Growing up in a strong Catholic home with a large, intricately connected faith community meant that my family had a front row seat to view all facets of life. Births and deaths, marriages and divorces, great accomplishments and devastating setbacks. It didn’t matter if the event was a high or low point, the community was there to celebrate and support in whatever fashion was needed. The phrase used at my home was ‘lifting people up’. And it was universally applied in great and not-so-great times.
When I think back on my personal experiences with death and related rituals, I was not short on experiences. My family and I were very involved in nearly every aspect of church life – music ministry, social justice, youth ministry, and community development – which translated into a network of family and friends was deep and wide. This meant the sheer number of funerals was many; they were a common occurrence.
But while my own personal story began and continues with the foundation of ‘lifting people up’, I struggle with the feeling that many rituals (regardless of one’s faith or end of life choice) have not caught up with that notion. In recent readings, I’ve noticed others with similar concerns. Are we missing an opportunity to truly honor and celebrate our loved one’s impact…their legacy? Is today’s fast-paced, transaction-oriented society making it too convenient to avoid the human emotions tied to death and dying? Are we using ‘tradition’ as a reason to hold to ‘the way it’s always been done’ rather than explore ways to enrich our connection to and impact on each other?
I’ve observed strides being made. For example, the terms ‘funeral’ and ‘wake’ have largely been replaced with ‘memorial’ or even better ‘celebration of life’. These are important and meaningful distinctions that should change the tenor of the events. Memories. Celebration. Life. As survivors, I believe this is the spirit we should embrace; it’s what we are called to do when we gather to honor one’s passing.
Another advancement is that increasing numbers of individuals either facing imminent death or proactively making their own end of life choices are being vocal about how they want their life memorialized. This is certainly a cultural shift to recognize and support. We want to feel that our lives have mattered and that we’ve made an impact.
The opportunity is here to move beyond intention to action: to move our rituals forward so they truly commemorate and celebrate. For example, if you’re considering a burial or cremation, seek ways to incorporate your family and community in that decision. Embrace the support and power that comes with involving others on your journey.
Recent interactions with individuals and families at Foreverence confirm how each and every one of us is unique and amazing. The poignant stories and vivid memories are what we seek to hold onto. So, for me, the opportunity to encapsulate and celebrate that feeling, those memories, in a symbol that is very personal and reflective of their loved one’s legacy is invigorating. That is ‘lifting people up’.
Partner & General Manager