Tyler: Hello listeners and welcome to the Funeral Celebrant podcast. I'm Tyler Fraser and it is my pleasure to speak with Stacy Mitchell. Welcome to the show Stacy.
Stacy: Thank you Tyler it's wonderful to be here.
Tyler: So you're a Life Cycle Celebrant and Reiki master and teacher in San Luis Obispo, is that correct?
Stacy: That is correct.
Tyler: That's a beautiful part of the country. I was actually raised in Orange County and just a year or two years ago ran the Ventura marathon.
Stacy: Oh how exciting, it is a beautiful area of the country. I've only been here about six years and so I now consider myself a full-fledged Californian. I'm originally from the Midwest, Oklahoma and Missouri so it's all new to me out here with this big old ocean right next to me.
Tyler: So you moved to California six years ago. Were you interested in celebrant services then or when you arrived to California?
Stacy: No, I had actually already been a Life Cycle Celebrant for many years before I moved here. I have been on this path for quite a while, it was just a change of scenery.
Tyler: And so what made you become but what made you want to become a funeral celebrant?
Stacy: Well I've considered this question for a while because there's a long story and a shorter long story so I'll try to go with the shorter long story as to not bore your listeners. It was not something I necessarily chose coming out of the gate, I was actually in college in Missouri at Drury University for psychology and criminal justice. I was going to go into the criminal justice field probably in juvenile detention and rehabilitation. At some point along in that journey I had the opportunity sort of fall in my lap too facilitate a home funeral. It was not something that I sought out, it would actually just happen that I was there to support the family during this transition of their loved one. The person they had asked to facilitate for one reason or another did not show up, so when it came time for them to actually need ritual and support of someone in a leadership role, they looked to me and I was in my early twenties I had no clue. I had really only been to a few funerals in my life at that point and it was sort of a shock and I just tried to do the best I could in that moment to support the family and create a situation where they felt comfortable and their loved one could be and allowed to transition in a very gentle and loving manner.
It was a really beautiful experience but it was also a very scary experience to me because I was so young. I really felt like it was not my place in some senses you know, I kind of felt like you know the elders of the community should be the ones leading this type of ceremony and that sort of thing. What I got out of it though was you know one of the people in particular, the son of the person who passed was probably in his 40s at that time. He was a big like six foot four 300-pound construction man, you know really strong physically and emotionally and mentally. Every single time I saw him after that experience he would get these tears of gratitude in his eyes and come and just gave me this huge bear hug and whisper thank you in my ear. It just blew me away how something so you know seemingly simple as just holding space for a family in that time of grief can have long lasting effects and so I had that experience and then a few times after that I had similar experiences with people.
I was not doing it as a profession or you know really had no clue I was just you know trying to help people when they asked for help. And it came a point where I decided that if that was really the path I was supposed to be on I had to have some sort of guidance. I had to have some sort of training and a clearer understanding about what it is I'm supposed to do in that role, and so that's when I kind of was I was I think about hmm I'm going to say about 28 by that point. I started seriously researching trying to figure out you know where I was supposed to go with this if I was supposed to be doing it and I somehow came across the website for the Celebrant Foundation and Institute and as soon as I read their information I knew that that's the type of training that I wanted. It's not based on any specific belief system or religion it is inclusive of everyone and everything including atheism and that's the kind of service I wanted to provide to people, was something that was based on their beliefs and values and could really speak to them and be meaningful for them in that process. So I became a Lifecycle Celebrant through the CF&I.
Tyler: You know the lasting effects of a funeral service can be pretty impactful. It reminds me of Mr. Holland's Opus and kind of having people that were touched by you at some point and serving so many people as you go through the years in your celebrations of life and funeral services and kind of continuing to grow upon the people you've touched.
Stacy: Yes absolutely and them to me. You know every client that I have, even if I'd ever met the person who has passed they're still my number one client because I look at part of my role as being an advocate for the person who can no longer speak for themselves. So I try very hard to really get to the reality of what their life was what had meaning for them and create a ceremony around that. Every single person then becomes part of my experience in my life story and I take that very seriously.
Tyler: Stacy you have a quote on your website honoryourvoice.com. Is it okay if I read it?
Tyler: "There is a voice that speaks to and through each of us as we travel around this Wheel of Life. It is the voice that informs, encourages, comforts, and guides us. Sometimes softly like a whisper carried on the wind; sometimes as loud as a thunderclap directly over head. This voice is known as the Intellect, the Intuition, the Self, the Inner-Compass, the Higher Power, the Collective Unconscious, the voice of God or Goddess. Whatever the source of this voice for you, it is as unique and individual as a fingerprint, and as universal as the moon, sun, and stars, and it is this voice--however quiet or voluminous--which speaks of the essence of who you are." Stacy can you talk a little bit more about your work at honor your voice and working with families?
