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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Kerry with the chickadees in New Hampshire, 1994.

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Love Letters Are Not Just For Couples

This week my Nana turns 95, and as we live a great distance apart, I’m unable to be there for her birthday. So, I wrote her a love letter and popped it in the mail for my uncle to deliver on her special day.

What do I mean by “love letter?” A letter (or video message, song, or poem) to someone you care about, expressing what you love about them, your gratitude for what they bring to your life, and the impact they have had on you. So often these words of the heart are only shared when someone is dying, or at funerals and memorials. Why not share them now?

The “rite” way to turn around a bad day

Let’s say that it’s been that kind of day. Where you lose your keys, and in hunting for them, come across unfinished projects, forgotten messes, and a bill that someone forgot to pay. Your coffee spills, you get stuck in traffic and maybe, just maybe, you now have a headache. It’s the kind of day when everything’s wrong.

What can you do to turn your day around? You may choose the oft-touted healthy strategies of exercise, meditation and relaxation. Or, let’s face it, when we’re having a bad day most of us resort to indulging, distracting, or medicating.

I’d like to offer you another option that you probably haven’t considered: a rite or ritual based on something you already need to do. What makes it a “rite” or “ritual,” is that it is done with purpose and intention.

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Collective Memoir for an 80th Birthday

IMG_1789When I offered to act as an informal M.C. and Celebrant for my mother-in-law, Sheila’s, 80th birthday party, there were many possible options. In addition to speeches by family and friends, we could share some of her life events and stories, maybe have a trivia game based on little-known facts about her, or convey some of her life-taught wisdom.

When I talked to Sheila about what she wanted, and more importantly didn’t want to happen at her birthday party, I learned that aside from speeches, these ideas did not appeal to her. I wondered, what else might allow a group of family and friends to share some memories and express their love for her, in a way that she would be comfortable with? What hadn’t I thought of?

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Called to be a Funeral Celebrant

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Kerry and Laura, 1995

“Why would you want to do funerals?”

This is the unspoken question I often see in the face of a new acquaintance when I explain that I help families create funeral and memorial ceremonies. Writing and officiating custom-made wedding and baby ceremonies makes sense to people—after all, they’re happy occasions! But to choose to work with funerals on a regular basis…the very thought makes most people uncomfortable.

It is not an easy vocation, to be sure. It can be unpredictable, testing, and heart-breaking. So why do I feel a strong pull to end-of-life ceremonies? The seeds of my involvement were planted over sixteen years ago.

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