Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death
Author: Sarah York
Death is something that most people do not want to think about and losing a loved one can be devastating. Dealing with death and all that is required to plan a service, ceremony, ritual or celebration of the deceased’s life requires understanding, guidance and discipline in order to make sure that the wishes of that person are met and the family has the proper time to remember their loved one. Many people have certain fears and concerns about taking on the role of handling the ritual of death and the creating a meaningful service. Entering the funeral parlor to discuss the arrangements can be difficult and when asked to view the body before the cosmetic preparations many might fell uncomfortable and distressed. As the author tells the story about accompanying a woman named Ruth to the home in order to help with the final arrangements. Many people do not realize the time it takes to get everything in place and properly done. From a simple service to the burial place whether the body is placed in the ground or cremated certain preparations must be made and a service with a clergyman discussed. The author shares several readings that can be used at these services and she even takes the reader on the journey with Ruth from start to finish to help others understand how to perform a memorial service and what it entails. Questions often asked by a minister, rabbi or clergy before the service relate to what the person was like, their job, their goals and their surviving immediate family members. The author shares what will be said when the casket is placed in the ground and when reading chapter one you learn more about how she runs the service and how others participate. Chapter two includes guidelines for those planning a memorial service and discussing the basis behind each part of the service and different phrases and readings that can be used. Two important questions that most people never think about but are vital to help guide you through the process of preparing for a service. First think about what part of the service would heal you the most? Next, decide which parts have least met your needs and decide what if anything was missing from the service and what turned you off? The author shares her workshop presentations for the reader and how most participants stated that they felt the presence of their loved ones and the day of the service it was not easier but they were able to let them go knowing that they would be in their hearts and minds forever. I have to agree when the author states that some services can be impersonal and some could not relate to the religious aspect of perspective being presented. Impersonal services once again I have to agree occur when the person conducting it knows very little about the deceased and has not spent enough time speaking with family members and even I feel asking the right questions. Next the author discusses who will create and conduct the service, what kind of service, religious beliefs and the right person to conduct it. When asked to attend a meeting with a loved on Sarah states that she came as a consultant. Some look for alternatives to the traditional clergy –led memorials. She shares that some turn to counselors or a friend to perform the service. Sometimes there are those who are skilled or schooled in the issue of handling grief and this person would be the one who should run the service as they are gifted in this area. Sharing different memorials she attended the author adds examples of programs for those who might create one for a service and need some guidelines and structure when preparing for that day. Choosing the right music and readings that are appropriate are part of what she includes in Chapter 2. She also includes how to set the proper tone for the service, sample opening remarks and outlines the format of different services on pages 22-31. Chapter 3 is vital to any service for those who have taken on the responsibility of running the memorial service. Understanding the function of prayer and prayer gestures, which focus on lighting candles, creating caring space, receptive space and inviting the Holy presence I think is most heartfelt. The one part of the ritual that she includes that my family took part in is The Circle of Love that we formed at the hospital on several occasions before my sister passed last year. Chapter 4 focuses on the different choices and decisions that need to be made as a result of the death a loved one. Do you want to view the body? Do you want to cremate or not? Do you want to donate or not? All you need to know and understand will be found on pages 64-65. Thee questions sum up the entire chapter and are vital to the family before you can move on to the creating the service. Next, every clergy person should set aside at least two hours to interview and speak with family members about their loved one. Talking about the person, their lives and any special times you had helps the writer or the person running the service clergy or not to create as the author describes “the soul sketch.” This is the memorial portrait almost like taking a canvas and painting an oral picture of the person that if painted you would see all of these stories on the canvas that tell the story of this person’s life. The soul sketch she states is creates as she speaks with many different family members, hears what they say and then creates the portrait. Interviewing the family and what should be asked is defined on pages 69-71. Planning the service and writing the soul sketch pages 72-78.
Chapters 6 discusses the circumstances surround the death of your loved one. Chapter 7 the topic of family alienation. What happens when family members that have not been close or have not been part of the family gatherings due to fighting or living a long distance from the diseased attend the funeral? Ways to handle these situations are described how to understand that this might be the time to look into you heart and show some understanding, forgiveness and hope but realize that you will not settle differences at a funeral. Pages 105-108 discuss how to handle these situations and page 109 the rest. What happens you someone or you are cut out of the will how do you handle it? What happens when anger takes over and you feel guilt? What happens when you realize another member of your family was left something you were promised? How many handle it and feel when you feel that you have been wronged? Chapter 8 focuses on how the body is prepared for burial and the rituals. The author defines committal ceremonies as the term used to describe the burial or distribution of the person’s remains. The common theme is the return to creation and the giver or source of life. Sharing how one family sent five helium balloons up in the air and including the types of flowers many place on coffins and graves and their meanings is quite compelling. Understanding the meaning of Earth, Air and Fire and the different signs rounds out Chapter 8. The author shares with the reader a sample committal ceremony on pages 135-139. Finally, Chapter 9 concludes with the how grief does not end with the memorial service and she includes how many different religions mourn their loved ones and being Jewish she explains in detail the rituals from start to finish or from the moment the body is cleansed to the moment it is buried. The author includes the many different rituals that follow within the first year and after. Page 141 discusses and explains how people create services and how they grieve. Pages 142 -144 elaborates on how Jewish people remember their loved ones. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and the yearly remembrance or anniversary of the person’s death are really hard to deal with especially the first year. Anger, forgiveness and remembering the loved one and sometimes trying to figure out why but knowing you never really will are all part of Chapter 9. Added at the end she includes three valuable resource sections. The first Death and Committal: How the Body is Prepared and laid to rest. Second the Services of friends and family. Finally, resource 3 Readings, Prayers and Blessings. Told in the author’s voice and written in a way that readers will embrace what she is saying Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death is definitely a book that everyone should read and an invaluable resource.
Fran Lewis: reviewer