Stacy: Well I can certainly try. I first would like to say thank you for sharing that and and I appreciate hearing it in your voice. I almost, my last website edit I almost removed that quote. That's from my original creation of the website and so I appreciate hearing that in someone else's words because that brings it back to me of how important our lives are and how important it is that we have others who stand witness to what has been important to us in our lives. I think in answer to your question the reality is always that people grieve deeply because they loved deeply. So every single experience I've had with families, with communities in grief the underlying message is you are loved. That person was loved and that person loved others and you know and that is true even when it you know not everyone is a really fantastic person in life you know. Even then there are people that person loves and that loved them with all their flaws. It's hard to share just one you know one story because all of the stories have meaning and all of the stories have an authenticity to them that is so important to this work.
Probably the the types of families that really have touched me the most are the families that have lost children. I have had occasion to work with people who either lost a child at birth or soon thereafter and sometimes even in utero and you know no one no one in their right mind wishes that kind of loss on anyone. So it's a very painful situation to walk into and to support families who are grieving a child that they're not only grieving the loss of the child they're grieving the loss of the life that they imagined for that child. It's really important I think in those situations to recognize that there's absolutely nothing we can do to change the situation it's still a death and it's still a raw and painful place for a person to be in. Our role, my role as the celebrant is to acknowledge that there was life even as short as it was, maybe even just a couple of months in utero there was still life there and there was still a great deal of love that was transferred between that little being and the people on this side of the veil who were waiting for that physical body to emerge.
Tyler: Stacy, in addition to your celebrant work you also perform Reiki and if you would please share with the listeners about how touch is an important part of the grieving process.
Stacy: Hmm well just a slight correction I don't perform Reiki. It's not theatrical it is a practice so I practice Reiki and I practice Reiki, first and foremost as a form of self healing. So that goes to the question of the importance of physical touch and I'm going to take it even a step further in that you know in North America we tend to have this really frightening belief that you know if we're in physical proximity of someone who's in the process of you know actively dying that somehow that death is going to transfer to us which is certainly not the case, but on the opposite spectrum of that if you can get over the fear or work through the fear of that being physically present and being able to physically touch a person who is passing who is actively dying there is an unbelievable transference of beauty that occurs and I actually have had the opportunity to offer Reiki to other Reiki masters as they transition from this life to whatever happens after this life. That was an unbelievable experience to have. So I really encourage people you know even if you don't do you know practice Reiki, if you don't know anything about that you don't have to. What you do have to do is recognize is that when you are in physical proximity to someone who is in actively dying they need you and you need them, so how better to have that sort of connection than by having a physical presence with them, you know physically being able to hold their hand or put your hand on their shoulder, kiss their forehead, you know whatever it is that you can transfer that love in that way. I'm not quite sure if that's where you expected me to go with that question but if you need to need to follow up with that that's fine.
Tyler: Can you just define Reiki for the listener please?
Stacy: Oh that's a tough one, I've been teaching Reiki for years and I still have a difficult time defining Reiki because it's sort of an ineffable, that in essence Reiki first of all is sort of a generic term just like celebrant is a generic term. It simply means the universal life force energy and so Reiki is everywhere, it's with everything, it is everything. We all are in connection with it. Our role as Reiki practitioners is to help ourselves and others become more aware of that and have more ability to be in direct contact with that and that goes back to the quote that you read off my website of it being you know people having their own definition of that, you know what that source is. It's all fine it all goes back to to the one.
Tyler: Stacy if there was a family in the San Luis Obispo area and they wanted to work with you to memorialize their dad, what's the process? What's are the first steps?
Stacy: Well of course the first step is they have to get in touch with me, so they can do that by finding my website you mentioned that already – honoryourvoice.com. My phone number, my email is on there as well for anyone who wants to reach out to me and as soon as you can, when you when someone has passed or when you know that they are you know at some point going to die - of course we're all at some point going to die but relatively speaking you know they may be in hospice or something like that where you know that it is imminent that the death is going to occur you cannot reach, you really cannot reach out to me too soon but you can reach out too late.
Sometimes when you're planning a funeral if you're playing a funeral ceremony where the body is actually present and you have a very limited time usually about three days so the quick the more quickly you can reach me the better off you are because that way we can get started right away and then really craft something beautiful and meaningful to the deceased and to your family and friends.
