Vigils and Remembrances can allow students – and us all – to Grieve Well and to Love more deeply, Together

In response to the loss of several beloved students, and members of their families, in the recent crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, the York Region District School Board is hosting a public community vigil to honour them on the evening of Monday January 13.

It is so important for students, staff, families, friends and community members to have dedicated time like this to be together to honour the lives of those that died, and to honour shared grief.

School is not just about learning and teaching information and marketable skills. It is also about learning how to live: how to cope with adversity, challenges and loss. Activities and social interactions in our schools provide opportunities, moment by moment, to practice love, kindness and empathy to ourselves and to one another. This practice helps students to become resilient and compassionate members of our community and our world. The value of connection is even more clear when we are faced with an incredible tragedy.

Grief, like love, is a universal experience. It is something we will all face in different ways and at different times in our lives and it has a function: to help us adjust to, and cope with, a new reality.

Attending a vigil or ceremony of remembrance and/or doing something privately with friends or family to honour the emotions they feel, helps students to begin to learn how to grieve well and how to face death and loss as a normal – though painful – part of life. And it reminds them (and all of us) that they, and we, can face our grief together and find support. We are all a part of many circles of caring community.

Photo by Anton Darius

If attending a ceremony or vigil is not possible or other losses or impending losses need to take precedent – then taking a few moments to send love during the vigil, from wherever we are, can allow us to be united in thought and intention with those gathered, as we send our heartfelt condolences, sympathy and love.

Henry David Thoreau wrote “The only remedy for love, is to love more.”

These devastating deaths are also a reminder for all of us to focus on what is most important in life. Love. Connection. Friendship. Family.

Maybe an ongoing “vigil” or tribute to those who died, can be to love those around us even more. To reach out to each other. To support and hold each other. To cry and to grieve together. To celebrate each other. To savour our moments with those we love. To show compassion to those going through loss or impending loss. To live with more kindness and empathy not only to others but also to ourselves.

We can hold our need to honour the grief of our community side by side with the need to spend precious moments with those we love. Both are ways of taking a stand for love as we continue to learn to live life with resilience and hope even in the midst of the most terrible losses.

My heart goes out to all those who knew and loved those dear ones who died in the plane crash who are enduring profound pain and sorrow. May we honour and hold those who are deeply grieving, and ourselves, with loving empathy and with compassion. The grief won’t end when Monday’s vigil is over. So let’s take an ongoing stand for love. Let’s continue to support each other and continue to remember, long after the ceremonies are finished. Let us spend time with those we love, and express our love for them while we can. Because every moment is precious.

Photo by Mike Labrum

Top photo of silhouetted young people by Hudson Hintze

Copyright 2020 Laura Higgins, Life-Cycle Celebrant – Portrait Ceremonies

Make This Anniversary the Best One Ever

Whether we celebrate the day we met, or started dating, or married our partner, most of us are familiar with the usual ways to mark a special anniversary – a nice dinner, some wine, maybe flowers. If it’s a milestone year – our 10th, 25th or 50th – we might go away for a weekend, vacation somewhere romantic, have a party to celebrate, or renew our vows.

But what will help us to really feel, hear and see the significance of the day, and fully appreciate the incredible love we have found and continue to enjoy?

What will make this anniversary the Best One Ever?

Compelled to create something meaningful

My husband and I were faced with this question as we approached our 20th Anniversary in 2017. Other than special dinners, I think the most adventurous (and perhaps risky) thing we had done for an anniversary was continue to eat the remainder of our frozen wedding cake, three or four years after our wedding.

So, I was determined to do something special for our 20th – a little ceremony that would include our 12-year-old son, Cooper. We weren’t interested in having anything formal, public or traditional. It needed to be unique, truly meaningful and fun. Lots of fun.

The power of reflection and taking stock

Photo by Jan Kahanek

Having witnessed the benefits of the process with client couples, we decided to take time to reflect on our relationship. We each wrote thoughtful answers to several questions such as “What are you most grateful for in your spouse?” and “What would you like your relationship to be like in another 10-20 years?” We took some time to privately work on our questions in the week leading up to the anniversary and kept the answers secret from each other. This alone brought me more in touch with what we were really celebrating and how we could use this day as catalyst for what we wanted to create in the years to come. Meanwhile, I also worked away on a ceremony script that focused on our past, present and future, with a few little surprises.

Making it fun

When the day arrived the three of us gathered in our living room. I handed Cooper – our impromptu Celebrant –  the ceremony script in a binder. It was written to mimic a formal ceremony structure, but in his voice, from his perspective, with the hope that he would get a laugh or two out of it.

