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The Celebration of Your Life

John Spencer Morris

John Spencer Morris

Since our friend John’s death and his “Celebration of Life” ceremony last week, Paul and I have been in deep contemplation about Life and its meaning, wondering and talking about and feeling the mystery of it all, a mystery that cannot be explained or fully understood by any one religion or philosophy. Experiencing the death and the coming together of people to honor the life of this young, vibrant, and passionate person brings the fact of all of our lives to the fore: we all have a death date, a day and hour and minute when we will leave this Earth, leave our friends and loved ones, leave all of the stuff of life undone–our stained coffee mugs on the counter, our towels drying on the rack by the shower, our last words lingering in the air where we left them.

Since returning home, the quality of the very light shining upon our lives has been enhanced. The feeling of Paul’s hand in mine; the sight of Lucy’s curls bobbing as she runs down the wooded path behind our house with a bouquet of wildflowers clutched in her little hand; the sound of Oliver’s voice in the dark naming the friends he is going to invite to his 5th birthday party–in March–before he goes to sleep; the comfort of sharing wine and butternut squash soup over candlelight with friends in a backyard on a late summer night in Minneapolis.  All of these moments and people make a life.

When we rack our brains and cry out with anguish asking why, why, why do people have to die, could the lessons they teach us about Life be part of a plan we cannot begin to fathom?

As the African priest presiding over the ceremony said: Whether we live 40 or 80 years, life is short!  When everything falls away, what truly matters?  Is it wealth or status or image? Or is it simply being a good person–a person who helped others along their path, who made people laugh and feel supported, loved, and cherished?

Sometimes when I’m riding my bike, I lose myself in a reverie of thinking about my funeral.  While this may seem morbid, after the sudden death of my mother, the death of my best friend to cancer, and most recently the death of John, these thoughts are actually quite real.  And inspiring.  Thinking about my own celebration of life reminds me of who I want to be, of the effect I want to have on the people in my life, of the legacy I want to leave behind.

John’s ceremony was so affirming in this regard. We cried, hugged, shared stories, and laughed together with his family and friends, many of whom we had never met, from all parts and times of his life.

Just before the ceremony was to begin at 6:30 in his backyard near the place where he took his last breath, the skies opened up for the first time in months in Austin.  The rain poured down and the wind bent the trees and sent gusts that literally split the river.  And in the middle of it all, his wife Ann walked down to the boathouse, a sad smile on her face knowing that it is very possible that behind this storm, her husband and lover was screaming, “I am here!  I am right here with you!”

Soon a steady stream of people followed behind her.  Together, connected along a Divine thread through John, we danced, soaking wet in the pouring rain, celebrating our friend’s life and the effect he had on all of us.

Here is a powerful writing exercise for you that I read about years ago in the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Write your own eulogy. You can write it from the standpoint of a friend, a member of your family, or a member of your community.  How do you want to be remembered?  Who are the people who you have affected in your life? In essence, what legacy do you want to have upon this Earth?

Writing about the end of our lives helps us clarify for ourselves how we want to live now.  It helps us to focus on the things that matter and skim the fat on the things that take our precious time and energy.

Enjoy the writing.  Enjoy your friends and your family.  Enjoy this mysterious gift of Life…

Janna Brayman Krawczyk is a writer and a teacher.  She has a B.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters in Teaching from Hamline University.  She has been writing in a journal for over half of her life and has finally accepted that life is not easy, yet our struggles and obstacles are what inspire insight and wisdom.  For this reason, she must write as a way to understand herself and her life, stay sane, and dream big dreams.  She feels blessed to share this healing and illuminating practice with as many people as possible in her lifetime…

  1. Janna…I wont write, since I am still crying. This once again makes me realize that we do not have a will and we need to prepare for our children. Life truly is very short no matter how long you live.

    My Grandmother at 94 says she is ready to leave this earth. My sister at 41 is at peace completely and says that if she died tomorrow…she would be ok with that. I at 40 cannot even fathom the idea and would not leave this earth without a fight!!

    Really need to think.

  2. Thanks Janna, always Have to give this one some thought. Weez

  3. This is a great reminder and inspiration to live each day to the absolute fullest. Why get caught up in all the bs? Isn’t it always the best time to focus or rather just take in the enormous beauty that surrounds us. You are beautiful and so rich in spirit!

  4. Janna, what a wonderful essay and tribute to your friend’s life, and what a good idea for contemplation. I agree that thinking about one’s own demise may seem morbid. But really, we will all die and wondering about how we will be remembered is a good exercise in humility.
    I have, on several occasions, thought about my own funeral. It helps me focus on the person I want to become, on the attributes I want people to remember about me, and that I should be forgiving of other’s shortcomings as I will want them to be forgiving of mine.
    Thanks for your thoughts and inspiration.

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