Danna D. Schmidt
Master Life-Cycle Celebrant®
Ordained Wedding Officiant
Master Life-Cycle Celebrant®
Ordained Wedding Officiant
Dying is something we human beings do continuously, not just at the end of our physical lives on this earth.”
Navigating End-of-Life options for a loved one or self is one of the most challenging and wholly courageous responsibilities we face. If you are caring for someone who is ill or in hospice care, or have experienced the sudden death of a loved one; the process can feel overwhelming and exhausting, especially as you face having to attend to the details in the midst of your grief.
I honor this space you find yourself in and your search that has you seeking a compassionate and experienced end of life transition guide for this road ahead. As a trained funeral celebrant and home funerals guide and in my work as a Death & Dying Guide and hospice/bereavement volunteer, I bring a calm presence, compassionate witnessing, dedicated support, intuitive wisdom and invaluable resources to help you make the ceremonial and End-of-Life choices that feel right for you and your community of loved ones.
North America is undergoing a renaissance in death rites and preparedness, as we begin to question our practices and desires for this last and arguably most auspicious rite of passage, and start to talk openly and honestly about death. This renaissance is paving the way for significant changes and turning points for the funeral industry. Death and dying guides, Life-Cycle Celebrants®, home funeral guides, pioneering morticians and green burial experts are at the forefront of helping our culture change the conversation and permit us more meaningful death care options.
Those in the industry call this the good death movement. Board games, Death Cafés, and Dying with Dignity media coverage are all helping us to start and keep this healthy death dialogue going. Slowly and powerfully, our society is awakening to the possibilities that conscious dying, End of Life guidance, and soul companioning might gift us. Pre-planning helps alleviate some of this overwhelm as well as provide great support, invaluable education, and peace of mind. Whether you are in the early stages of this with illness or assisted living or are just beginning to wonder what the process entails, I invite you to begin the planning process now.
My teen daughter asked me a question some months ago that stopped me in my tracks.
Out of the mouths of babes. And indeed, to confront the reality and inevitability of this final passage is one of our highest and greatest awakenings as humans. It necessitates that we acknowledge our eventual date with destiny, while at the same time befriending the ambiguities and mystery this final passage promises. To face death courageously is to reclaim our final rights and last rites, take ownership and ultimately, begin to make peace with mortality.
Know that regardless of whether you find yourself facing these decisions proactively or reactively, you have choice and lots of it. Except in the rarest of circumstances, such that the medical examiner might need to be involved, you can choose to care for and say goodbye to your loved one at home for up to three days without embalmment. You can choose, consultatively with me, to create the ceremonial space and meaningful rituals necessary to allow a more personalized and intimate experience in those first few hours and days. You get to choose traditional burial, cremation or green burial. You can bathe, ceremonially dress and enshroud your loved one; or collaboratively decorate a cardboard eco-casket as a meaningful ritual. You have countless options with respect to scattering of ashes via air, land or sea.
And you have endless choice about how you want the ceremony to look and feel and when you might wish to hold it. For example, you can opt to hold your ceremony months following the date of death to allow a more fully-developed honoring and life tribute. You may also want to be creative in selecting your venue. Perhaps you wish to vigil at home or gather at a beloved locale in nature, steeped with memories. Or maybe you would like to plan a living funeral, or an elaborate Celebration of Life at a hotel, private hall or more non-traditional venue.
In addition to choice, you also have time – much more time than you think. Take the time necessary at each stage and honor your own sense of what feels right for your family and friends. Deeply-ingrained religious and cultural customs aside, we are entering the age where these rules no longer apply – you have choice, you have time and you have expert custom support. Avail yourself liberally of all three.
The process is both navigational and intuitive in feel and wayfinding by design. You determine the direction and coordinates, and I will guide you such that you can:
The Home Funeral Alternative
If you are considering a home funeral, you may want to hop over to my Resources page for valuable links and resources beginning with the National Home Funeral Alliance. My work as a home funeral guide is about empowering and educating families to care for their own dead. As a celebrant, I also work with families to customize meaningful death care rituals. Bathing, dressing, floral and fabric adornment, anointing, blessing, vigil and stories and songs, silent candlelit vigil, casket decoration and other commemorative art therapy modalities are all ritual moments that lend families and friends precious liminal time and the priceless opportunity to honor and let go of their loved one in a more private, healing and joy-filled way. Together, we create a holistic home plan for the days following death and prior to burial or cremation that is welcoming and honoring. I help you navigate everything from paperwork and legalities, to transportation, to home preparation and home funeral supplies (most of which I provide), to final disposition options. I am always available to discuss the logistics, fee estimates and benefits of this option for families who are curious about this unfamiliar yet ancient practice.
The season we know to be End-of-Life is a basket that holds many tender turning points. It invites us to let go and be shaped by a series of new unknowns. Ceremonies for this stage are myriad and include:
My approach for Celebrations of Life and home funerals differs slightly from that of my other ceremonial work. Clients will often commission my services over the phone or via email without delay. I then clear my calendar and begin work immediately. We will meet in private – typically at your home – and I will gather your collective wishes, stories, beloved mementos, rituals, music, readings and other preferences into a cohesive ceremony. I will consult and interview key family members, liaise with any designated speakers, and lend suggestions and resources for programs, visuals, commemorative tokens, and other ceremony elements. We will overview all the various options, from incorporating an overall tone to infusing subtle touches, to make this a truly timeless and commemorative day.
We’re all just walking each other home.”
I don’t promise that this waypoint of your walk will be an easy one, but I can assure you that it can be an empowering, transformative and healing time. Families I work with are often amazed at how restorative and inspiring it can be to commune with and bear witness to one another in this way. In fact, to listen to the myriad stories of End-of-Life practitioners is to discover how many were drawn to this work precisely because they were gifted the opportunity to companion their closest friends or family members through these pivotal last transition points.
Nothing is more creative than death, since it has the whole secret of life. It means that the past must be abandoned,
that the unknown cannot be avoided, that ‘I’ cannot continue, and that nothing can be ultimately fixed.
When a man knows this, he lives for the first time in his life. By holding his breath, he loses it. By letting go he finds it.”