“Welcome Neil and Laura. In case you don’t know me, my name is Cooper. I am your son. I’m indifferent or perhaps reluctant to be your Celebrant today, but I love you anyway, so here I am.

Mommy and Daddy, today we take time to celebrate your 20th anniversary. Life is messy. Love is messy. And so it is fitting that we celebrate your anniversary in the middle of our house, which is also messy…”

We began by looking to our past as a couple. Unbeknownst to Neil, I had rediscovered a silly poem I had written on our 4th anniversary, which I read aloud. Here is a sample of a couple of the (purposely badly-written) later verses:

“But they’ve loved one another
through thick and through thin
breathing sweet words of love through the screen door
when Laura locks it and Neil cannot get in.

After four years of a different climate zone
for each side of the bed
it’s only the beginning: babies
and doggies and more still ahead.”  

Getting to the heart of it

Then, moving forward to honour the present, Cooper invited us to each share the reflection we had written to express what we were grateful for about the other. The thoughtful words Neil read out to me moved my heart and reminded me of how much I was loved. Expressing my gratitude to Neil for all he has been to me, was also a powerful gift for both of us.

Photo by Aaron Burden

After this we shifted focus to the future, and Cooper invited us to share what we envision for our future relationship. Hearing what Neil had in mind was so inspiring, and I loved sharing with him the hopes and dreams I had for us. Having been through a lot of personal losses – especially of loved ones – we have typically shied away from looking ahead too far. This was a wonderful way to boost our hope and excitement about the years to come.

Then, Cooper asked, “Mommy, if you could grant a wish for Daddy, what would it be?” Neil was asked a similar question. I think Neil’s answer to this question touched me the most out of everything he shared.

We were experiencing the magic I had seen so often in the ceremonies I write for couples: That wonderful entanglement of love that grows when it is expressed and received more fully, through descriptive and thoughtful words and actions.

Arrr matey!

Photo by Scott Umstattd

Then there was a twist. Yes, I knew Neil didn’t want to do vows, but how could he say no to Pirate Vows? I had managed to ask him earlier in the week, without raising suspicion, what his name would be if he was a pirate. “Rusty Bucket” did not suspect a thing.

Cooper continued:

“As the ceremonial Ship’s Captain I hereby compel ye to make these pirate vows to one another or ye’ll walk the plank and I’ll sick me Puppy Puddles on ye with a cuddle nastier and stinkier than ye’ve ever known! And not in that order!”

He handed us our vows, which were adapted/stolen from the hilarious pirate vows I found on the Internet on many different pages:

“I, Salty Gale, take ye, Rusty Bucket as me Heart, me Soul, me Salty Jack with a fiery tongue, the foggy haze of each new day and the lumpy mattress of each day’s night. I promise to love ye and honour ye; to make ye laugh so hard the rum comes out yer nose and pretend to listen to ye when ye babble on about nothin’ in particular. I will protect you from my wrath and from giraffes which I understand are very tall and will sometimes step on people because they are not looking where they are stepping…”(and so on).

After voicing these heart-stirring declarations, we finished with a lovely blessing from our son…

“Mommy and Daddy,
May the giraffes and elephants forever be pleasant in your company,
May your life’s compass always be led by the heart,
May your life’s map note many locations to buy me ice cream, fresh tea and grilled cheese,
May the planks you walk always be above soft waters,
May you be the wind in each other’s sails, not just hot air in each other’s armpits,
May your love grow more as the years pass, so that it’s bigger than the Kraken, and as faithful as the tides.
And may you always be one another’s greatest treasure.

Well, except for me. I’m your greatest treasure. No competition.
None at all.

By the power vested in me by you giving me all this stuff to read, and by giraffes and elephants and krakens and other large creatures,
I now pronounce you Anniversaried! Daddy you may kiss your wife!”

It was absolutely perfect.

How to add that special something to your anniversary

Would you dare to express your love more fully on your anniversary if you knew it would allow you and your partner to feel more loved, heard, seen and adored?

Good relationships are unique creations between people who live an extraordinary love. No matter what you choose to do to celebrate your anniversary, I invite you to take a few moments to really stop, reflect on and appreciate this special thing you have together:

What do you love and admire about this person?
Why are they still the one for you?
What are you grateful to them for?
What future do you want to create together?

