A Celebration of Life
My mother in law died peacefully in her home last Wednesday morning. It was her time and we were all relieved for her to be free, however sad for ourselves for losing her. While we all knew that her ashes would come home to be planted under a tree on our farm, we weren’t quite sure about what sort of service we’d be able to hold for her. She was a Catholic, but at 89 hadn’t been to a church for many years. She would have wanted a ceremony presided over by a Catholic priest, but we wanted more than just the official form of a traditional service. The priest who visited in her last days was wonderful and warm and we were prepared for a formal ceremony in his church even though none of us had ever attended it. However he came to our rescue and himself suggested a ceremony at home for her as more meaningful and appropriate in the circumstances.
After that it all fell into place. He would officiate and select appropriate prayers and blessings, we would be able to put in all our own contributions, memories and the rest. Our house, spacious as it is with its ever-stretching main room and used to festivals and enfolding gatherings of people, was the perfect venue. We cleaned and de-cluttered as never before, somehow feeling that it needed to be cleaner for this than even for our festivals. Friday was spent baking rock buns, crunchies, banana bread, tea loaf and heart biscuits interspersed with more cleaning.
The service went beautifully on the day. There was a wonderful energy, more of celebration of her life than mourning her death. We had a table with pictures of her, candles, crystals and shells, her signature walking stick and so on. Somehow seats were found for everyone. And the service itself went from formal prayers to informal remembering of her and tributes to her. Everyone had so much to say, from moving eulogy to funny stories and informal remembrances, that the priest had to leave before we were all done, so he did his final blessing before taking his leave.
Our children then played a couple of recorder pieces they’d chosen, which bridged the gap and restored the contemplative mood, before we carried on with the memories, so that everyone who wanted to had a chance to say or sing their bit. Our wonderful farm employees, who have been with us for years, sang Amazing Grace in harmony for her.
All in all it felt right, in keeping with her spirit and her life to have held this celebration for her here in a familiar place. There was joy as well as sadness and an energy filled with spirit, created by all the people who loved her, coming together. The overall message was of love, even the priest's sermon was on love and he chose a few prayers centered around the message of love, excusing himself for having to leaf madly around his book between the wedding section and funeral section to find all the right readings!.
We’ll have another more informal memorial service later in the year to plant her ashes and a tree for her, so that family from farther afield who weren’t able to attend can also have their chance to be part of a ceremony for her.