This past week I felt closer to my true purpose than ever before.
I knew it would be a busy long weekend… three weddings, a rehearsal, driving up to London to get my baby boy settled in at University, back to Toronto for the night… and then I’d be off! Three days in Muskoka, visiting cottages, swimming, sunning and relaxing with friends.
Because I was determined to squeeze every last minute out of the final cottage visit of the summer, I had to prepare well in advance for this little holiday. I wanted to be sure that, not only was I ready for the stuff happening before I went away but I also needed to write scripts and organize my meetings and weddings for the week after, as well. That way, I could stay up north till midday on Thursday and head straight to my meetings Thursday night. I realized it was ambitious and it was a lot of work, but I felt very accomplished when, on the Friday before the long weekend, I was all set to go!
I was so looking forward to this break…
Everything went as planned over the weekend and by Tuesday morning at 8:30 am my besties and I were on the road, heading to visit our first cottage on Pine Island on Lake Muskoka.
As we navigated the Toronto traffic, en route to the Allen Expressway, we passed another friend’s house, which prompted one of my companions to say:
“Hey… have you looked at Facebook recently?”
“No… why?” I asked… and she proceeded to tell me that our friend’s father (whose house we were driving by) passed away suddenly on Sunday morning.
I felt stricken.
I had the pleasure of getting to know our friend’s father a bit over the years and he was truly a lovely and gracious man. Their family is so close and I could only imagine how they must be feeling in light of this sudden loss. Of course, I wanted to call right away but I quickly recalled the Seinfeld episode where they’re all discussing the etiquette of when it’s appropriate to call someone when something serious or tragic has happened. I definitely didn’t want to be on hands-free, driving through traffic with two other people in the car while I spoke to her for the first time about her father’s passing.
My friend, who was with me, said that she had already reached out but had not heard back yet and we figured the family might be overwhelmed with all the preparations needed. I decided that I would call when I had a private moment, later that afternoon.
We had a lovely drive up north and our first stop was great. We had a beautiful boat ride over to the island, were dazzled by how spacious and beautiful the cottage was (the boathouse really reminded me of the one I designed and built on Acton Island when my kids were little) we enjoyed a delicious lunch and on our way back to the mainland our friend took us on boat ride to visit another island nearby.
It was delightful!
I was starting to relax into “Muskoka mode”.
At this point, I don’t recall which came first but after our island visit, we were making our way back onto the boat and I got a text and a phone call within minutes of each other. The phone call was from a couple whose ceremony I was Officiating the following weekend telling me that the Bride’s mother had been hospitalized and would not be able to attend their wedding. Not only that, they also weren’t sure whether her dad would be able to leave her mom and therefore might not be there to walk her down the aisle. Of course, the Bride was devastated… and this was on the heels of the Groom losing his father only 3 months earlier. I can only imagine what they must have been feeling, only 4 days before their wedding.
Understandably, they were reaching out to me to help them navigate the emotional toll it was taking on them as well as to discuss whatever logistical changes there would be as a result of her parents not attending. I should mention that these are two of the kindest, compassionate and generous people I’ve met and my heart truly went out to them. I wanted to do everything I could to ensure that, even though they had some unexpected challenges, their wedding would still be as sacred and special as they had originally planned.
The text I received was from our friend whose father had passed away. She was reaching out not just to tell me the news but also to ask if I would do the honour of Officiating the Celebration of his Life.
I honestly can’t describe the feeling that washed over me when I read that text. It never even occurred to me that I might be asked to Officiate. I was truly humbled and grateful that they had considered me and had chosen to bless me with such an honour.
I should mention here that, even though I am a trained and licensed Life Celebration Specialist… able to Officiate Weddings, Memorials, Funerals, Baby Welcomes and more… I had never been asked to do a Celebration of Life before. Of course, I didn’t feel comfortable advertising for something like that and the truth is that I knew, deep down, that when the time was right, it would happen.
I did wonder, however, how that opportunity find me.
As I read the text and let it sink in, I realized I could not have imagined a better scenario for my first funeral experience. This was a couple whom I adored and with whom I’ve shared some of my most vulnerable, authentic and joyful experiences. There honestly wasn’t another place on earth I would have wanted to be than with them, supporting them and holding space for them as they said goodbye.
A little while later (when I finally got back on dry land) I had the opportunity to have a quiet talk with my friend about her dad and the plans for their celebration of his life. It was going to be an intimate gathering in their home on Thursday night followed by a brief service and interment the next day. I realized right away that I would have some juggling to do because I had two final consults with the couples I was marrying the following week and both were scheduled for that same Thursday evening. Part of me started to panic for just a second and then, once again, that feeling of peace and purpose washed over me. I knew for certain that it would all work out for good and even though my holiday would be different than I’d imagined it, I was so grateful to be exactly where I was, with the people I was with preparing for a sacred ceremony on behalf of my cherished friends at a sad and difficult time of their lives.
But wait… it gets better.
