Doug McCleary: Celebrant, Officiant, Musician

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Sometimes I am Struck...

Posted by Doug McCleary on September 13, 2012 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

by how the world keeps on going...more and more without me.


I picked up my 22 year old son at his work the other day...and as I was walking into "The Ford Building" in SE Portland, I noticed all young men and women in their mid-20's to mid-30's.  They were closing up shops, or coming in and out of offices of design firms, etc.  I couldn't help but notice the lack of anyone my age in the bunch...  So, there I was looking at the next generation of small business entrepeneurs, shop-owners, advertising execs, and what-have-you and wondering when I got old and lost my "hip-ness."  I mean, I still feel young and I still think I'm pretty hip, but...I can't hold a match to these folks.


And, through the market, they were creating culture.  They are defining today's and tomorrow's trends, fasions, ads and out of all of that, culture.  Culture--which Ernest Becker (Denial of Death) is "humanity's collective effort to erect a fortress against the inevitability of death."  These young business people...scattering in and out of shops and firms, the next wave of culture...leaving a legacy that might transcend mortality.


And I felt very "behind"...  I look at my own life and realize I quit keeping up with musical trends or video trends or other trends over a decade ago.  I dress like half the other men my age...shorts and hawaiian shirts--which is a far cry from Steam Punk.  I have no hair to arrange perfectly disheveled in that "I'm too emo and my life is too precious to be wasting time fixing my hair" look of the day.  I don't get some of the new music (and I'd rather listen to my old music) and I've been known to ask kids to turn their music down (this from a musician).  And it's clear that I am no longer part of  "the difference" in culture...I'm part of the aging past.


And in many ways that's OK.  The world can move forward.  I keep up a little through my kids, but it won't be long until they're the next left-behind generation.  I like the wisdom and clarity about life I have now.  I like the simplicity of my life...the way that I don't need constant stimulation to be happy or keep from being bored.  And my past still works for me...not all of it, mind you--there's plenty of past I'd like to forget--but my past has meaning to me...it anchors my story...my life.  The world can keep moving forward...and I'll just hang back here and watch it go...with gratitude that I got to ride along for a while.

2011 Holiday Message

Posted by Doug McCleary on December 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

I had the distinct honor of officiating at the holiday memorial services of three funeral homes in 2011.  The following is my brief message.  There's nothing "religious" or political.  Just a primarily secular meditation on stories, memory and loss:

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If I were to begin a story... ”Once upon a time, there was”... how would you continue the line? ...I know you can fill in the story...most of us grew up with fairytales and stories so we know the princes and the trolls and all the good and bad guys of those stories... We, humans, love stories—whether told with words or projected for us on TV's and movie screens...and we are imaginative storytellers, it seems, by our very nature... So much so that, all it takes it those words...”once upon a time”...and almost all of us mentally start into a story...

 

One of the things that got me thinking about this was a quote I heard from a psychologist a few months ago. In a conversation about personality and character, he said (this is more a paraphrase than a quote, but it's pretty close)...”our personality and character are essentially the culmination of the story we continually tell ourselves about who we are and what we are meant to do.” So...when you stop and think “who am I?” the way our minds are built to work, we can't help but see how all the things we've experienced, good and bad...all the things we've seen and heard...all the people we've known and loved...all form part of an ongoing story that we tell, with those around us, about our lives...

 

I believe that this is part of why it is so healing for us to tell and remember the stories of our loved ones. It's why it's good to set aside times, like this, when we stop for a moment...take the time to dial up memories...snapshots...feelings...about our loved ones, and give ourselves for a time, to these intentional opportunities to think through the stories of the lives we had those we lost. When we do, we realize that their “spirit”--that driving force that made them who they were—lives on with us...even in us...

 

For those of us here, this past year has probably been about the story of losing someone we loved...and the ongoing “story” of how we have begun to find ourselves and discover how we can go on living... There have surely been difficult times... But when we put it in these terms—thinking of our lives as an ongoing story, what we realize is that the rest of the story has yet to be written. A chapter has closed...but there's more story to write and to live... And while we can't control or determine so much of what will happen and what we will see and experience, we get to write our story as it comes...we get to add each event, each moment, each day, each friend or loved one to the ongoing story...and find joy in the simple gifts of new chapters...new pages...

