When Two Roads Converge: A Celebrant’s Process

I’ve often thought it’s unfortunate that people only think about death when they think of a mortuary or cemetery.  Why not think about life…a place where life is celebrated in all its beauty? I’ve spent the last 9 years as a Funeral Celebrant and can attest to the power of a place that honors life, my thought is, let’s not just go to a mortuary in the wake of death, let’s also go in and enjoy life.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/richcano

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/richcano

Several years ago I attended an art show held in an old mausoleum…in the middle of a cemetery…at NIGHT! It sounds a little spooky, but I was intrigued by the dichotomy of the idea. Here I was, viewing works of art by fellow artists, celebrating the beauty they saw around them; while just a hundred yards away was the site where the previous year, as a Funeral Celebrant, I had helped a family lay their teenage son to rest.

Since I’ve begun inviting people to my spring art show I’ve been getting a lot of this look: furrowed brow, pursed lips, eyes partially closed, head tilted down a little, perhaps slowly twisting side to side. Their look says it all, “Uh, what? An art show in a mortuary? . . . Sounds spooky.”

“At Eternity’s Gate” by Vincent van Gogh. This painting was completed 2 months before van Gogh’s death, generally accepted as suicide.

Granted there are some people who would rather attend a funeral than enter an art museum or local gallery, but as we ask the question, “What do death and art have to do with one another?” I’d like you to consider these beautiful works of art: The Funeral Mask of King Tut, The Pieta perhaps the world’s most famous sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus Christ after his death. Picasso’s Guernica showing the tragedies of war, At Eternitys Gate by van Gogh, painted two months before his death, or Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, Thinking About Death.

What can I say? I’m an artist, a writer, a storyteller; I’m always looking for the contrast that makes a story…an image…a life…unique. I find great similarity and contrast in the two fields in which I work: writing funerals and painting on canvases.

When I meet with a family in preparation for a funeral I listen intently as they tell me the many stories about their loved one and I begin painting a picture in my mind’s eye of what this person was like. Similarly, when I’m looking for artistic inspiration, I’ve found that I’m visually listening to the story around me and contemplating how I will bring meaning to it.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/AlexKosev

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/AlexKosev

Whether I am creating a eulogy or a painting, my process is very much the same. Upon returning to my office or studio I sit with a blank sheet of paper or blank canvas before me and reflect. Then, the creative process begins. Setting my fingers to the keyboard or my hand to the brush I engage the skills I have learned as a writer and artist to create a picture with words or create an image with paint. Each medium tells a story in it’s own unique way.

As you can see, my path as a Funeral Celebrant and my path as an Artist are parallel in many ways. They are fundamental in my life journey for I could not do one without the other. On the occasions when the two paths cross the experience deeply nurtures my spirit.

On a trip to Paris a few years ago, I visited Père Lachaise, one of the most famous cemeteries in the world and the final resting place for more than one million people. Painters, sculptors, poets, authors, singers, musicians, composers and actors are buried among some of the world’s greatest names in science, politics and history. The cemetery is listed as one of the top 20 Parisian sites with 1.5 million visitors a year. It’s not a morbid attraction but rather an opportunity to pay homage to some of the greatest talent in this world (Oscar Wilde anyone?) while strolling among the most artistic tombs you will find anywhere.

While you won’t see any of the above-mentioned masterpieces on display at my show, I’m thrilled to introduce my paintings in a setting where I work as a Funeral Celebrant. I hope you will join me and the staff of O’Connor Mortuary as I present my spring art show “Two Paths – One Journey” on Thursday, April 3.

Click here for more info & click here to RSVP.

I promise you, it will be one of the most enjoyable times you have spent at a mortuary…and, I probably don’t need to remind you, but it’s not likely to be your last visit either ; )

|| what do you think?

– Do you express yourself creatively? What mediums do you use & what does it bring to you?

– How do you see art bringing life and death together?

– Will you be gracing us with your presence at the Art Show? I would love to meet you, hope to see you there.

About Ty

I have been a Celebrant for the last 9 years and I am dedicated to the concept of providing a tribute that reflects the lifestyle and beliefs of the individual. Having served as a minister for over 25 years conducting hundreds of funeral and memorial services, I am happy to work with families in their desires for both non-religious and religious ceremonies.

