I’m finally landing, after a big process working with a family over the last week or so. It was intense, but it was also really beautiful.
Much of what I do is to offer alternatives to the (fairly narrow) set of choices that seem to be available to us after a death. In this case, it was about when to have a community ceremony.
The death was sudden, and difficult and, for many good reasons, the family decided to postpone the Celebration of Life until later in the spring. They just couldn’t face organizing something that big right now. (This is where the options come in.)
The family needed the time to organize a big ceremony, but they also needed closure after this shocking event. There’s a shift in our souls that happens when someone we love dies, and for a while we’re in a kind of limbo, an in-between world. The person is gone, and everything has changed. It can be hard to imagine how to go back to living in the ‘normal’ world that everyone around us seems to inhabit.
One of the many energetic and spiritual roles of the funeral is to help us integrate what’s happened, and begin to make the transition out of that limbo, and back to our daily lives. It’s a ritual step, a threshold in the energetic process, one that both creates the change, and makes it real for us. Of course, the funeral also serves an important spiritual and energetic role in supporting the person who has died, helping them to fully depart this world and get well established in the next one.
Both the living and the dead need some kind of ceremony in the few days after a death. Adjusting to the changes is difficult, and rituals help our souls do that work.
I did a series of ceremonies with this family, starting the day after the death, and ending on Sunday, with a cremation ceremony at the funeral home. There were about 20 people at that event, with the immediate family, and 8-10 close friends. There were no slide shows or formal speeches and it wasn’t complicated to organize, but it was deeply healing.
For the family, this was the first time they’d stepped out of their house/family bubble since the death, and the first time they’d been out in the world with this new thing that had happened in their lives. They were able to find some closure, and to do it with people who loved them. It was an important first step of many they will need to take on their healing path.
For the person who’d died, it was a full and heartfelt launch of their canoe: we gathered all our energy of love and grief, and pushed them off of this shore. We could feel them making their way across the river, and being welcomed on the far side, in the Village of the Ancestors. When we say “Rest in Peace” this is what we’re referring to; making sure the person gets well situated in their new reality. Right ritual action can make all the difference to this.
For the close friends who attended, it was a chance to touch some of their own grief about the person who’d died, and also to step forward and support the rest of the family. It even had value for folks who didn’t attend, but who will come to the ceremony in the spring. There’s a kind of rightness to hearing, “We had a small family ceremony to say goodbye, and there will be a larger event in May.” Our souls know that ritual is important, and even if we didn’t attend, the fact that it was done is an important step in restoring and rebuilding the field.
Ritual matters. Funerals matter (even if you give them a different name). The pattern for the long process of integrating a death begins in the hours and days after it happens. Postponing the big community ceremony may be a good idea, but make sure to do some formal ritual in the week or so after a death. Our souls need that support.