Note: The names in this article have been changed.
I approached Sue and Ed’s house and rang the doorbell. Ed opened the front door and invited me in. He led me to their living room and explained that Sue would be joining us shortly. I sat on the couch and took several deep breaths. This married couple of more than 50 years called me to their home to help plan Sue’s funeral. She had a terminal diagnosis and was on hospice care. I previously met with Ed at the funeral home to begin the planning, and together they decided they wanted to have a group conversation with me. This was sacred space and my deep breathing helped me to be present in the moment.
Before long, Sue slowly walked into the living room pulling her oxygen tank. She gently sat in a cushioned, high-back chair. I introduced myself and explained my intention was to create the funeral service they wanted. I then began to ask her to tell me: stories from her early life, middle life and later life; the way she met Ed; what she was passionate about; what she wanted in the service, and on and on. They shared beautiful memories and anniversary books their children created for them. When we had covered everything they wanted to talk about, Sue paused, looked me in the eyes and said, “That was fun!” I was in awe. We just planned her funeral and she thought it was fun. It was fun because it gave her the opportunity to think about and share stories of love. Love is stronger than death.
Sarah’s husband, Fred, died suddenly and unexpectedly while with his child and other family members. It was a traumatic experience for all. Sarah invited Fred’s siblings and their spouses into a Zoom call with me to help plan their brother’s memorial service. The grief was intense, they weren’t sure they could talk and they only reluctantly agreed to join. On the call I began to ask questions about their brother’s life. The initial responses were short and the pauses were long. And then slowly, as they remembered, first one, and then many stories emerged. Story after story the conversation continued. Afterwards Sarah thanked me for creating a safe space for all of them to remember with love. Love is stronger than death.
Mary, Bob and I sat together in their living room with their adult children. Bob had recently halted treatment and was under hospice care. As their end-of-life doula, I was helping them create a nest with a soft and welcoming interior for them, and a hard exterior to keep out what they didn’t want. We spoke about regrets, unfinished business, guilt and shame. We spoke about fears and what mattered most at this time. There were tears, laughter and so much love. Love is stronger than death.
People often ask me how I can do the work I do. I reply, “How can I not?” I am gifted with the opportunity to be in the presence of love, a love that is stronger than death.
I have a master’s degree in wellness, am a spiritual director, celebrant and end-of-life doula. But those are simply the modalities. What I really do is companion people around death and create spaces for them to be present to love. I do this work because of the compassion and foresight of F. Glenn Fleming, supervisor and funeral director of Koch Funeral Home in State College, Pennsylvania, and the creativity and marketing of Dar Bellissimo with Capital Avenues. Together we created the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program – a program that includes creating memorable funeral ceremonies and remembrance services, community outreach and end-of-life support.
The three stories above came about through my work with the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program. In each of these situations, death played a prominent role, but love was stronger. I’ve seen these scenarios play out again and again. As humans, we’ve cared for the dying, the dead and the bereaved since the beginning of time – it’s part of what makes us human. I believe it’s invaluable work and I’m honored to be part of a program that champions the belief that love is stronger than death.