British Columbia

End-of-life ceremonies: how to make the moment meaningful

Whether it's a memorial, funeral, celebration of life or something else, life-cycle celebrant Lisa Hartley says it's important the ceremony reflects the essence of the person who has passed away.

Life-cycle celebrant Lisa Hartley on how to plan a meaningful ceremony to mark a loved one's passing


There are some ceremonies that people look forward to planning—like weddings and baby blessings. When it comes to funerals and memorials however, it can be much more challenging subject.

Lisa Hartley spoke to The Early Edition on Thursday, ahead of hosting "Don't do anything when I'm gone"— a workshop at Mountain View Cemetery focused on planning meaningful ceremonies to honour the passing of loved ones.

As a life-cycle celebrant, Hartley creates and performs various ceremonies to mark major life events, including end-of-life ceremonies.

"I hear it from a lot of people as their parents are dying, they [say], 'Don’t worry about me, I'm done, I don’t want you to spend the money, I don’t want you to [have] hassle, I don’t want you to be sad'," said Hartley.

"That leaves the family going, 'But, what do we do?' Because you’re always sad when someone you love, someone in your family dies. As humans we need something to make sense of it all."

Hartley said that even if people insist against a big ceremony, there are other options — such as having a potluck dinner with the loved one's favourite foods, and sharing stories and pictures.

Here are Hartley's guidelines for creating a meaningful end-of-life ceremony.

1. Choose a sacred space for the ceremony. This should be a place that is special to the person who has passed away. It could be a home, a hall or a church, synagogue or other place of worship.

2. Choose a person to guide the ceremony. It may be a minister, a celebrant, a family member — whoever has the appropriate wisdom to carry out the ceremony.

3. Have a calling to the sacred or spiritual in the ceremony. Whatever it is as a family you believe, make sure those beliefs are incorporated into the ceremony. Whether it's lighting candles, prayer, drumming or music — you should bring in the sacred. "It makes meaning for us, it helps us to make sense of what [has] happened."

4. Bring the essence of the person into the ceremony. If that person loved to drink tea, then you could serve tea during the ceremony, or have tea cups up at the front during the ceremony. You could take this one step further and choose to have a tea-party every year on the day of that person's death.

Our relationship with another person changes when they pass away, but it doesn't end — so it's good to continue it in a healthy way.