Open Doors: What’s new in end-of-life ceremonies?

St. Aidan's recently hosted a community discussion about end-of-life ceremony options. PHOTO: Beach Metro News file

In an intimate gathering at the Church of St. Aidan in the Beach earlier this month, I asked the audience this question: Have you ever been to a heartwarming end-of-life ceremony, one that you fondly remember, for the right reasons?

As a Life-Cycle Celebrant, I help people create end-of-life ceremonies and officiate the event. I often tell people that a really good funeral is one you might actually enjoy as it unfolds (even though there may be some tears); it is one you remember fondly and talk about with people who may not have known the deceased. It may be an occasion that you discuss at future family events, remembering stories exchanged and sharing even more memories that come to mind as a result of the ceremony. A really good ceremony lives on in the hearts and minds of those who attend.

End-of-life ceremonies can be meaningful and memorable as they gently begin the journey of healing from a loss. Certain parts of the St. Aidan’s session focused on the options that are available to families who may prefer a non-religious ceremony. Rev. Lucy Reid shared her insights on how clergy can involve family members in designing a service, and can work with parishioners on planning their own funerals.

Attendees learned what has to happen after a death and the options that may be considered for creating and hosting ceremonies. I shared a historical view of how the current status quo for traditional funerals has emerged. Then I conveyed some of the reasons our expectations have changed, before we explored a broad range of alternatives that are now available. The importance of having a ceremony that “fits” is the priority.

A thread that wove through the evening was the concern about the increasing incidence of “no funeral” requests and how difficult this can be for loved ones. In my experience, there are many reasons for people to request that there not be a funeral. Some do not want their body to be viewed by family and friends. Sometimes they do not want their family members to endure a somber event. It can also be that expenses are a concern, especially if the deceased sees no value in a traditional approach. It is often with a poor funeral experience in mind that these requests are made, hoping to make things easier for the family.

The reality is that the ceremony does not have to be costly, and it is not meant for the deceased. The ceremony is about the deceased but it truly is for those who experience the loss. It can be helpful to pay tribute in order to begin the transition to the loss of a loved one’s physical presence.

Celebrating the life of a loved one is not always easy but it can bring some joyful moments when the ceremony is genuine. It can be both simple and meaningful.

Attendees described the session as being inspiring and informative. All proceeds from this session were donated to St. Aidan’s, to support its provision of groceries for those in need.

Cyndy Neilly-Spence is a Life-Cycle Celebrant. Connect with her at

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