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Doug McCleary: Celebrant, Officiant, Musician


2011 Holiday Message

Posted by Doug McCleary on December 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM

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:


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 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...

Categories: Thoughts and Musings

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