Susan Carpenter Sims
At the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012, weddings and funerals became themes in my life. I had a writing business, and had been blogging for a client whose products are related to estate planning and other end-of-life issues. In the process of researching these topics, I became more and more aware of (and disturbed by) how deeply our culture seems to be in denial about all things death-related.
I began to feel a strong urge to do something about that, but I knew not what.
Meanwhile, in January 2012 I was asked to write a feature for the Taos News about local wedding officiants. Interviewing these folks inspired me, and I thought, "What a wonderful vocation - ushering couples across such a joyful threshold of life!" I have always appreciated the value of ceremonies and rituals, and this spoke deeply to me.
Then, at the beginning of February 2012, my world was rocked by the unexpected death of my younger brother, and I took on the task of planning and leading his memorial.
I had never done anything remotely like this before, and I was dismayed to discover very few quality resources were freely available on the Internet. The poems and readings I found were mostly cheesy and/or bland, and I was horrified that several sites wanted to charge an arm and a leg for very basic resources like funeral program templates.
After many, many hours of research I managed to put together a meaningful, one-of-a-kind ceremony that truly reflected who my brother was, but the whole process reinforced my growing awareness of the need for change in how funerals and memorials are approached in our culture.
So many events in a relatively short time had all worked together to form one big twinkling, neon arrow pointing to celebrancy.
It had started with writing about wedding officiants, which reaffirmed for me the power of honoring rites of passage. But the biggest thing, not surprisingly, was planning and leading my brother's memorial, which was a deeply moving experience for me. Many people who attended let me know that they too were moved by the ceremony. A couple of people (neither of whom I had met before) actually said, "I would want you to do my funeral."
Out of a terrible tragedy came something beautiful, for which (though it may sound strange) I will always be extremely grateful to my brother. It felt like his final gift to me.
And so I enrolled in the Celebrant Institute and spent the next eight months in deep training to become a professional ceremony-maker. I then was ordained through the Universal Life Church in order to perform legal weddings.
I feel blessed and honored that I now get to play such a profound and rewarding role in the world.