Put it into words, whether spoken in person, recorded, or written.
Yes, it may require more thought and time than the usual things we do to celebrate. Yes, it can feel vulnerable, scary and challenging to put our feelings into words beyond “I love you.”


It is magical.

Neil, me and Cooper right after our 20th Anniversary ceremony in our living room.

Want assistance with creating something special? I’m happy to help as a consultant, ceremony writer, unity ritual creator, love letter ghost-writer and/or officiant. Let’s talk!

Laura Higgins, Life-Cycle Celebrant
Writer, Consultant, Coach

Portrait Ceremonies

Send Some Love to a Teacher Who Changed Your Life

Outside of our families and friends, it is often teachers that have a great impact upon our development and how we feel, hear and see ourselves and the world. As someone who encourages the writing of “love letters” to those who have made a difference in our lives, today I dare us all to search up that teacher that changed things for us in a positive way, and write to them. I’ll start.

Today I want to send some love out to my former professor, Don Summerhayes and his family.

Don led an American Poetry class I took at York University. This was a course I hadn’t chosen, but was funneled into because my chosen class was full. I wasn’t happy. Poetry wasn’t my thing, even though English was my best subject. I was told too many times in high school that my interpretation and analysis of poems was “wrong” and I received my lowest marks on these assignments. Poetry was boring and difficult.

Well, Don changed all of that forever, and along with it, my relationship with words, with writing, and with myself. Continue reading

Start the Year with a New Tradition

Tired of the same old New Year’s traditions (or lack thereof)? Here are a few ways that you can freshen up the turning of the year or make it a little more reflective and meaningful.

Clean out the cobwebs and the clutter before the eve of the new year.
Take an hour or two to literally clean house and get rid of whatever you don’t need anymore…even if it is only in one room where you spend most of your time. Spend a little time puttering and making the room more functional and appealing as a way of preparing for the new year. This has benefits at an unconscious level and will mentally create more space. Then decide what you want to welcome into that spaciousness—mentally and physically. Will it be gratitude? Self-care? Abundance? Will it be a piece of art to inspire you? Or a beautiful flowering plant, or a photo of you with your nearest and dearest? Take action on that on the first or second day of the new year in whatever way is meaningful.

Let out the old, let in the new.
Just before midnight (or whatever time you celebrate the new year if you have kids—we used to do it at 9pm), go to a back door, or a window at the back of the house, and open it to symbolically let the old year out of the house and say “thank you” (or, I suppose, “good riddance”). Then at midnight, open the front door of the house to welcome in the new year and all the good things that it will bring.




Inspired by Wendy Hardman

Create a milestone keeper.
This is especially good for kids, teens and young adults as well as those of us who tend to forget or negate all that we have accomplished. Find or make a beautiful container either by shopping the thrift stores, saving a cookie tin, decorating a jar or using a special family heirloom (old jewelry box, crystal bowl, violin case)—whatever is appealing and meaningful. Cut slips of coloured paper—again whatever colours appeal-and have them placed nearby—perhaps in another small, lovely little container. Anytime in the coming year when you have stepped outside your comfort zone and done something brave or accomplished something new or met a goal, write that on a slip of paper, fold it and add it to the container. This can be done with gratitudes too. Then at the end of the year (or anytime you are feeling discouraged) you can read all of your slips of paper and remind yourself of all that you have done, and/or of your many blessings.

Flowers by Gatherings Floral Studio

Conspire to make the world better.
Take some time to talk about, or think about how we can make the world a better place. With family or friends or on your own, brainstorm ideas and then pick some action items to schedule into 2018:

    • random act of kindness on particular days
    • volunteering for a shelter or charity fundraiser on another day
    • taking part in Earth Hour
    • taking flowers to the hospital or nursing home to give people who have no visitors a little boost
    • walking or busing to work once a week
    • cleaning up garbage on the beach or along the hiking path in the forest
    • calling or visiting someone who could use some company

Put it all in the calendar by month or, if possible by day.

I wish you all the very best for the new year and hope that it brings you many moments of joy and peace, the company of good friends and dear family, and all that you need to live a life of abundance and gratitude. 

Laura Higgins
Life-Cycle Celebrant

Photo by Emily D Photography

An Intimate Vow Renewal

Photographs by Emily D Photography.

“It was everything I imagined and then some. My husband and I were both thrilled with the attention Laura gave us and our kids and the beautiful memory she created for the four of us. Our day was so special and will be remembered fondly thanks to Laura.” – Jennifer

Jennifer and Dave had been together for twenty years, and married for ten. During that time, they had faced some challenges, and their lives transformed when they became parents to a son and daughter. A vow renewal seemed the perfect way to reaffirm their commitment and appreciate how far they had come together,  in a more intimate and informal atmosphere than their wedding day.

