Until just weeks ago, the hard work, dedication and sacrifice of the bereavement industry, or death trade as it’s sometimes called, wasn’t even listed as an essential service. Despite this recent shift in designation, I suspect there’s little or no applause or acknowledgement for the essential workers like the ones named by our provincial government: coroners and workers performing mortuary services, including: funeral homes, crematoriums, cemeteries and workers supporting the appropriate handling, identification, storage, transportation, and certification of human remains.
In honour of Donald Edward Grayston, 1939 – 2017
About the only thing worse than experiencing the death of someone you care about, is doing it without the the kind of goodbye rituals that truly reflect their essence. Fortunately, I knew this would not be the case when our dear friend Don Grayston died last month.
As a matter of fact, it was he who inspired the term “Departure Directions” a few years ago when he approached Michelle to review his nine pages of notes to communicate how he wanted to be cared for after he died. This included his desired place of death, wishes for a funeral service for both his church community and one for his larger circle of friends, his chosen pallbearers and those invited to share memories, his selection of music, readings and more. Don’s Departure Directions included the details needed to execute his wishes and the spirit with which he wished his life to be remembered.
A funeral is an opportunity to share with others what we have learned about life.
His funeral spectacularly echoed the rich and accomplished life he lived. Each tribute celebrated Don with unique praise and prose that will continue to vibrate through me for a long time.
For example, a priest who was a close friend of Don’s wondered aloud about what we have to teach others in our last years and thanked Don for being “almost entirely love.” Don’s dear friend also shared (with Don’s previous consent) that Don’s only regret in life was not about an investment opportunity he missed or a grand home he didn’t live in. Don’s biggest regret in life was that he didn’t say yes to life more fully.
Willow’s poster child
Besides being a dear friend and mentor to both Michelle and I, Don Grayston is Willow’s poster child. We’ve shared some of Don’s story of passionate living and conscious dying in In the end it’s all about relationships and To serve or be served?
The close to five hundred people who filled a cathedral in downtown Vancouver walked away from Don’s funeral with a copy of his Heart Will, which also lives with his online obituary. For those of us who were privileged to know Don, and even for those who’ll never meet him, we have something concrete we can turn to when we yearn for his counsel and comfort. In his Heart Will Don bequeathed eight insights he gained as he journeyed through life. These four resonated with me the most:
- Work with the people who want to work with you.
- Pain is the door to awakening.
- For every stupid statement I made and that I regret, there were ten or a dozen statements I regret not making.
- The art of living is the art of knowing what is in front of your face at any one time, any particular “now.”
As two beings walking this planet, Michelle and I feel blessed to have shared friendship with Don. But in some ways it’s his parting gifts of meaningful goodbye rituals and the enduring words of his Heart Will that will bind my commitment to live and love more fully.
How about you?
How have you been impacted by someone’s parting gifts after they died?