HUMANIST CELEBRATIONS OF LIFE
The death of someone we have known and loved is no less sad, shocking or painful for those whose religious involvement is minimal, or who have chosen to live without religion, altogether. How we remember a loved one is far more important and relevant than what we believe, religiously, might have happened to them following their death.
Instead of a funeral, which is generally about mourning the loss and most often sprinkled with supernatural worship and devotion, Humanists practice what is called a Celebration of Life. As the name implies, the entire service is about the life of the deceased - who they were, what they were like, what they accomplished, and how they touched the lives of those who came to honor them. Where funerals are so often somber affairs focusing on some sort of afterlife, a Celebration of Life is much lighter as it focuses on, and genuinely reflects, the life, personality and wishes of the deceased, with laughter common as special moments are shared and people reminisce. The Humanist Celebrant acts as a moderator, touching on special events, then encouraging life stories from family and friends. Following is a common format for the Celebration of Life to help in planning the event, noting that the last wishes of the deceased should always be given first consideration. It is, after all, their life being celebrated.
(may be preceded by music, to help quiet the crowd and let them know that the celebration is about to begin)
This part is generally somewhat structured, as specific vital information is shared. It should begin with the full name – first, middle, last – followed by birth, death, and immediate family information. This will likely be the only time that the full name is used in the celebration. For effect, the Celebrant may pause a couple of seconds after reading the name, before moving on to the vital information. Also, many people use short or altered forms of their first name (i.e. Joseph = Joe, Michelle = Shelley), or nicknames. As the Celebration of Life moves along, it is best to refer to the deceased by the name, or nickname, that they were known by. This helps personalize the life being celebrated and enhances personal connections to friends and family. Below is a fill-in-the-blank example of a typical opening:
__________________ ________________ _____________________ Began his/her journey of life in (location) _____________, _____________ on ______________ __, ______, son/daughter of ____________ _______________ and _________________ ________________ ____________________ (generally includes mother’s maiden name). Sadly, to those who knew and loved him/her, and will surely miss his/her presence, his/her journey concluded on _____________ __, _____, at his/her home (or other place) in _____________, _____________. Today we gather to celebrate (first name) ___________’s life, the events that made him/her the person he/she was, and those special moments where he/she touched the lives of the family and friends who are here today to remember him/her. While his/her journey of life is now over, he/she will continue to live on in the hearts, minds, and memories of those who knew her – a special place that each of you will surely visit often.
This helps fill in the gaps and create a sense and understanding of the whole person, in the context of many life choices over time. This is especially helpful for friends whose close association to the deceased was relatively short. This part includes such things as places lived, education, marriage and family, career info, stories that explain certain redirections of life path or change in goals, and anything else that would help explain how the honoree got from where their life began to where they were in those final days. Interesting, and sometimes humorous, stories are often used to create a sense of how and why. The chronology is often either preceded or followed by a short Humanist themed reading, a favorite reading of the deceased’s, or a relevant musical interlude
This part focuses on the individual’s contributions and various life milestones – accomplishments as well as selfless acts. It can include a wide variety of topics, from career achievements, community involvement, and political activism to family highlights, neighborly interaction, and mentoring. Again, relevant stories may be used to help explain how they took they path and why that path was important to them, of any attribute or accomplishment being acknowledged.
Each individual has a pleasure niche (usually several) of things that make them happy. To enrich the understanding of the life being celebrated, the celebration often includes things like excerpts from favorite literature, favorite music (live or recorded), references to private creativities (crocheting, art, hiking, exploring, etc), and any task openly enjoyed by the deceased (playing cards, shooting pool, etc). Personal pleasures can either be explored as a category, or sprinkled throughout the celebration, as relevant connections to certain life events.
In the final segment, the Celebrant will open the celebration to personal stories from family and friends. It will typically begin with the Celebrant inviting immediate family to speak, one by one using a list agreed on by the family. Once the list is exhausted, the Celebrant will open the floor to anyone who wishes to share, moderating to insure that only one person is sharing at a time. Alternatively, a family member may wish to moderate the story telling, in which case, the Celebrant would introduce said family member as the first speaker, and they would take the celebration to conclusion. Before the story telling begins, the Celebrant will often provide information about after Celebration receptions, get togethers, meals, etc.
Non Religious Poems
The tide recedes but leaves behind
bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down, but gentle
warmth still lingers on the land.
The music stops, and yet it echoes
on in sweet refrains.....
For every joy that passes,
something beautiful remains.
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Your gentle face and patient smile
With sadness we recall,
You had a kindly word for each
And died beloved by all.
The voice is mute and stilled the heart
That loved us well and true,
Ah, bitter was the trial to part
From one so good as you.
You are not forgotten loved one
Nor will you ever be,
As long as life and memory last
We will remember thee.
We miss you now, our hearts are sore,
As time goes by we miss you more.
Your loving smile, your gentle face,
No one can fill your empty place.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I did not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there, I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye
The first candle represents our grief.
The pain of losing you is intense.
It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.
This second candle represents our courage.
To confront our sorrow,
To comfort each other,
To change our lives.
This third candle we light in your memory.
For the times we laughed,
The times we cried,
The times we were angry with each other,
The silly things you did,
The caring and joy you gave us.
This fourth candle we light for our love.
We light this candle that your light will always shine.
As we enter this holiday season and share this night of remembrance
with our family and friends.
We cherish the special place in our hearts
that will always be reserved for you.
We thank you for the gift
your living brought to each of us.
We love you.
We remember you.
To the living, I am gone
To the sorrowful, I will never return
To the angry, I was cheated
But to the happy, I am at peace
And to the faithful, I have never left
I cannot speak, but I can listen
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard
So as you stand upon the shore
Gazing at the beautiful sea, remember me
As you look in awe at a mighty forest
And in its grand majesty, remember me
Remember me in your hearts,
In your thoughts, and the memories of the
Times we loved, the times we cried,
the battle we fought and the times we laughed
For if you always think of me,
Truly, I never will be gone.
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