Stories……..they make up our life. Each one of us has a story and in my work as a Life-Cycle Celebrant, it is a big part of my job to listen to stories and then write the words I have absorbed into a meaningful ceremony. Celebrants are, in a nutshell, modern storytellers. Without the story, it is very difficult to create a meaningful ceremony. Here is some of my story………..
I was born at 12:18am on this day forty-five years ago. I don’t remember my grand entrance but according to my mother, it was long and challenging and she remembers it with remarkable detail. My dad wasn’t allowed in the hospital room so he did what most dads of that era did; he went to the bar down the street and shared “spirits” with some friends until he heard the news that I had been born. Each spring when the crocuses break ground, I remember the part of my birth story where my mom said they were all in bloom when she brought me home from the hospital a week after my birth.
I was their second born and my sister, Lana, who was 3 at the time, was being cared for by my dad’s parents who had traveled from southern Ontario to lend a hand. My maternal grandfather had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer around the time of my birth but drove through a freak snowstorm to come and see his newest granddaughter. My mom recalls taking me to the hospital in the coming months when he was dying and how he would hold me against his old face and kiss me. He died when I was six months old and my mother says she would have died, too, (from a broken heart) if it weren’t for my older sister and I needing her care.
After waking up today with the knowledge that I have lived 45 years, a few thoughts came to mind. I don’t feel 45 and instead feel 26. One glance at my reflection in the mirror and I know I am definitely not 26. My 26 year old face didnot show the experience, wisdom and traces of adventures that my 45 year old face proudly displays. At 26, I hadn’t laughed or cried as much as I have at 45. My eyes have seen so much more and my heart has been stretched to lengths it only dreamt about at 26. My body has birthed a child and carried that child hours and hours per day for close to a decade and then some. I have accomplished so many things since 26……..a successful marriage, motherhood, published a book, travelled, reinvented myself, evolved, grown and expanded and have become increasingly aware of the fragility of this blessed gift of life.
When I decided to specialize in funerals and celebration-of-life ceremonies, I imagined the funerals of elderly people who had lived full lives. It turns out that I am most often called to assist a family in mourning and celebrating the life of a family member who died too young and often tragically. In the last ten months, I have led ceremonies for ten people who were around my age or younger and died oftentimes in a traumatic way.
It sure puts things in perspective when you tell a story that has such an abrupt ending. You can’t help but think of all the things that have been left unsaid and undone. A funeral I led recently was for a relatively young man who lived life fully. If he wanted to try something, he tried it and not in a half-assed way. Standing at his graveside, I encouraged his friends and family to consider something they wanted to do; something they often referred to in this way: “One day I want to/ am going to……” Things like learning how to tango or cook french cuisine or to take up photography. I urged them to pledge in that moment to actually do it. I have always wanted to play the drums………like the drums in a rock n’ roll band. And I know that the time is now. I am in the process of finding someone to teach me. Even the dead have profound lessons to teach us.
I recognize this deep privilege of celebrating my 45th birthday. There are so many who will never get the chance.
As I blow out my candles tonight, my wish is that today is the halfway mark of my life and that I get to continue to enjoy all of it…..the good, the bad, the easy, the tough, the glory, the hardship and the multitude of blessings. I carry with me the essence of all of those who didn’t get that chance to celebrate their 45th or next birthday and I raise my glass to them for, in their deaths, they brought deep meaning to my life.