“A death has occurred and everything is changed by the event.
We are painfully aware that life can never be the same again,..”

The opening words of a poem by Paul Irion were shared during the funeral celebrant training I attended in January. As they were read by trainer Glenda Stansbury I was struck by how true these words felt.

A death has occurred and everything is changed…

These words certainly proved true for me. The deaths of my parents occurred… and everything changed. In the aftermath of my father’s death, my husband and I moved from Texas back to our home state of Indiana to be near Mom.

In that move we left behind our faith community, friendships, a home we’d lived in and made our own, work lives we’d cultivated. These leavings were all ripples of loss added to the loss of my dad. And, even though we were returning to our home town, the 9 years in which we’d been away meant many changes there too. Friends we had known well had moved on with their own lives. We found ourselves starting over in unexpected ways.

Everything changed again after my mother died. Her death left my sisters and me with decisions about the small family farm she and my dad had enjoyed. Horses, dogs, farm equipment and gardens were among the many concerns and decisions we faced. And, eventually, with the sale of that farm we lost something else; a sense of “home.”

Among the ripples has been the loss of identity. Who am I now? What is most important to me? How do I want to spend my time? How do I get clear about these and the many other questions in my path?

It turns out…

That clarity came in many forms. Through classes; I took a class at the local seminary. I began writing regularly in a circle of women. I participated in book groups. I read books of all kinds—mindful books, mindless books and everything in between. I took a yoga class. I took a quilting class (okay, more than one actually). I had my banjo restrung. I walked on the Monon. I visited with trusted friends who gave me further insights I could consider. And, most excruciating of all—I waited.

I waited for the questions to be answered. I waited for the deep grief to ease. I waited to see what would happen next—what would reveal itself to me through the unfolding process of mourning and discovery.

I can safely say waiting has been the hardest part. It seems to have lasted forever—and indeed it has. I have spent years teasing out what I’ve learned from the deaths of my parents. I have waited and waited just as I am in this bitterly cold winter—when the ground is frozen and hidden under snow and it seems like nothing is moving us even one day closer to spring.

What waiting revealed

As my inner ground began to thaw, I found the words to tell my story. I told it again and again inside the circle of women I write with. I told it to friends who listened. I read my stories out loud—to hear the words and discern more of what the story revealed.

One of the things I found for myself is that the story is important. My story. Your story. The stories reveal more about what we already know inside. The stories reveal what we most need to hear. The stories help us remember and name, claim, reframe our own experiences. They shed light on what we most need to know.

And now, all these years after the deaths of my parents, I found myself sitting in a class training to be a funeral celebrant. I was considering the use of story as integral to the ceremony; the sacred space of a funeral or memorial service. It came to me then that it’s really all about the story. Your story. My story. The stories we tell about those we’ve loved who have died. The stories we tell about our losses.

As a funeral celebrant I hold a family’s story of their loved one with tenderness, gratitude and mystery and I help create the space for mourners to gather and collectively begin to put words to their loss. Together we remember and start to unfold the story of the experience of grief.