Once you have contacted me and we can establish that I'm available and you know the dates and times work and all of that kind of thing, the first thing I would want to do is schedule an interview with the family and that interview process usually for funerals and memorials takes about two hours where we just sit down and I ask very specific questions about your loved one and what was important to them, what their life was like etc and so on it's very detailed and just get the stories from the family. Also get information about you know what plans you have already made and you know what you're wanting the ceremony to look like etc.
It's for me a very creative process. I have a tendency to you know, once I go to to the family interview usually by the time I come out of that interview I have a fairly clear picture in my head of what is an authentic reflection of the honorees beliefs, philosophies and values, and what the family is expecting and wanting to achieve. So I can usually go and begin the creation process from that interview pretty quickly. Probably on average I spend about 20 hours of creation time, and by creation time I mean actually sitting down and writing the quote-unquote script of the ceremony. After that then I would contact the family and go over what I have created to see if it's matching up with what they originally had in mind and any changes or any corrections that need to be to be made, and then we just do the ceremony. So it's very in-depth but it's very cathartic sometimes for the family because that you know they've been they've been answering a lot of questions to a lot of people and sometimes they don't even know the answers to the questions, like what their favorite color was and what they really wanted, did they want a casket or urn or you know whatever. Sometimes those are things that the family just doesn't know right off the bat, butt they know what the person believed and they know what the family will benefit from.
I think a lot of times in this society, going kind of going full circle to to where we started Tyler, with this conversation was people have had in North America anyway, by and large some really unpleasant experiences with funeral ceremonies. That stems from families not being emotionally supported in ceremony and that's what I think is different about what I do as a Lifecycle Celebrant in comparison to what a lot of you know officiants do or funeral celebrants do because my work isn't based on my beliefs and values, my work is based on the beliefs and values of the people I work with. So that's what I bring out in the ceremony and to do that I have to be 100% in support of the family and of the honorees beliefs. That's what gives families the strengths a lot of times to go on because the the funeral is just the beginning of the transition that the family makes you know to living life without that loved one with them on the daily basis.
Tyler: Stacy, you're in the San Luis Obispo area and I imagine there are some pretty nice venues in the Paso Robles, a winery area. Are there any locations that you particularly like?
Stacy: You're gonna get me in trouble aren't you. I love them all Tyler. You know yes, there are absolutely some fantastic wineries in Paso and other places of all the way down to ??? on the south coast in Santa Barbara County but you know there's so many beautiful areas and you really can't beat a beach ceremony as well you know what I mean. You can't get much better than that and we have, I do see a trend and and I kind of hope it continues, it's sort of twofold of number one - funeral homes and funeral directors being more open to the understanding of ceremony and the support of how ceremony works and so you know a lot of funeral homes are being more aware of how they set up their funeral homes and having you know maybe outdoor areas and you know different things like that where ceremonies can be held and so that's a really positive thing. I also see along with that trend families being more open to having ceremonies in non-traditional places. I had a memorial ceremony not long ago at Short Cliff which is actually known for its weddings, it's right on the coast here in Pismo and you know rather than it being a wedding ceremony, it was a funeral you know memorial ceremony but it was beautiful and it worked beautifully for the honoree because that was her lifestyle, she loved walking on the beach and picking up stones and that type of thing and it just was really connected to the ocean and so for the family to be able to have the ceremony right there on the coast overlooking the the beach area and the the ocean was really comforting for them because they felt like they had created something that was meaningful not only for them but that was meaningful for the life that their loved one had.
Tyler: Stacy can you briefly describe to the listeners generally the difference between a funeral director and a celebrant?
Stacy: Well there's a huge difference for for the most part I was sometimes they're one of the same but not always, not usually I would probably say. The funeral director is a person licensed by the state to supervise or conduct the preparation of a dead body for burial or other disposition and who also directs or arranges funerals, so they are licensed by the state.
A Lifecycle Celebrant is someone who has been trained specifically by the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, it is a very in-depth program that takes into account art symbolism ritual cultural and spiritual traditions and the container itself which is the ceremony. There are also other people who are funeral celebrants who have not necessarily been trained by the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, again celebrant is a generic term that anyone can use and it can be used in any type of setting whether it's secular or theological. So you really have to as a consumer you know, as someone who is looking for people you have to you know look at their website, look at their background, get an idea of what type of training they have actually received or maybe they haven't received any at all and that will help guide you in how to choose someone that you trust with that type of work.
Tyler: Listeners there are so many resources available to you online and your local funeral establishment and also on Stacy's website honoryourvoice.com. Stacy I can't thank you enough for joining us on the funeral celebrant podcast.
Stacy: Well thank you Tyler, it's been really wonderful and I hope that your listeners have enjoyed going along for the journey with us.
Tyler: Listeners, thanks so much for listening, until next time.