Hosting a Celebration of Life: On Death and Life; Suicide, Grief and Pleasure.
This past Sunday, October 2nd, we buried my little brother, Nathan Shane.
Figuratively speaking, that is.
I’ve been spreading his ashes in magical places I know he would love or did love since he died about this time last year. Sunday was – however – the great witnessing of communal grief, the rite and ritual of death that bookends an end of life. His Celebration of Life was an honoring of his 31 years and all that he was and still is.
Closure doesn’t feel like the appropriate word… I don’t know if that will ever be something I can feel.
The last couple months, I’ve been in a grief bubble of sweet, painful remembrance – deep in photo sorting, eulogy writing, keepsake/album making, and in wonder. The wonder part includes having countless interactions with Nate’s spirit – including direct transmissions for rituals to be included in his Celebration of Life.
The Ceremony Mom and I created was not easy. It was not practical. It was not the perfect time. Yet, it was important beyond measure and deeply healing. I’m so grateful we did it, as there were times when we almost said – this is too much.
The memorial took place in a gorgeous park in southern Indiana we would frequent growing up. October 2nd gave us a clear blue sky, heavenly Autumnal breezes, and Oak leaves dancing at the beginning of their color change.
We got to tell the stories of how Nathan comes to us in rainbows, dreams, visions, and moments when we’re in nature. Acorns fell from the trees, and it truly felt like Nate – playfully pelting some of us these symbolic tree seeds. Once a little brother, always a little brother.
I met some of Nate’s army buddies for the first time at his memorial. Their first reaction to meeting me was, ‘ Whoa!’ - His eyes widened – ‘You guys look so much alike.’ Even though it had been several years since they’d seen him, they showed up.
Having not been to a funeral/memorial since I was a wee lass, I didn’t know the importance of this rite. I haven’t felt it. Being on the other side, the host of such an event, I cannot begin to spell out how meaningful it was to have every single person who showed up there. Even if I didn’t get to exchange many words with them, there is so much impact and support through presence. I’m so grateful to all who showed up physically, and those who reached out with special words or videos, who couldn’t be there.
We recently found out, through some research and conversations, that Nathan served with the Army Special Forces / Green Berets as an intelligence non-commissioned officer. We learned the meaning of various medals and awards that he kept incredibly quiet about. Some of the joint forces missions he was on. Humble little Bastard!
I assumed I would have a lifetime to ask him about it… yet there are ways he is still giving us clues about his life and service.
On aspect of service was a reminder that in helping someone through grief, there is no sweeter gift you can give them then asking about their passed loved one. That saying their name is important. So many people have told me they didn’t want to bring it up, they didn’t want to remind me… What I’ll share is that most likely, the person grieving is in constant remembering of what the loss that happened.
I loved sharing about his quirky, dry, wry, yet incredibly gleeful happy-go-lucky humor. I loved sharing about the “dead fish face” we would make to elicit laughter from others. It was this much loved aspect of his nature that makes his death by suicide still – so incredibly shocking.
A section of our service was about suicide. How to use the more compassionate and correct term, “died by suicide” or “death by suicide”, instead of “committed suicide”. We talked about mental health. We talked about statistics. We talked about veteran suicide – which is 4x the amount of deaths soldiers face in combat or through actual military operations. AWARENESS!
Suicide, I’m told, is a special kind of grief. The sudden and shocking nature has consequences for the soul and psyche. Oh, the heartbreak of losing someone you’ve been deeply connected to since their birth, and almost since yours. I spoke with a dear sister and old friend at the ceremony, who recently lost her father. Experiencing great loss gives way to experiencing great depth in life in general. It brings a deeper appreciation of the specialness and miracle of life. It drops you an octave lower in the cave of feeling.
And it’s truly been through allowing myself to feel the raging fire of unfathomable sorrow and never-ending dark tunnels – the fire eventually dies down and the slow-burning coals of what remains show themselves. I hold these precious embers in the palm of my hands, not afraid anymore. Not afraid of getting burnt by the heat. Not afraid of feeling the depth of my despair, that so many of us are often rocked by on this planet.
These coals help me remember that I am human. I am having a human experience. That grief can give way to awe and wonder.
These coals, I know, are on their way to becoming nothing short of brilliant diamonds…
I know there is pleasure in grief. Yes, I still have the instinct to scream “NO!!!!” from the top of my lungs into the void. It’s a both and. Both are true.
As deeply as I choose to feel this unbearable sorrow, I also CHOOSE to fully celebrate being alive and CHOOSING to live – to love my beloveds, to bask in the sensual experience of being embodied, and to be present with the path literally being birthed and forged out of the fire of loss.
I love you brother, Nathan Shane! Forever and ever.
I’ll always look for you in all the lives.
I’ll always feel you in every birdsong, every gust of wind, every sparkle of sunlight on water’s surface, and every special encounter that’s too strange to be a coincidence.
Keep shining, you crazy diamond. Keep shining.