Ostensibly, the family meeting is where yours truly, as your celebrant, will gather material for the eulogy and will begin planning the personalized parts of the service. But to only see the family meeting in those business-like terms is misleading. The family meeting is an empowering step in the healing/grieving process.
All of the work I put into being your celebrant is a privilege and honor, but there are parts of the process where I feel that responsibility more heavily than others. The family meeting is one of those parts. Being allowed into the intimate memories and stories of a family takes a great deal of trust, and I hold that trust in great respect.
Part of the trust is that I won't air out family laundry. The family meeting is an open space for all memories-- good, bad, and ugly-- because death does not automatically make us saints (even Catholic saints have a vetting process). I understand certain things do not need to be spoken in the eulogy. However, to speak of painful memories is a part of healing, and a family meeting is a space and time to do so.
I also understand that to speak of difficult memories in front of a celebrant who was a stranger mere days ago could be unthinkable to private families. I hope then, the family meeting is a catalyst for a family to share memories and stories later. This, too, is healing. These stories are not for the deceased to hear; they are for the survivors.
So, in a family meeting, I will ask for stories. When did you laugh, cry, laugh so hard you cried with your loved one? When were you furious, joyful? What did you love, or hate, about them? What was annoying then and funny now? What were the defining moments of your life that they witnessed? What did you learn from them? What were the things they said, the things they saw, the things they did to make up their life?
And, one last promise-- there will be tissues, and I might cry with you, too. And I will want to offer you (whether I have it on hand or not) tea, or coffee, or a hot beverage that warms you up and makes the world seem a little more steady after death's blow. I will listen.