. But it does color them, give our lives a new, different hue. We see things differently, because our lives are different without them. We are changed.

These relationships that change us, all these relationships we hold dear, all these people we love and who love us deeply - these are what we celebrate when we celebrate a life. Every life lived deserves celebration. As a humanist, I sincerely believe that every single life lived had moments of love, meaning, and purpose. Every one of us shares the common experience of being human, of living and loving as the human creatures we are. No matter our age, there are pieces of life we can relate to, remember, that resonate with us.

As a Certified Humanist Minister, I have officiated at the Celebration of Life service of one person in the past five years - as a young minister, I expect that I will have more opportunities to provide this service to families the older I become myself. Generally, when families lose loved ones, they turn to familiar sources for comfort and healing. Religious leaders are commonly first responders in times of crisis and loss. I hope that as the years go by, more humanist families in Vermont and surrounding states will get to know me, through my involvement in the local community, and will know that they can turn to me to guide their families through times of sorrow as well as times of joy!

If you are a humanist, I'd like to share with you what I will offer as a Minister to your family in their time of need. The key here is, that often the religious perspectives of the individual who has died matter less to those planning a service than the religious perspectives of those who are grieving the loss. It can be difficult for some family members and friends who knew the person intimately, and shared their religious or non-religious convictions, to see them memorialized in a way that would not have resonated with them when they were living.

If you are a religious family member grieving the loss of a humanist or atheist loved one, please know that I will never discount or denigrate your world view, beliefs, and values - I will always strive to respectfully help you through your grieving process in exactly the way that is most beneficial to you, while honoring the desires and beliefs of your son/daughter, spouse/friend. I hold a deep respect for the human nature of religious belief. Our beliefs and values shape us in similar ways as do our relationships with family members, friends, and community connections. Whether you shared the belief and value system of your loved one or not, you are still grieving their death in the here and now. This life, and our human experience, has changed. Let us celebrate how your life was changed by theirs!

I request $150 remuneration for the following services - from the moment I receive your call, through two weeks following the official memorial service / wake / funeral / celebration of life:

* Up to three in-person meetings with you (parent/child/spouse/sibling/friend) and those closest to the deceased who would like to participate in this service (parents/children/spouse/siblings/friends)

* Planning, with you, how best to memorialize and celebrate the life that they lived - I will begin writing immediately based on memories and stories I'm told by those who knew and loved this person who has died, and will ask for those affected to read what I've written, and to offer suggestions, comments, and feedback so that I can craft a service that will include as many voices and perspectives as possible in this celebration of their life.

* Dedicated dialogue with you, in person at a library closest to where you live, about the grieving process - I will walk with you through the stacks, and show you where to find the resources and guidance that will benefit you as you (and/or children closest to the deceased) ask the hardest questions you now have to answer - these could include, "Why did this happen?" - "What happens after we die?" - "Will I ever see this person again?" - "Could something similar happen to me and/or someone else I love?" - "When will I feel hope again?" - "What has the grieving process felt like for people in situations similar to mine?"

I worked for a year and a half at the Salt Lake City Public Library. I walked past books on these subjects daily and I want you to know that the information is there, in a more tangible and intimate form than Google. I want you to feel the human touch of your fingers against their spines, as you read their titles and decide which one(s) speak to you, personally. They may not be the ones that would speak to me, so this is a very different process than just asking friends for recommendations.

I will go there with you, and show you the many different areas where you can find help, hope, and answers - Philosophy/Religion; Non-Fiction; Poetry; Fiction; Memoirs; Biographies; Psychology of Grief; Evolution/Human Nature. I'll talk with you (softly, because we're in a library, of course) about the varying perspectives on death and dying found around the world. I'll show you Buddhist, Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Atheist, Muslim, Humanist, Indigenous, and other perspectives that strike your interest.

I'll help you see that you aren't alone.

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