That night, during dinner, I had switched my phone to silent but I was curious of the time so I picked it up to check. Just as I did, I saw that my phone was ringing. When I saw the name on the display I was stunned, yet again.
The call was from my best friend from childhood. We were inseparable from grade one to grade eight. If you have read some of my earlier blog posts, you may recall that in ‘The Secret, the Law of Attraction & The Origin of my Spiritual Beliefs’ I wrote about a conversation I had with her when we were about 8 or 9 years old.
We were talking about whether, or not, we believed in God.
After high school we lost touch and I didn’t reconnect with her again until 2007. We spoke on the phone a couple of times but have been out of touch since then… about 11 years, I guess. So, you can imagine my surprise when I saw her name on my call display.
Once again, my focus was shifted away from my “holiday plans” towards something I could never have predicted. Instead, something deeper, more urgent and unexpected needed my attention.
She reminded me that it was her birthday, September 4th… a date I still remember to this day… although I admit that I sometimes skip over it without noticing (this was one of those times). She told me she had read my blog recently and was curious about that conversation we had about God, almost 50 years ago. We shared stories… some familiar, some not… and even though I knew my friends must be wondering where I had disappeared to for 45 minutes, I had the same feeling… that I was exactly where I needed to be.
The conversation ended abruptly because we got cut off but we both expressed how much we enjoyed the conversation, how much we loved each other and we agreed that we must stay in touch more often.
As I stood there, looking at my phone I was amazed at how the events of that day had unfolded.
All three of these instances happening in quick succession seemed ordained, somehow. I felt the weight and the responsibility of them all, albeit for different reasons, and yet I also felt the development of a new kind of inner strength and a sense of purpose that I knew wasn’t coming from me. It was in me but not about me, if that makes any sense.
The next morning, I got up and began to prepare for the Celebration of Life, doing some research and putting together some of the ideas based on what my friend had said she and her sister were planning. I also spoke to the couple who was getting married the following weekend and we worked through some possibilities, taking into account the various possible scenarios. I told them to pray and to hope for the best and that, no matter what, it would all come together for good.
I have to admit that, as I looked ahead to the next several days I wondered how I would manage it all. Even though I am trained and experienced in supporting people during challenging times, I’m still very aware of my human-ness. I wanted serve my friends in the most meaningful way possible but I wasn’t 100% sure what that should look like. And so, I prayed for God to help me and guide me. I told Him that I didn’t want to rely on my own ideas or even hear my own words… I just wanted Him to take over.
Which brings me closer to how I got the name for this post.
Without going into too much detail, I want to share my experience of Officiating the Celebration of Life. For starters, there’s such an interesting juxtaposition in terms of what I do. I mean, the difference between a wedding and a funeral is pretty obvious… arguably, one of the happiest days of a person’s life is their wedding day versus one of the saddest days – the loss of a loved one.
Now, I should say that I am not a person who hates funerals. I have always felt that life-cycle events of all kinds are part of our humanity and are, indeed rites of passage and should be treated with respect and dignity. I have always felt strongly about the importance of attending these events… even the saddest ones… because these are the times when our family, our friends and our community needs us around them… to share in the joy and the grief in equal measure. Death is hard and nobody ever really knows the “right” thing to say but I can’t emphasize enough how meaningful it is to simply “show up”.
Anyway, I mention that because this experience was not like any other funeral I’ve been to. This time I was there, not just as a friend, but as the person chosen to create and hold a space for everyone to come, pay their respects, grieve and share their memories. There was something so sacred in that for me and even though I was nervous and still feeling all the “me” feelings, there was another part of me which transcended all of that.
I felt so grounded.
And it didn’t necessarily feel different than when I Officiate weddings but, rather, it was like I had found and set in place another ‘cornerstone of purpose’.
And, as I sit here, writing this down and really contemplating it all for the first time, I realize that what helped me get to that place was the opportunity to view the process that the family went though to prepare for saying their final goodbyes to their loved one. It was truly miraculous to witness as they moved forward, one step at a time, toggling between grief and hope, between sadness and joy, between past present and future.
Somehow, they managed to weave together a few, meaningful threads that held them together and protected them from letting their grief get the better of them. Together, they created a rich tapestry of symbolism and memories… of roses, of recipes and of butterflies… which swaddled them and carried them, safely to their final goodbyes.
Sharing that experience with them truly changed me.
I now have a deeper understanding of what it means to be alive and what is truly important in life… and it’s this:
One of the most sacred things in life are the bonds we have with each other.
It’s funny because that is actually a line I use in many of my wedding ceremonies. I’ve always “known” it but now I Know it, ya know? I mean… now, it’s something I’m quite sure is an inarguable truth.
It was this awareness that helped me make sense of the significance of the other events last week and it was this awareness that made me realize what my true purpose has always been about.
I wish I could write more about this but I’m off to another wedding and I must post this before I go :)
Have a strong week everyone and cherish your loved ones!