Viking Funerals: Personal Style Events?

Our approach to ancestral burial sites may say more about us than them

I often begin my discussions with community groups asking, “How many of you grew up going to funerals? How many have bathed the body of a loved one after death? Who has been present during a cremation? Lowered a body into a grave? Or helped to close a grave, with a shovel or handful of earth?”

Here in the highly secular Pacific Northwest, at the far edge of the continent where the majority of us whose people came from Europe have shed generation upon generation of custom and culture, very few hands rise in affirmation. Recently I accompanied a woman to a graveyard – the first she’d ever been to, in her more than five decades of life.

Lacking any direct connection to our ancestral funeral rites, it’s no wonder that so many in these times turn to “My Life. My Death. My Way.”  Death as what Stephen Jenkinson terms “a personal style event”. Even when we seek to learn from how it was before the modern funeral industry replaced the family and community in caring for our dead, we see through the lens of individualism and personal choice. Read More

2017: A Year in the Life

Where my work as a Life-Cycle Celebrant and community conversation leader took me

2017 was the

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Befriending Endings

What does dying ask of us? Notes from a friend’s death bed, and the words of Stephen Jenkinson

My friend had been under hospice care for weeks, in and out of consciousness for days. “I don’t know what my dying will look like,” he told an out-of-state caller as I held the phone by his pillow. “Maybe Holly knows.”

I was shocked, and dismayed. This beloved man was 20 years my elder. I had hoped to learn something about dying from him.

We know so little about endings, in the perpetually young, endless frontier culture of the West. The time that might be devoted to befriending the end of one’s days is so often expended on the hope agenda, on “not giving up”.

And so it was with my friend, still hoping for a reprieve, that the dying he was in the midst of was unrecognizable to him. Read More

Holiday Remembrance Events

The dark winter months can teach us so much about endings and the new life that grows from fallow times. A short list of the spaces I and others are holding this holiday season for reflection, grief, remembrance, and regeneration:

Read on for details…

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All Souls Stories: Two Tales from the Vault

Mourning, in the streets: wearing Marcy’s nightgowns for Tucson’s 100,000-person All Souls Procession two years ago.

Participating in a powerful community mourning and remembrance ritual

Each year, Halloween looks more like Christmas. The lights are orange and white instead of red and green; fake spider webs stretched over hedges, instead of fake snow; the giant inflatables with motors droning, just as unconvincing. But amidst the holiday-du-jour trimmings, there’s something more macabre springing up on lawn after lawn. Fake graveyards. With body parts reaching out. Full-size skeletons, both human and canine.

I’m not sure what to make of this upsurge in death decor.

For me, the veil does seem thinner this time of year. Many of my dead have been reaching out. So many faces surfacing through Facebook memories. Marcy aglow with the zeal of a Cancer Warrior; Marcy cadaverous. Kathy, cadaverous and aglow, at a family wedding just days before her death. The reminders aren’t only digital. Every old growth tree seems to whisper the name of Bill, who loved these old ones with such a fervor.

In Tucson, tens of thousands are preparing to remember their dead in a community mourning ritual. Here, two stories of how we first stumbled upon the All Soul’s Procession, then returned with a personal altar to honor my father and, later, a flannel-bedecked tribute to my friend Marcy.