By Paul Anderson
Our American culture is one that “celebrates.” We celebrate holidays, accomplishments, significant challenges and milestones. Our celebrations are gatherings with laughter, shouting, dancing, hugging, plenty of joy and excitement.
In our culture we find it difficult to celebrate personal loss, failure or even finishing second. Although death is a natural part of life, it is especially challenging for us to celebrate when we experience death of a loved one. There is often shock, denial, pain, guilt, bargaining, anger, depression and loneliness. At the same time we are experiencing these feelings we are trying to answer the question of “why?” If the death is due to natural cause or a long-term illness, some of those feeling may have already begun to be addressed. In either situation, it is an exhausting and often confusing time.
Historically, religious affiliation has often determined how family and friends of a loved one who passes away will answer the big questions of life and death, and gather for a wake, funeral or memorial service, helping each other move from a place of shock, denial, anger, hurt and confusion toward a place of acceptance and hope. Today, and especially in the LGBT community, more and more families and circles of friends contain a diverse mix of religious traditions or beliefs or are not affiliated with a religion or church, and process their loss in different ways.
Many people call this gathering a “Celebration of Life,” sometimes held in addition to a prescribed religious ceremony and sometimes as the main gathering, whether it is interdenominational, interfaith or nonreligious. The title reflects how people are choosing to respond to their loss, choosing to find a more helpful balance between mourning and celebrating their loved one’s life. They are finding that in celebrating the life of their loved one in ways that are personal and unique there is a sense of healing, and they are able to more effectively move toward acceptance, hope and peace, individually and also as a family or community with a unique mix of beliefs and values.
After the death of a loved one, often the simplest tasks are difficult to accomplish. Organizing and scheduling what is to be done is often an overwhelming task. Our energy level and ability to think clearly often comes to a standstill. There are so many decisions that need to be made — the venue or setting, an officiant and speakers, performances or music, tokens of remembrance, ceremonies, transportation, food and many others — and it seems so difficult to sort out, that having people you can trust and can be there to help you is a gift.
When we are in the initial stages of grief, it can feel very unnatural for us to celebrate. Our tendencies are to focus entirely on that which has come to an end, and our personal loss. In times like these, often we resort to that which has been done in the past — the familiar, the traditional, the religious and the structured and ritualistic.
Our culture is changing though. Gatherings that are more personal and unique are seen as more effective in helping those participating move forward. When the people, the setting and what is said and done is within the comfort zone of loved ones and reflects their character, lifestyle and beliefs, you have the ingredients of a meaningful, significant Celebration of Life. When these three aspects are present and complement each other, the Celebration of Life has a healing affect in our lives, emotionally and spiritually.
Paul Anderson is the director of the Celebrations of Life Division at Forté Events Inc. where he helps people celebrate the lives of loved ones. Contact him at email@example.com.