In recent times after someone has passed away it is becoming more usual to not have a formal funeral but to have a Celebration of Life ceremony. This offers the opportunity for all the people who had been a part of that person’s life to come together to share their connections, relationships and cherished friendships enjoyed with the person who has recently died – an opportunity for all to let go and say farewell to a well-loved relative, friend or colleague.
Following on from the previous article ‘Farewell with Love’, this continues the unfolding of events following the passing over of Lavinia, a charismatic ninety-six-year-old, who had spent the last eighteen months of her life being cared for in a nursing home. Her daughter Serena shares the details and the realisations arising from the farewell ceremony.
The Funeral Director had called on the morning after Lavinia passed, opening the conversation with the normal platitudes of how deeply sorry she was to hear of the loss. Serena asked her to stop, saying it was not felt as a loss, but a welcome and joyful completion of life and that the ceremony was to be a Celebration of her Life. The Funeral Director responded with alacrity, enthusiasm and full understanding and the discussion moved to lay the foundations for the quality of the celebration to be filled with joy instead of being laced with the usual heaviness of sadness and sympathy.
This same lightness of expression was shared in conversations with the doctor signing off the death certificate, with the registrar, the florist and all those involved in the preparation for the ceremony. This quality was felt and commented upon by all attending in person and on the video.
During the 2020/21 Covid pandemic, funerals or celebrations of life in England were subject to very strict regulation with thirty minutes mandatory gaps between services to permit thorough cleaning of the area. At this stage of regulations, only ten people were permitted to attend in person, but an online video link was available for anyone who wished to be present, and it was beautiful to share the service with many others.
This was a ceremony for the Celebration of Life, not the usual stereotypical funeral service, but a celebration of Lavinia’s relationships, friendships and connections made with others over a long and varied lifetime. The Funeral Director was very supportive and co-operated with all the suggestions and any requests that were possible. At the crematorium hall, alternate rows were closed off due to the restrictions. A seating plan ensured that those present, particularly the more elderly, felt settled on the day with no confusion as to where to sit.
The Funeral Director suggested having the flowers for the coffin hand tied as a bouquet that could easily be removed after the service. Serena then felt to request several small hand tied bouquets, appearing as one bouquet cascading gently from a lovely wicker basket. The Funeral Director and the florist were inspired by this idea and both felt it could be a welcome suggestion for other families.
Those attending were invited to wear anything other than black in celebration of Lavinia’s love of colour expressed in the clothes she had always enjoyed wearing and the flowers, fruit, and vegetables that she grew.
The celebrant, a friend of Serena’s, presented a joyful and light-hearted ceremony, sharing with humour some highlights from Lavinia’s life. Those present at the ceremony and many of those joining by video link were amused by some of the escapades and adventures that were shared from during and after the war years. For example, Lavinia had left her hometown in the north of England for the first time at the age of sixteen when, accompanied by her mother, she journeyed to London by train for an audition to join ENSA (Entertainment National Service Association). She was accepted on condition that she lost her northern accent within three months. This services association was formed to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War II and Lavinia travelled around the UK and Europe with ENSA as a principal singer entertaining the troops.
It was a very real synopsis of Lavinia’s life – there were rough times, smooth times, playful and joyful times all greeted with equanimity and common sense – simply getting on with life, being there and sharing it with others too.
On arrival at the crematorium hall, Serena requested that the bearers feel free to smile and enjoy this as a ceremony of a Celebration of Life rather than the usual oppressive gloom of a funeral. Their response – “If we had known, we would have worn Hawaiian shirts!” One bearer, who claimed he never smiled, looked towards Serena as he left the hall and nodded – a beaming smile lighting up his face.
The music was also a celebration with music and songs that Lavinia had enjoyed listening to such as Aroha by Tina Kopa and Catherine Woods, ‘As She Is’ by Jenny James, and ‘We Belong to God’ by Chris James.
The flowers at the ceremony were stunning and, to the surprise of the guests attending, the hand tied bouquets were handed out to everyone after the celebration in appreciation of their connection, love and support of Lavinia during her life (one lady having worked with her for nearly forty years). Recipients of the bouquets included the Funeral Director who exclaimed that in all her years, she had never before experienced individual bouquets being shared at any funeral, nor, even more surprisingly, herself being given flowers after a service – her customary composure showing signs of slipping!
Lavinia’s oldest friend, whom she had met during the war, was able to attend live online and said afterwards that it was the most beautiful ceremony she had ever attended and a very lovely way to say goodbye and complete with love. She felt that the delicate voile curtains gliding across in front of the coffin at the completion of the ceremony was a very beautiful and fitting ‘final curtain’ on the theatre of life.
Serena was very aware that in offering space to her mother and being fully present with her as she approached the moment of dying, there were no regrets, only a deep sense and feeling of completion. There was a settlement, simplicity and sense of fullness at the return home to God, with no emotion and nothing to be emotional about – simply a joy of having known and loved this woman with no lingering issues or regrets: a true and deeply felt appreciation of the completion of life and the space and opportunity for mother and daughter to come together as woman to woman in love and harmony.
Serena had experienced on several previous occasions that by being open and willing to move beyond the accepted ‘normal’ around dying and death, there is joy and magic in being present and witnessing the completion of a life, just as there is with the birth of a baby.
Life is a cycle with no true beginning and no true end
An opportunity for new beginnings
Love is eternal.
D&D Team, UK
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read:
Part 1 of this sequel:
Farewell with Love
My Mum's Funeral: Celebration of a Life Completed