Photo by Emily D PhotographyTheir renewal took place on a gorgeously sunny November morning in the Founders Lodge of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in front of the picture window looking out on the fall trees. To begin, Jennifer, Dave and their children were each invited to place a beautiful fall leaf on the ceremony table, one they had selected on a family walk together. The leaves represented the uniqueness and love they each bring to their family.

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Holiday Traditions to Remember Loved Ones

After someone you love has passed away, Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays and birthdays will never be the same. In recent years my family has had to adapt to celebrating Christmas without my sister, my Dad, my uncle, my father-in-law and this year we lost my Nana. There have been years when it was just so sad that I couldn’t wait for Christmas to be over.


My sister and I, Christmas 1995.

Remembrance traditions won’t change how much you miss your loved one, or prevent the pain, sadness, regret, anger and other emotions and feelings that may arise. However, I have found that, for me, acknowledging my emotions through intentional actions helps me feel more connected with those I have lost. Sometimes I am surprised by the good feelings that arise alongside the tougher emotions. And at other times doing something in their honour gives me a safe space and time for the tears to come. I have found that allowing the grief, rather than avoiding it, has been the best way for me to begin to heal.

When you are ready, here are some ideas for incorporating acts of remembrance into your holiday traditions.

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Celebrating my Nana’s Life

Nearly three weeks ago my grandmother, my Nana, went into the ICU. On June 21, I drove 10 hours to New Hampshire to join my aunt and uncle at her bedside. When I saw her, I had a feeling that she wasn’t going to recover this time. On the morning of June 23rd, with my aunt and me at her side, my Nana died. The next few days were a blur of planning, gathering family, and coming to terms with what had just happened.


Nana with a gleam in her eye.

It was understood that I would write and officiate most of Nana’s Celebration of Life with my uncle and local pastors offering prayers, scripture and a Christian message within the service. It felt like an immense responsibility. More than ever, I felt the need to “get it right:” to create something that would express Nana’s life and personality, that my family would feel was fitting and good, and that my Nana would have loved.

There were some unusual elements to the ceremony (which I will share in another post) and although I thought the ideas were fitting, I felt anxious about whether they would unfold as I hoped…whether people would “get” what we were doing. Continue reading

Honouring our Losses on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can be a difficult day.

The reasons are many. Our mom has passed away. We have lost a child or a baby. Perhaps we are estranged from our Mom, or never knew our birth mother. Or, like me, your Mom may have reached a stage in their dementia where they do not know you, cannot have a conversation, or show no resemblance to their former selves.

We may wish things could have been different. We may long for our lost mother or child. We may miss them desperately.

If our relationship with our mother was troubled, we may be revisiting anger, disappointment or wishing we had someone who was the kind of mother we needed and wanted. Continue reading

Grow Self-Love: A Mindful Planting Ritual

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” — Oscar Wilde


If you’re like me, that life-long romance is only just getting started. Although I have met a few people who appear to accept and love themselves, I would guess that most people—deep down, usually unconsciously—believe that they aren’t good enough, that they’re unlovable, or that they are fundamentally flawed or broken.

It’s pretty easy to criticize ourselves, to find fault with ourselves—and hey—if we aren’t conscious enough to do it openly, we sometimes project it by criticizing and finding fault with others! I have been an “expert” at both of those unhealthy strategies and have spent most of my life seeking the love and approval of others, because I didn’t believe that I was intrinsically worthy and lovable. It is only recently, through some powerful NLP coaching that I have had the tools to help change those beliefs, begun to practice radical self-care and am able to start seeing more clearly the light I shine in this world. Continue reading

A Walk With My Sister: Finding the Space for Remembrance

I really wanted to walk in the forest this morning, a specific forest in fact. My sister, Kerry, and I used to walk and talk a lot, and we both loved being outdoors. So today, February 5th, on the 17th anniversary of her death, I wanted to hike to a particular cedar grove in the local conservation area as a way of honouring her. Last Sunday however, when attempting to hike in that area, I’d fallen on the huge sheet of ice that the forest path had become and wrenched my knee. It was mild a few days ago, but not mild enough to melt all the ice. I couldn’t risk it. I felt disappointed but decided to trust that I would figure out something else to do.


Kerry with the chickadees in New Hampshire, 1994.

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