(I wrote these words just over a year ago….)
For the second time in as many years, I am preparing a Talking Stick for a friend’s memorial service.
For those unfamiliar with the practice, a Talking Stick service, sometimes called a Crossing Ceremony, is a way of allowing survivors to speak at a memorial service without having to endure the formality of rising to address a crowd, many of whom may be strangers. It speaks to our need to discuss memories of a loved one without invoking the fear of public speaking that so many of us endure.
The Talking Stick itself is a simple thing—genuinely, a stick, a branch, a piece of wood, of the right height and width to be easily held. Smoothed and sanded, perhaps, or even varnished, it is decorated with small items that represent the individual who has passed. For instance, for a friend who loved the color purple, I tied purple scarf onto a branched stick, glossy and smooth. I glued on crystals in colors she loved. For the Talking Stick I am creating today, I chose the thick branch of an old rose, because the person who is gone was truly a rare rose in the garden of life. I removed all but a few thorns. Those thorns left attached were meant to represent both the suffering and the fight she endured at the end of her difficult passage to the next life. There are several small branches on her Talking Stick, because she took so many paths in a life that was vibrant and well-lived. And I will be adding a silk butterfly to the top of her Talking Stick, to represent both the transformation in which I know she wholly believed, and the mutual friend, herself enamored of butterflies, who passed on earlier, and whom I know was there to meet her on the other side of the Veil.
And this is the beauty of being the person who is privileged to create another’s Talking Stick: It is a physical meditation, allowing one to think through the value of a friend or loved one’s life, and to say farewell by determining the representative talismans to be included.
I will carry the Talking Stick to my friend’s memorial service, and explain its creation, and then encourage those there, all unfamiliar with this process, to pass the stick from hand to hand, and to each speak one pleasant, special, or even humorous memory of their loved one. To begin their memory with “I remember ( her name)”, because, as the ancient Egyptians believed, if our name is remembered, the soul continues. To speak only good of the person who has passed, for, if the relationship was rocky or difficult, this is not the time to discuss those problems, not only out of respect not for the dead, but for the others present who are not in a fit state to hear that sort of bitterness…to know that, if they cannot say something pleasant or kind about the soul who has gone on, then there is no shame in merely holding the Talking Stick silently for a moment before passing it on to the next person. Their very silence allows us to acknowledge their own special pain, and to know that our view of a person is not necessarily the one which is shared by all who knew her or him.
And when the memorial is completed, I will gift the Talking Stick to the person who best loved the deceased, so that they might do with it as they please: keep it, cherish it, burn it, bury it—whatever is best for them. It will have served its purpose, which is only to evoke memories to be shared, and make it easy for loved ones to speak, and to recap a life. To help us say goodbye.
In Memory Of