The Gift of Time

Diana Robinson & Linda Stuart

May 27, 2020

During this time as many are acclimating to the new normal imposed by this pandemic, others are mourning alone as they attempt to absorb the reality that someone they love has died. Adding to their grief and inhibiting acceptance of their loss, they may also have been denied the opportunity to see their loved one before and/or after their passing.  

End-of-life tributes, ceremonies and rituals help us by fostering connection, nurturing hope and providing us with a place to go with our love and our grief.

While some families may opt for live-streamed funerals, others feel no choice but to postpone a gathering that will fulfill their physical and emotional needs while aligning with their values and beliefs.

The Way We Do Funerals Has Changed

For those families who have decided to postpone their funerals and memorials because of COVID, they may find comfort in knowing that this practice of delayed gatherings has become more common. A few reasons have contributed to this change:

  • There has been a decline in religion and the strict adherence to funeral tradition;
  • Families are much more spread out now than ever before;
  • We have seen a significant shift in social values towards a desire for customization, using local businesses once again and wanting eco-friendly options;
  • Cremation in Canada has risen significantly over the years.

Cremation, sustainable options and the desire for personalized events gave way to a new tradition of holding delayed gatherings. With many calling it a “Celebration of Life”,  the flexible timelines for these types of memorials allows families to ensure more of their friends and family can attend. The time allows families to make informed and thoughtful decisions to create a truly reflective event. A custom atmosphere, detailed décor, and beautifully displayed memory tables can be created. Many memorial professionals are now offering services to meet the demands of the value people now seek to honor their loved one.  Baby boomers in particular, now report wanting their tributes to be a more joyous and uplifting occasion where their story is told in a warm and reflective atmosphere.  While the cost of this experience can be tailored to an individual’s budget, the value is priceless.

Taking Time to Get It Right

The typical pace of a traditional funeral often does not allow time for families to create a reflective and meaningful experience. Even when a death is anticipated, many families find they still often need days or even several weeks to absorb the enormity of what has happened before they can focus on what they want and need from a memorial experience. Few things in life that are worthwhile come fast or easy. Slowing down allows the process itself of sharing stories and expressing happiness and heartbreak to be incredibly healing.

Tips for Planning

Photographs. Gathering and organizing photos is a really beautiful way to get started in remembering your loved one.  You may decide to do a photo slideshow or a video that joins together pictures, home videos, audio, and music.  There are many companies and services to help you with this or you may have someone in the family who can do a slideshow.  Invite family and friends to share their best photos of your loved one.  The act of going through photos and reminiscing is a therapeutic activity for everyone.  Engaging with others will provide an activity that may combat isolation and allow you to remember with others. After it is completed, you have something beautiful that can be shared electronically with others despite social distancing.

Creative Elements.  After having gone through the photos, you may feel inspired to start planning the creative elements for your future gathering.  It may be your loved one’s passion for travelling, gardening or for nature.  Think about design and décor elements from your loved one’s home and outside décor that can be brought in.  You may be ready to choose the colors you would like to see represented. Flowers and linens and a memory table will start to take shape as you explore the most positive and joyous elements that bring the warmest memories.  This is again something to collaborate with other family and friends on.

Place, date and food.  Choosing a place may be already known for you, at the home or family cottage, perhaps the club.  If you are still unsure, now is a good time to start researching the best place that will suit your loved one’s tastes and lifestyle such as a beautiful downtown event space, art gallery or museum.  By setting some flexible and tentative dates a few months from now will help you to think ahead as well as fill in the times of day. Once you’ve chosen a spot, with an alternate or two, you can start to fill in what the refreshments will be like.  Food is a great creative opportunity to incorporate favorites of your loved one.  

Have a Ceremony.  A meaningful ceremony, rich in storytelling, rituals and symbols, can capture your loved one’s essence in a joyful and inspiring way that touches everyone in attendance. Today there are no rules to follow – anything goes! Ceremony and religion CAN be exclusive of one another and as our secular society expands, it’s important to become familiar with officiant options that are available today:

  • Celebrants may be religion-based, secular-trained, or untrained and self-declared. There may be a great difference in the ceremonies they provide. Ask about training, certification, religious affiliation, and experience to be sure they will provide the ceremony you desire.
  • Clergy have been trained and approved for religious service. Because they provide a faith-based ceremony according to the tenets of their denominations, you may wish to verify that their approach aligns with your beliefs and confirm that the clergy member will support any ideas you may have to personalize the ceremony.
  • Life-Cycle Celebrants are professional officiants rigorously trained in the history of ritual and ceremonies. Collaborating with families to create one-of-a-kind ceremonies that reflect each client’s preferences, beliefs, cultural background, and values, they are experts in ceremony design and creation and the art of ceremonial public speaking.

What Does a Truly Custom Memorial Look Like?

Read Mabel’s Story:

planning memorial service

Hope & Healing

Although planning a memorial can feel daunting when you have no clear guidelines, it will start to get easier once you begin. With the majority of the planning in place, families will have a better opportunity to hold the event on their preferred date when we are once again allowed to gather.  Planning now has the benefit of continuing the conversation with family and friends and being supported through our grief processes. We find comfort in the details of how we want to honor our loved one and healing can be found in the connections we make. Knowing that COVID will not overshadow your memories, provides hope.


Diana Robinson is the founder of Celebrations of Life Toronto.

Linda Stuart is a Life-Cycle Celebrant, speaker and writer.
To learn more about Linda’s authentic approach to creating and delivering one-of-a-kind ceremonies, visit


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