The Legacy Keeper: A Celebrant’s Gift to Me
My brother Jim had died on February 19th just over a month ago. The Sunday after my family gathered on that warm afternoon to share all of the stories we had accumulated throughout his lifetime. We (2 of my brother’s children, all 4 of mine + grandkids galore) had come to meet Keith Page, our Funeral Celebrant. I had briefly met Keith last year when he and Ty Rose, another Celebrant, came to our Mortuary to provide us with a glimpse of what a Celebrant service looks like. Little did I know that one year later he would be sitting in front of us, promising to tell our story.
Keith arrived on time. His dark hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail and his smile shown through a dark beard speckled with white . . . a profound sense of comfort settled throughout the crowded room . . .
After circling the room meeting our clan, he explained that he was here to capture the essence of the father, brother and uncle who had died. He wanted to hear not only the stories filled with life, love and fun, but also the heartbreaking truths about who this man was and the effect that he had on our lives. He was here to tell our story but, more importantly, to tell my brother’s story. A story of love and loss, heartache and pain. Of wanting to do good, but never figuring out how. A story of someone lost and then found. A story, when told would heal our pain. I didn’t know just how that would happen but I trusted the man who cared enough to let us speak the truth.
I shared my memories of my brother, of his life as a child, how proud he was to be a Corporal in the Marine Corps and serve his country in Vietnam. I recalled his struggles with PTSD, his addictions to opiates, and the lifelong demons that held onto him. I watched as Keith wrote on that big yellow legal pad with a bold, black marker. It seemed strange at first, but then I realized that he was writing with permanence and sweeping strokes the words that made up the legacy of my brother’s life.
As each of my kids brought their uncle into view, I was taken back by what they remembered. His favorite clichés, the cars he drove, his obsession with Peterbilt Trucks and the little girl slumber parties he crashed, performing his famous Elvis impression with a hairbrush for a microphone and dancing with each little girl. With a tube of lipstick he conned out of me, he would sign their little arms with “Elvis”. He was a wonderful playmate and they adored him. As I listened to them remember, tears sprang and earlier, happier memories flooded my soul. This was the man I wanted to remember. These were the days filled with life and laughter.
Then Keith looked over to my niece, Jim’s daughter Jayme, and said, “I haven’t heard from you yet.” She paused, and then said words that broke my heart, “I’ve been listening to all of the stories my cousins have been telling . . . and I don’t have any good memories to tell.” Too many broken promises had led his children into estrangement from their dad. I moved him from Oregon to California with a small hope of reconciliation but nothing changed until the night of his death when Jayme came. Keith asked if she would like to write a letter to her dad, she said she would but didn’t want to read it at the service herself. Keith lovingly said, “I will read your words.” Three and a half hours later, with legal pad in hand, Keith left us.
I was exhausted, emotionally and physically spent, and as I looked around the room, so was my family. There were tears and hugs, sighs and laughter, as we continued to recount the memories that filled the room that day.
Out of the stories emerged the man I wanted to remember, the man that I wanted to honor. I saw that he was worthy and that I was now the keeper of his legacy.
I miss him. When thoughts of him come rushing at me there will be tears and moments of great sadness. But I do know that for our family, using Celebrant helped us to honor and pay tribute to my brother. After that family meeting my heart felt renewed and at peace. We had created his legacy.
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Is it intimidating or inviting?
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Though we’re still adjusting to the loss, the tide of grief and saddness has receded greatly because of our Celebration of Life. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. I am so thankful that Keith was able to paint such an amazing picture of Unkie. My fondest memories will be that of love, laughter, and tears, as we recounted his life. It couldn’t have been any better.
My sweet daughter . .
It was, as I mentioned, a very exhausting time for all of us, but nonetheless, it was needed. We didn’t know it at the time, but we sure do now. It truly begins the healing journey. And as you have witnessed, it brings redemption to a man who I believe, felt he didn’t deserve it. I have watched the video several times and I feel so comforted, even through the sadness, by listening and visualizing his life. Keith blessed our family, and I know you feel the same when I say that we shall never forget the kindness he has shown all of us.
Love you dearly,
I attended Jim’s service and felt like I knew him personally, because of the way Keith shared the stories about him. I teared as I heard them. The idea of bringing a family together is a testament to the power of healing through the stories they share.
Tom . .
Thank you for attending my brother’s service, and thank you also for your kind words. I am so very blessed by the outpouring of love that was shown to our family on that day. And I am also thankful that the stories that were shared that morning, touched lives. My brother will forever live within me, and as I watch the video, I will remember that you were there!
Thank you for having the courage to share your story. For when we share our journey with others, many times we help them with theirs. I’m so glad that your family is on the path of healing. Celebrants like Keith have a wonderful gift of being able to skillfully tell the story of one’s life. Not hide from the bad and make the deceased a saint, but honest story telling, the good, the bad and the ugly. In 60 minutes I felt like I knew your brother’s story, in all it’s glory, pain and sadness. I love you and hope you obtain the peace you deserve in this world!.
My sweet, dear friend. . . my life as been enriched because you have been in it. And having you there the whole time . . even at the graveside was more than I could have ever hoped for. Thank you for leading us all on paths of healing. Without the 4 of you we may have never looked at a Celebrant the way we do now. What a blessing Keith was to our family, and what a transformation I am seeing in Jayme’s life. My brother gave us all a gift . . . he brought our family together. He helped us to understand the importance of loving without boundaries. We are moving forward in a healthy way . . and I am so grateful for that. My sweet brother was given the honor he deserved . . because he was worthy.
I love you dearly,
Thank you for sharing and allowing us to become a part of your family experience. Jim’s service was so beautiful! Even though I never had the opportunity to meet him, I left feeling like I know him. What a true blessing and gift your brother gave his daughter through his death. Although he was not able to always be there for her when he was alive, he left her with one of the greatest gifts a father could give to a daughter – the gift of family and legacy.
Becky . . .
Thank you so much for being there for me and listening to all of my thoughts about my little brother. I miss him so much . . more than I realized. I have watched the video several times and it fills my heart with joy and sadness. Interesting how we can combine those two so expertly.
Keith was so very comforting and compassionate as we moved through his life at our family meeting. It was an eye-opener for me because as I watched my kids tell their stories a flood of memories came back like a tidal wave. It was overwhelming at times and exhausting, but worth every minute of the three and a half hours we spent with him. I will forever be an advocate of Celebrants. I know the difference it made in our service, and I know that it can create the beginning of the healing journey.
You and I share a unique bond in that we have both lost our brothers. May our love and memories keep them forever in our hearts!
Beautifully and eloquently
written, Patty. All of these wonderful memories are part of the Legacy your brother left. HIs children and future generations of his family are also his Legacy. He lives on in them. Each time you see their faces, I am sure you will see him too. You have such a loving heart.
Thank you so much for your friendship and for being there at my sweet brother’s funeral. There was so much to say about him, and our Celebrant, Keith Page, was such an integral part of weaving his life into a legacy. We, as a family are so grateful for the gift that Keith gave. I don’t believe that we could have told his story more eloquently. The good and the not so good are all part of our life’s story. Keith gave us the opportunity to love my brother even in the depths of his despair and his demons. It gave his daughter, Jayme, and chance to fall in love with her father . . . maybe for the first time!
We are blessed as a family and know now that Celebrants are a gift!