On Participating in Planning a Funeral:

One of the biggest reasons I became a celebrant comes from a most universal reason: I had a bad experience and I never wanted to repeat it again. Not only do I never want to repeat it again, but I want to do everything I am able to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else. I don't mean to be vague-- the bad experience was my grandmother's funeral. (You'll see references to this funeral several times; it profoundly impacted me. I still feel the shock and trauma of it to this day.)

Four years on from her death, I've come to some realizations: Mamaw planned that funeral as a way to face her mortality and that she was going to die from cancer. This is certainly a valuable function of a funeral, but it left no thought to the survivors-- her children, grandchildren, friends, siblings.

I was living in Seattle at the time, and no one expected me to fly to North Louisiana for the funeral. But at the last minute, my mom called me and told me she wanted me there. I went. A flurry of preparations, two time zones, and a four-hour drive from Dallas to Shreveport later, I arrived numbed and jet-lagged at the funeral.

And once there, I sat in the pew next to my family and the funeral happened to me, and I choked out a couple of sobs at the anguish. There was the shock that I no longer had any living grandmothers, and the shock of being yanked out of the life I had made for myself on the West Coast only to be pulled into the slow pace of rural North Louisiana.

Three weeks ago, we buried my grandfather, and I officiated the service. My aunt, mom, and I made the arrangement with the funeral director, we picked out the casket, picked out his clothes, and with my other aunt and my uncle and his wife, we had a family meeting where we told each other what we remembered about my grandfather's life. I planned the service, gathered supplies for a small ceremony at the visitation, scanned pictures, and I listened to my grandfather's easy-listening gospel songs and the tape he recorded of his ancestor's stories, and digitally recorded those so that every funeral attendee could download the files and listen to them to remember my grandfather by. We picked out flowers, we ordered food platters from the grocery store. I wrote the eulogy.

I didn't know what to expect as a granddaughter officiating her grandfather's funeral. I knew I was taking a risk, that I might not be able to do it, but I wanted to do it, especially after having my grandmother's-- his wife's-- funeral just happen to me and my family. Even an expected death is sudden, and I wanted us to be proactive, not reactive, in the face of death.

I knew my efforts were fruitful when I choked up while reciting a prayer for the candle-lighting ceremony at the end of the visitation. My grief lodged in my throat, and I paused. I finished the prayer, and my balled-up grief loosened, let go, and dissipated.

I gauged, too, the fruits of my family's effort and participation while I gave my grandfather's eulogy at the graveside service. My grandfather's children showed a gamut of sadness-- teary red eyes, wiped cheeks, and a most telling swallowed sob from his eldest, the child who did not cry at their mother's funeral.

Participation was healing for me and for my family. It made my grandfather's death seem real, it gave us a way to acknowledge how important he was to us, it allowed us to release pent up emotion in a healthy way, and it drew us together and broke down grief's isolating barriers. We buried my grandfather together.