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This past Saturday, Flo and I had the occasion to attend and participate in the celebration of life for the son of a family friend. This was unique in a few ways:

  • The deceased taught music with a passion for jazz.
  • The celebration was held in a church.
  • The celebration included a Dixie Land Band.
  • The celebration also included a pipe organ.
  • There were what we would call traditional Scripture reading, Hymns along with Jazz selections.  

This was followed by our regular listening to CBC Radio on our way to Duncan on Sunday morning. One of the radio guests was a Funeral Director who is also a Death Doula, with a passion for assisting families in planning a ceremony and ritual for their loved ones.

The guest stated at the outset that we are people who celebrate with ceremony. She then went on tracing the history of our “end of life” rituals dating back over 100 hundred years. (The most interesting for myself was what started to change approximately 100 years ago, and then more significantly in the last 50 years.)  

Up until about one hundred years ago in North America, family looked after the deceased, including preparation of the deceased for burial. It was a this point in our history that the funeral home and their staff began to take on the duties once done by family. Often the funeral homes were family owned. Now jump ahead to 50 years ago, when the large corporate-owned funeral companies came on the scene. Many of these operations will still bear the family name, yet they are owned by large corporations.  

During this time, society has accepted the “scripted model” for the current celebration of life in North America. Along side of this, is the common theme of “no celebration of life by request of the deceased.”                

The guest on CBC went on to say how this is gradually turning around. Families are beginning to take more control of the rites of passage of their loved ones.            

Included in this, is the place of the church as we know it.

In my 30 plus years of ordination, I have become more comfortable living outside of the script of the church in planning a ceremony for the celebration of life. Giving the ceremony back to the family. I envision the future of working alongside the Death Doula — someone who assists families before and after death, the way a midwife does with a birth.  

We need to be prepared to change, to walk with family before and after death. The church has a role in the ceremony.

At the same time, we must remember we are there for the family and assist them in the ceremony.  

In conclusion: I encourage you to rethink the “no service by request”.

Take time to talk to your local church, or community, in planning a meaningful celebration of life for yourself and your loved one.  


Archdeacon Brian+