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Celebrations of Life

Funerals and Memorials


The death of someone we have known and loved is no less sad, shocking or painful for those who have chosen to live without religion. How we remember a loved one is far more important and relevant than what we believe, religiously, might have happened following their death. The question then becomes: Should a service to honor the deceased reflect the beliefs of the deceased, or the beliefs of family/friends who are honoring him or her? An even better question: Should the service be more about remembering the person – it is their life, after all - as opposed to what anyone involved might or might not believe in? In America, statistics have shown that nearly half of the men and women living in the United States choose to have a humanistic, religion neutral, end of life service.

A funeral director is the professional most likely to deal with all the practical arrangements of a funeral, but we are all entitled to specify the kind of ceremony/service we want, including and especially content. The task of the officiant is to moderate or “MC” the service, balancing the wishes of the family with the known desires of the recently deceased. Services moderated by religious clergy often become more of a religious worship service than a memorial for the loved one being honored. Humanist Celebrants try to keep the focus of the event on the departed and the events/relationships of their life.

Humanist funerals, known as “Celebrations of life”, are increasingly common, as such are far more appropriate for those who neither lived according to religious principles, nor accepted religious views of life or death. The Humanist Celebration of Life avoids the ‘after-life’ question and is not faith based. The service instead uniquely and affectionately celebrates the life of the person who has died. Proper tribute is paid to them, to the life they lived, the connections they made and those they have left behind.

Normally, nothing in a Humanist service should be offensive or derogatory to those who are religious. Friends, relatives and acquaintances simply express their feelings, while sharing their memories, warmth and sincerity - absent religious fanfare.

In preparation, Celebrants will want to learn as much about the person as possible, so that the service, and memorial tributes, justly captures the life and personality of that person. Whatever the circumstances of the person’s life and death, the celebrant is there to be understanding and compassionate, not to moralize nor to judge.

Humanist celebrants will be sensitive to your wishes, yet ready to give clear guidance and to answer questions when required. They will welcome your ideas for readings and music and, if required, will be ready with suggestions suitable for the kind of ceremony you want. Even though this type of funeral service is not tied to any religious philosophy, it accomplishes the same function - assisting the surviving family members and friends with an opportunity to grieve and accept the terms of the death of their loved one.

Below are samples of readings common to Humanist Celebrations of Life:

Samples: Poems and Readings

Typical Opening
Look to this day! For it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence: The Bliss of growth; the glory of action; the splendor of beauty; for yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision. But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.

Many centuries ago, a man named Kalidasa said those words that emphasize the importance of each and every day and what we make of it. This is such a day and family and friends have come to make the most of it.

We gather here, caught on that cusp between the majesty of life and the mysteries of death. It is a balance we face every day, in some way or form. There truly is a time for every purpose: A time to be born and, as well, a time to die. Perhaps it should said that it is appointed to men and women but once to live. That is our challenge, to wring out of life its fullest measure of happiness, while accepting the finite nature of our mortal existence.

This ceremony is a rite of passage. We celebrate this life, this beautiful life, this mysterious life, this precious life that was [Deceased], this (man/woman) who loved family, home, work, and play; this (man/woman) who gave little cause for dislike and every reason for admiration. Yes, it was appointed for [Deceased] once to live. This (he/she) did, and did graciously. (He/she) squeezed out of life the happiness that comes from giving and loving. Not with any pretension or selfish goal, but perhaps understanding that happiness does not come from getting, but from giving. There is no greater lesson that we can teach our children.

Yes, we have gathered to celebrate [Deceased]'s life. But even as this ceremony is about [Deceased], it is not for (him/her). It is for you. It is your celebration, your acknowledgement, your memory of (him/her) among yourselves. Your farewell bow to (his/her) exit from that grand stage we call "life".

A life is a pinpoint in time where the universe convenes in each of us, then radiates back out to the stars through those we touch. The point which connects us all to all that is life

This ceremony calls on us to remember our roots and our experiences. We all have different paths to walk, though they all lead to one inevitable place. It is the path that is important, not the end of the path, nor its beginning. Nor is it who we are born as, or what circumstances we find ourselves in. It is how we address our lives, how we spend that capital of "Self." Yes, it was appointed to [Deceased] once to live. We now declare (his/her) life a success, her life complete, her work finally done. May we dedicate ourselves to spend our measure of love as she did, before the time comes when we cannot understand how to do it.

Hold onto what is good,
Even if it is only a handful of earth.
Hold onto what you believe,
Even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold onto what you must do,
Even if it is a long way from here.
Hold onto Life,
Even when it is easier letting go.
Hold onto my hand,
Even when I have gone away from you.

