Death waits for no one … it will come your way … no matter where you live.
Think of what you would give to have one more moment with someone who has since passed on, and what it would have meant to you to have the opportunity to tell them how you felt about them while they were still living. Or think about how meaningful it would be to have a chance to create your own ceremony in such a way that reflects your own creed, unique lifestyle, personality and beliefs.
Hands-on Baby Boomers are passionate about their involvement in their community, politics, health care, social services and now — an emerging new trend — they are planning their own ceremonies, be it their funeral service or their memorial tribute or their living farewell.
In fact, this largest segment of our population is fuelling the growing trend that has led to what may be referred to as the “my way memorial movement”.
Logic and practicality are shaping a growing desire, as well as an identified need, for new customs relating to the rite of death. So now, as three-quarters of a million baby boomers and the generations that follow are thrust, often the first time, into planning services to honour their departed loved ones, they are also re-imagining how to say goodbye to the ones they love.
There is such significant, inappropriate handling of death in today’s society. It is a subject that yearns to be addressed.
So many of us lose any semblance of “comfort” when confronting someone’s passing. We are at a loss as to what to say to a friend or what actions to take to express our concern and support for the spouse or family. There is so much angst centered on the final act of someone’s “leaving us”.
Traditionally, funerals or memorial services take place after death. The actual ceremony, be it a religious service or a secular celebration of life, takes place after departure. It is a time for sanctifying, celebrating, respecting and remembering the life of the person who has died. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead. Customs vary significantly between religious affiliations, personal creeds and cultures.
With a recent shift toward progressive thinking, the concept of the “Living Farewell” is growing amongst a segment of the population who are forging their own spiritual path. Comprised of the elderly or the terminally ill, they are generally free thinkers with very strong ethical and spiritual values.
With the prevalence of hospice comes an awakening of this communal familial ritual as more people are taking their end-of-life journey in the comfort of homes and surrounded by family, committed caregivers and dedicated volunteers.
We cannot influence death but we can influence the style of our departure. Through my chosen path serving my Interlake community as a Celebrant, I have had the privilege of sharing time with many amazing individuals who have been at the end of their journey. I have found that people who know they are going to die spend their remaining time either “being alive” or “staying alive”.
Human beings surprise themselves by the fashion in which they face death: some more proudly and more valiantly than they ever dared imagine and some in abject terror.
A long while ago, I took pleasure in reading the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I was intrigued as the great author Mark Twain portrayed his fascination with eavesdropping on his own funeral.
The protagonist said in the midst of the fanfare that “it was the proudest moment of his whole life.”
Hmm. Wouldn’t it be heart-warming for the living to have heard the most awaited beautifully spoken words about them before they are dead? The thought came to mind, ‘love me while I live, don’t tell me you love me when I’m gone’.
Words, however beautifully crafted, when spoken after death, are no consolation to the dead.
Why wait for death to tell someone how much they have meant to you or how much you care?
Why wait for death before beautiful flowers are gifted. Why wait for death before you say “I love you my friend and cherish you with all my heart!”
Pre-death ceremonial farewells have been referred to as a ‘Living Wake’ or ‘Life Tribute’ or ‘Living Farewell’. No matter what the personalized rituals are called, the most important element is that a special time is carved out for friends and family to express love, gratitude and say those things that should’ve, could’ve, would’ve been said if we had the right time. It is a “living funeral” for the dying and their loved ones.
It is a chance for that person to know what they mean to others while they are still living and provides their loved ones with a better chance for their own peace of mind as they go through the grieving process after their passing.
A man I met this summer was facing his mortality. He and his friends requested of me a “living farewell” to call together good friends and family, so that together they could share his memories and pay tribute to his life experiences and significant life’s work. His friends asked that I prepare a time shared together that would provide the opportunity to thank him and tell him how much he had meant to them and just how much he was loved and cherished. It was a beautiful and powerful ceremony.
Personal messages that were exchanged were a priceless gift that he cherished to the day he passed away. He loved to watch the sunrise, and as we celebrated this ceremony at the break of dawn on the shore of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, the knowledge that he made a mark upon this earth made his imminent death more acceptable. He lived each of his remaining weeks “being alive”.
This Living Farewell helped him and the people around him come to terms with what was to come in a warm, passionate and loving way.
The Living Farewell tends to put some people off because they feel like they are digging the grave too early. Quite the contrary. Gatherings to eulogize and celebrate one’s life before he or she dies is the antithesis. A Living Farewell focuses on honouring a person’s life, and does not focus on their impending death.
Much like Tom, lately I’ve taken to eavesdropping. I happened to listen in on a recent conversation the other evening between my daughter Christin (who is currently living in Iceland) that she was having via Skype with her 99-year-old Amma Inga (who lives with us in our family home).
Inga was telling her granddaughter a story about how she had gone to the funeral of a dear friend. She went on to say that her late friend had died of a broken heart and sadly didn’t ever get to hear all the wonderful things and speeches that had been said about him at his funeral. ‘What a shame,’ said Inga. ‘What a crying shame! If only they had told him before he died.’
‘How sad,’ echoed Christin. ‘I always learn so much from you. Amma. Thank you. Goda nott Amma. I love you to eternity. Goda nott Elska, sweet dreams.’
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1
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