Minister acknowledges milestones, good and bad

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — People mark joy with rituals of celebration, and death with mourning.

A Mountlake Terrace man believes people also should acknowledge loss with ritual and ceremony.

People come to Francis Michael Lee, 57, with a milestone they want to acknowledge — whether it’s marriage, death or surviving an illness or addiction. He helps them to plan, and then presents a ceremony that acknowledges the effect of the event on their lives.

“Ceremonies of healing and transition can be a really healthy way to deal with what always happens in life, and that is change,” he said.

Lee is a celebrant, a nondenominational minister who officiates ceremonies in place of religious leaders.

Through his company, Significant Ceremonies, Lee offers ceremonies that recognize both traditional events — like weddings and funerals — and others that aren’t always acknowledged through ceremony.

Lee mostly oversees weddings, commitment ceremonies and vow renewals, but said that “survivor” ceremonies are just as important.

“Our culture doesn’t do well with loss — joy is easy. The idea of honoring the dissolution of a relationship or tragic life event doesn’t even come to mind,” Lee said. “Some sort of ritual or gathering is necessary to healing.”

Lee was in a head-on collision in April 1984. He said his head shattered the windshield; his knee flattened the gear-shift lever and his chest pushed the steering column through the dash. He walked away with two cuts on his head and a build-up of fluid in his knee, he said.

“I was at least lucky, if not incredibly blessed, to come out of that alive,” Lee said. “It prompted lots of introspection and self-inquiry about what I want to do in life.”

He didn’t know about celebrant ceremonies back then, but said that he understands the effect such an event can have on someone’s life and believes in ceremony and ritual as a way to overcome it.

He said these ceremonies can be empowering.

“We acknowledge the hurt and pain and the dreams and wishes that did not come true and symbolically let that past go and create dreams and wishes for the future,” he explained.

Celebrant dissolution ceremonies, he said, are nothing like the tongue-in-cheek divorce parties that have become common in the last decade.

“Divorce parties don’t deal with the grief or the heartfelt loss,” he said. “They need something to help them move on, put the past behind them and continue on into a new direction.”

Celebrant ceremonies also recognize traditional milestones in nontraditional ways.

Lee said that most of the end of life ceremonies he plans are held outside of the funeral home, in places the deceased enjoyed.

He tries to include guests in the services he plans, making the ceremony more about participation than observance.

A fly fisherman made copies of his favorite fishing lure before he died to give to six of his fishing buddies. They were presented at a funeral that Lee planned.

And celebrant commitment ceremonies cater to the couple in love, Lee said.

Before they got married, John and Debbie Lockwood went to a wedding and thought it was impersonal.

“The minister could have been talking about anybody,” Debbie Lockwood said. “We wanted, not just a general wedding that anyone could have had, but something that was our own.”

They found Lee’s website, and he helped plan a more personal ceremony.

They got married in their backyard. During the ceremony, the couple planted a dogwood tree and guests took turns watering it using a hand-made watering can. They asked guests to sign the can instead of a guestbook.

“They both really liked to garden, so I gave them ideas to use their shared passion in the ceremony,” Lee said.

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