A Letter to My Brother
From the times that we played together as kids
to the time we grew up as new men we were best friends.
We laughed, cried, acted crazy, and played tricks on each other.
We were the best of friends.
From the talks about girls to life to the dreams we once had.
You are my best friend.
More than just my brother and a wholesome man.
We kicked it hard even through the rough times.
I was there for you like you were there for me
even when I may have felt that I was man enough
to get along without the pep talks and misunderstood reactions.

I'll always miss you but I've let you go,
In my broken heart I'll always keep you so,
We shared a special night before you died,
A night that helped me dry the tears I've cried,
You've healed me from your cloud above,
I can't see you now but I'll always feel your love,
The hardest thing was "never ever",
But the memories I have will last forever,
So sleep wee mammy, rest in peace,
Your baby girl is more at ease.

Free as the Spirit Wolf

The moon was half the night you left,
Took to the sky with your last breathe,
The wind it whistled through your hair,
Your precious soul it filled the air.

You howled goodbye to those you love,
Ran through the clouds up way above,
The night was dark but you felt content,
‘Cause this is where the good ones went.

The ones you left, they mourn and cry,
They were not ready to say goodbye,
Your presence would fill the room with flare,
But now the room is cold and bare.

Goodbye My Friend

Though we never know
Where life will take us,
I know it's just a ride
On the wheel.
And we never know
When death will shake us
And we wonder how
It will feel.

So Goodbye my friend.
I know I'll never see you again.
But the time together
Through all the years,
Will take away these tears.
It's OK now - Goodbye my friend.

Absent Friends

Remember those not here today,
And those unwell or far away,
And those who never lived to see,
the end of war and Victory,
And every friend who've lost our way,
Remembered friends as of yesterday,
It's absent friends we miss the most,
To ALL, let's drink a loving toast.

At every turning of my life
At every turning of my life
I came across
Good friends,
Friends who stood by me
Even when the time raced me by.

Farewell, farewell
My friends
I smile and
Bid you goodbye.
No, shed no tears
For I need them not
All I need is your smile.

If you feel sad
Do think of me
For that's what I'll like.
When you live in the hearts
Of those you love
Remember then
You never die.

Rabindranath Tagore

My Grandpa

The Love we have for Grandpa will never fade away,
We'll think of him our special friend through each passing day.
When we walk into the room and see his empty chair,
Although we know he is gone away we still feel his presence there.
The memories of his laughter, his warm and loving smile,
His eyes so full happiness, his heart that of a child.
Memories are forever be they laughter or of tears,
Memories we will treasure through all our passing years.
Don't cry because it's over,
Smile instead, because it happened.

What Made Granddad Grand
Granddad was gentle,
and Granddad was kind,
someone you could talk too,
say what's on your mind.

Patient and mellow,
and honest and true,
a man for all seasons,
for me and for you.

Granddad understood,
and Granddad knew best,
to know him and love him,
I really was blessed.

With patience and time,
he gave his advice,
and he didn't condemn,
or say there's a price.

Granddad I'll miss you,
I'm feeling bereft,
if only I'd made more,
of time you had left.

Grandma, you were just a girl,
So many years ago.
You had your loves and had your dreams,
You watched us come and go.

You watched us make the same mistakes,
That you had made before,
But that just made you hold us tight,
And love us all the more.

Days are now so lonely
since you've gone away
Nights are much darker now
I know that's how they'll stay.

The sun is not so warm now
when it shines on me
and the cold seems so much colder
than what it used to be.

Smiles do not light my face
like they used to do before
the greatest times are in the past
and there will be no more.

The woman I call sister
Is someone who was always there
The woman I call sister
Is someone who has always cared.

The woman I call sister
Could make me smile when I was blue
The woman I call sister
Is someone who was always true.

The woman I call sister
By choice, was my best friend
The woman I call sister
Will be in my heart to the very end

You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.

Your heart can be empty because you can't see her
or you can be full of the love you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

Bowed tears of honor cried to the sorrow of my lonely soul.

Mourners gather to celebrate that which kept you happy on the earth,
yet silently miserable in depths that went untold.

Cried eyes that hath seen better days
like when you walked through a door
beaming love for family and friend.

Rumors of a happy man that will forever be missed,
not frowned upon for missteps made in life.

Yes, we will miss you, but we will not grieve
We will celebrate instead your life
because we know you gave us all

We might think we can't make it, but somehow we will
because we know that you gave us strength
And you would want us to

So, to the man that was my life and most of all my friend,
I shall honor you and keep you safe
With memories deep in my heart

You lived a full and happy life and I am proud to say
that you shall always be a part of me and of my family.

No more tears and heart ache from the pain that I feel inside.
No more sorrow. No more sadness. Just remnants of fond memories.

You have loved and still are loved. I hold you still so dear
You live on within my heart, forever and a year.

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