Feb 14, 2021

A Good Death Memorialized: Mom had a beautiful death. Now what?

The pandemic stripped us of the ability to gather in-person to grieve a loved one’s passing. Kit Pappenheimer shares how she used used an online platform to recreate the ritual so important in remembering and celebrating a loved one’s life.

Mom died during this crazy isolating COVID time. Through the din of my grief, I heard from her community: friends and family sending their love and condolences, all yearning to come together to share who mom was to them. I needed to organize a memorial.

So much stuff came up in these first few days.

Here I pause to give a shout out to Zen Care Giving Project.  In my own years as a then Zen Hospice volunteer, I learned to be a family caregiver and sit with the discomfort and pain that accompanies the ending of a life. My mindfulness practice served me in being with all that was arriving …

But there was already so much to juggle, so much to manage, so much to figure out, so much to BE WITH.  Besides the mourning and full-on grieving flooding my brain and heart, there was the business of her death: working with a funeral director, handling death certificates and making decisions on what to do with her body, choosing containers for her remains.  And then the legal stuff: wills and trusts and estates, death certificates and lawyers and insurance and….

How was I to do all that and figure out a way to bring folks together to celebrate Mom’s life and passing? Climbing out of the black hole of my grief to handle the community mourning of mom’s death…it was challenging to say the least.

An unexpected bonus: the process of preparing this community event was cathartic for me. Each step provided an opportunity to be with my feelings, my grief, my love for my mother.

As it turns out, I had more support than I thought.   Having lost her own mother a month before I lost mine, my friend and colleague, Lynnea, had just gone through the same challenge.   With her own recent experience still fresh, Lynnea walked me through navigating mine.  The surprising and beautiful result was a satisfying and intimate memorial, held online in a virtual format.

Lynnea helped us organize the process. My sister Jill and I, along with family and friends, began by gathering, sorting and scanning photos. Reviewing years and years of visual memories; including pictures of mom as a child, a young adult before she married our father, and into her adulthood. Such a beautiful and emotional journey: a “ life review” of sorts. My dear friend made this into a slideshow set to mom’s favorite music.

No celebration of my mother would’ve been complete without Peter Paul and Mary songs sung loudly and with passion (and more than a few tears).  While Mom  was dying we played all sorts of music that I knew she loved. We incorporated much of that into her memorial. So healing. So special. So uniquely mom.

Next, I wasn’t really ready but I needed to write the obituary and the eulogy. Wow this turned out to be a very particular kind of writing – and I had lots to say. This too was part of the grieving process. As I moved through it, it ultimately helped me to zero in on readings and possible speakers for the memorial.

We began contacting friends and family to let them know the memorial was coming and how they could prepare and participate online. Of course, that in itself led to many heartfelt loving story telling phone calls and emails. I encouraged some to share these stories- many I had never heard-  at her upcoming memorial. 

Finally, the event itself. The logistics behind us (sending invites, setting up a zoom room large enough to host an online crowd, figuring out the tech logistics, and recording the event) we welcomed over 200 people from around the world. Many of mom’s contemporaries were thrilled to be able to come together in the community to remember and celebrate mom.  Oh, the stories! In their 80s and 90s, many would have been unable to travel, and so were delighted to have this opportunity to be together.  This was an unexpected advantage to doing her memorial online. 

From my black hole of grief, I felt deeply supported and incredibly grateful to be held in an intimate – albeit virtual -community. Weeks later, I returned to the recording to digest more of what had taken place. It is a gift that I will treasure forever.

Kit Pappenheimer is co – founder of Heartfelt Memorials, LLC . Kit is a former educator, teaching and running public schools and a long time hospice volunteer. She is an  ICF certified Executive Coach, employing heart-based, body-oriented and trauma-informed practices with a fierce belief in the resilience of the human spirit to face and honor the end of life with dignity and grace.

For more  information and support for your virtual memorial, contact Kit  at Kit@heartfeltmemorials.org


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