 

While with one of the families that I was privileged to serve this past year, doing what I do—helping them to reflect and share stories...learning of their loved one through the stories they had to tell—and as things were winding down, one of the family members commented about what a wonderful time they'd had going over old memories...telling and hearing stories...and beginning to reflect on how they would tell this new chapter... And, as the time was right and it was appropriate, I said “so, here's a question to ask as you move forward—when it comes your time, what story do you want people to tell of you...what epitaph would you like written on your headstone one day?” A couple months later, I actually got a call from that family member to tell me that they had been wrestling with that question—and with what it illuminated about their life—since I had asked it...

 

It is a useful question—what story will people tell of us? And if we don't like the story that would be told—when we look at it honestly—we can change it. We can revise the plot, the characters, the settings...and, we can even change our character...

 

We are in a season of stories—stories of faith, stories of childhood wonder, stories of family... So we reflect on the story so far...including the chapter about loss, as well as the memory of what a gift it was to be part of our loved one's life. (As we light the candles, they are like a light illuminating the chapters already told...reminding us that without them there would be no plot)... And as you go from this place, the next step is to hit the return key...position fingers for typing (if you're a typist) or pick up the paper and pen...and continue writing...

The Slowness of Grief

Posted by Doug McCleary on September 1, 2011 at 5:50 PM

Recently, while working with a family to plan their loved one's funeral service, the comment was made "well, now that we're getting through the grieving, we can have the service and then get on with our lives."  Upon hearing that, I commented "you've barely even begun grieving...once the service is over, that's when the real work of grieving will begin...and it can take a long time."


Grieving is not an overnight affair.  As we face death and loss (and, actually, as we face many changes and transitions in life) we grieve what "was."  Grief is work...on one hand, it is something that happens TO us...but on the other hand, it is a process we work at.  And it can take a long time.


Loss (and even change) is a shock to our emotional and spiritual equilibrium.  Losing a loved one initially puts us in a state of shock...and we often get through those first days by staying busy.  There is all the planning of the funeral, getting documents, starting to go through our loved one's belongings to find important items (and to begin figuring out what we do with everything).  All that busy-ness keeps us, in a way, slightly insulated from the real inner emptiness of loss, and that is probably a good thing.  Then, when things begin to slow down, we really start getting in touch with how we really feel, and how the loss is going to affect us.


Then we begin the "work" of grief.  And it is something we can work at.  We take time to remember...we go through photos and videos and clothes and other items and recognize that each thing brings with it a particular memory...or some reminiscence.  And we allow ourselves to truly feel the sense of emptiness that comes with the loss of a loved one.  We (in a sense) "pick up" that emptiness and examine it...looking for all the places in our life that will be changed now that our loved one is gone from us.  We take stock of our our failings--sometimes wrestling with regrets or unresolved anger.  We move from "idolizing" the one we've lost to recognizing their humanity and their own shortcomings.  And we begin to heal...the pain slowly subsides, acceptance of our new state in life comes...and we find we can breathe and live again.  That doesn't mean we ever forget...or that grieving has "ended" but we learn and we grow and we move forward in our lives.


Does this all happen in the span of a couple of days?  Hardly!  I can give an example from my own life.  I lost my father in 1998 (13 years ago as of this writing).  The first couple of years after his death were very hard.  I had a deep sense of loss and missed him terribly.  And yes, I said "the first couple of years"...  It took me nearly two years to get through the hardest work of grief.  Now, 13 years later, I still think of him.  I see him (and talk with him) occasionally in dreams.  I still want to pick up the phone when I run across a problem that I know he would be able to solve.  So, am I still grieving?  Probably.  Thirteen years later and it's not entirely finished.  However, I am able to live my life again.  The grief no longer hobbles me and keeps me from experiencing all that life has to give.


So...for your sake, recognize that grief takes time.  Grieving is a long process.  It won't happen in the span of a couple days...  It may happen in the span of several years.  And that's OK.  That is "healthy" grief--the kind that lets us heal and live fully.  So take your time.  Feel all that there is to feel...don't hold back.  Remember and honor and examine and reconcile.  And discover that, while life is full of moving on, it is also full of love and laughter and endless possibilities.