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  • Dr. Ted Klontz

The Essence of it All

Updated: Mar 27

The Essence of it AllRead by Ted Klontz

I made a trip to a midwestern city with the primary purpose of attending what most of us would call the funeral or memorial service of a young woman.  Mid-twenties.  A tragic loss for us all.


I have been studying this whole thing called death and life for quite a while now.  For as long as I can remember, actually.  I have a genetic condition that has made my mortality a close companion. 


As a young one, I was reminded frequently of the frailty of life (my own) by well-meaning loved ones.  The effect of that is my close-in consciousness, curiosity, and awareness of life and death.  That has led me to actively find out what other cultures have to say about it all, because the one that came with what I experienced (and still do) has huge holes in the narrative I couldn’t ignore, though I was urged to do just that.      


Several different cultures’ beliefs include the suggestion that we humans come to this earth to accomplish something the universe, or the Great Mystery, or God or……. needs to have done and then having completed our purpose, move on (we die) to our next “mission.” 


No one knows for sure, of course.  We or our proxies (ancient and contemporary) make up a story about what life and especially death is all about.  But, of course, there isn’t one belief that is universally shared and accepted about what it means to live and die. 


That’s a very common source of justification to wage war and many other things short of war that are destructive and divisive.  In what I see as our ignorance and fear, we human beings kill.  And justify it.  And celebrate it.  Weird behavior, if considered from a perspective of 5,000 feet.  Even those who we regard as spiritual leaders always suggest that we not do that.      


I mention the above belief, “we come to serve a purpose and move on” because it sure seems to have been at work at this young one’s “Celebration of Life” service that her Mom and Dad put together.  I have been alive, so to speak, for nearly eight decades.  One of the things that comes along with that is a fair number of funerals I have attended.  I have actually officiated a few.  This one rivaled only one other one (the death of an unborn child) in its simplicity, beauty, effect, and power. 


First of all, her “Celebration of Life” was held in the middle of a Nature Preserve.  The unspoken and underappreciated effect of being in nature, initially welcomed us all to the gathering.  Being in nature changes things; in massive ways that our dominant society (for the most part) have forgotten.  One of my favorite quotes is “Nature is me turned inside out.”  I’ve added, “And if I am to know myself, I must know nature.”  


As the service began, one-by-one, three of her closest friends spoke, sharing their experience of their friend in their lives.  Mom and Dad did the same. 


I later learned that the young one’s parents reached out to this young one’s closest friends and asked them to share, in a sentence or two, something about their daughter.  There was one page of the service materials, covered front and back with a sentence or two of messages from other friends.


Without prior planning or knowledge all shared.  Not of the many deeds, talents, and accomplishments, but instead of the lasting impact she had on their lives.  The life lessons her presence allowed them to learn. 


All gathered there learned or were reminded of the essence of WHO she was. Her authentic self.  The self that exists in all of us, below the images and ways one presents themselves to the world.  Beyond the roles played, and good deeds done.  Her essence fueled all she did.  The same is true for all of us. 


That sharing was followed by a five-minute video that highlighted and represented her through her own words and actions and again spoke to the very essence of who she was. 


As I looked over what had been written and listened to those who shared, they all expressed this same essence.  “Loving,” ‘brave,” “courageous,” “accepting,” “strong,” “loyal,” “fierce advocate for those treated unfairly, those unequally treated, oppressed.”


No one had instructed any of those who shared to speak to the essence of who she was.  It just happened.  After the service all those involved marveled at the spontaneous synchronicity of what was shared.  Their words gave me, and the others gathered there a true sense of exactly who she was.  I felt as if I knew her well.   


This celebration ended with all gathered being invited to sing one of her favorite songs, a Beatle’s song, “With a Little Help From My Friends.”  I lost it as I read and sang and heard those gathered there celebrate her and all the rest of us.  Music does that to me.  I heard later from others that they had the same experience. 


You might be asking, “What does this have to do with your original premise, that she came into this world to accomplish a mission and then move on?”  For me, and for others who attended, and those whom I have told of my experience, there has been a universal “I want one of those too.”  A celebration of life.  No preaching, pomp and circumstance, prodding, mournful, silent energy.  A celebration.  An acknowledgement of our essence, not a listing of our deeds.


Another case where a young one is teaching us, reminding us, showing us a way to leave this life in a way that feels like a celebration.  And perhaps to remember to offer that to others as friends of ours die.  Bring that celebratory energy to their ceremony.  Perhaps speak of their “essence” as we remember them. 


In one of the workshops I do, I ask people to write their own obituary.  Then I ask them to design the service that people might attend to honor their lives.  I invite them to share that with the people who will be left behind, so that loved ones will know exactly what to do.  What to say.  Just as importantly, what to not focus on and do. 


A young man who’s mom was dying had done just that.  On her deathbed, she told him where to find what she had written.  He called me and asked if I believed that is what she really wanted.  I said “yes.” He was so relieved.  Maybe that is one of the final gifts we can give those who love us.


I’ve been to more than one funeral and thought, “This is so, NOT them….., so not WHO they were.”  I walked away last weekend saying, “this was SO her.”  And silently thanked her for the gift of the reminder of celebrating “the essence” in others.


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