Throughout my adult life I have worked to help people discover solutions in their life that were not often obvious. My life experiences and passion for art led to my work in the studio where my creative process involves not only paint and canvas but self discovery, reflection, transformation; drawing inspiration from within and from the world around me.

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  • Fitz

    Hello Ty,
    Great Blog! Thanks for participating and sharing about your great works as a celebrant and artist. Art can nurture the soul and provide impactful therapy for helping those in grief. Your work as a celebrant and artist has had a positive impact on their grief journey. I look forward to meeting you on the 3rd. Thank you for your great works!

    Joe Fitzgerald

    • Ty

      I couldn’t agree more. My art studio 19th & West Creative – a space where art & creativity serve as healing agents on our journey to wholeness of body, mind and spirit.

      I regularly host art workshops that focus on developing the inner self as participants create a work of art.

      I look forward to meeting you as well.

  • Lori

    Ty,
    After the first time I spent five minutes with you, I knew you were somebody I wanted to know more about. (Thus the stalking on FaceBook began!) Your ability to beautifully share stories of others, your empathy and compassion for families and your charismatic style made you someone I very much wanted to know more about.
    You have not disappointed. In further conversations, I have learned the heart of your work as an artist and Funeral Celebrant.
    I wish I had the artistic ability to paint. Perhaps one of your workshops could help me in that area?
    For now writing is my main form of expression. The O’Connor Blog has allowed me to share many personal stories about my journey through life. It’s great to have an outlet for these emotions.
    I am very eager for the show and I know it will be a huge success!
    Proud to call you friend, even if I forced that on you! 🙂
    Lori

    • Ty

      Lori, everyone needs at least one Facebook Stalker! Thank you for your kind words of encouragement.

      I will have some information at the show on upcoming workshops in my studio.

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Hello Ty . .
    I’ve known you now for probably 15 years, you being one of the first people I met when I began in Community Development at O’Connors. Your love, compassion and dedication to others is a gift you give freely, To see that you have merged your spirit and your talents as an artist is inspirational. Meeting you again several weeks ago as you and Keith shared the Celebrants vision for a family, little did I know that my family and I would be sitting down with Keith and sharing stories about my brother. His service and the words that were spoken truly showed the depths of my brother, and began our journey of healing.

    This past Christmas I told my daughter that I would love to learn to paint with watercolor. She and her husband bought me an artists box and to this day it has sat in my bedroom, waiting for me to open and explore its contents. Even though I am not an artist, I believe that watercolor lets you meld together stroke and color without having to precisely “draw” and image. I think I will go home, open that box and create!
    I can’t wait to see you on the 3rd, which would have been my Father’s 100th birthday. You are a gift to those you touch . . . Let’s celebrate!
    Pat

    • Ty

      Thank you Pat for your kind words. I’m so glad that Keith was there to lead your family in honoring your brother’s life and memory.

      There’s a great little book I would recommend you read: “Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles. It’s a quick read, 122 pages but some powerful thoughts around creating art.

      Owning a box of paints doesn’t make you an artist but as soon as you finish your first painting you will be one for what is an artist? One who creates art! And that my friend what you are about to do.

      I’ll have information at the show on April 3 regarding my upcoming workshops.

      Celebrate and Create every day!

      • Patricia Kolstad

        Ty . . . I’m excited to hear about the workshops – this may be the beginning of a new adventure for me! See you soon.

  • Mark

    Hi Ty….I appreciate your blog and I am looking forward to attending my first ever art show….about the only artist I can name is Norman Rockwell so I would not consider myself an art expert….sorry….I did want to say how much I appreciate what you do to help our families here at O’Connor…..Thank you very much for caring, Mark

    • Ty

      Thanks Mark…I’m very happy to be working alongside the O’Connor Mortuary staff in helping families honor the life and memory of their loved one. And I’m thrilled to be presenting my art at the show….although guests may be looking at the beautiful new floors more than my art! LOL

  • Erin Fodor

    Ty,

    You always do such an amazing job. I really wish we (my family) had the opportunity back in 2000 to use your services when my father died. You create such a meaningful and healing experience for your families. I see it every time I get the honor to watch you work. Thank you for all that you do, and looking forward to seeing your art show here at the mortuary!

    -Erin

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Hi Ty,
    Thank you for such an inspirational blog. I, too, get several strange looks when I tell people we are hosting an art show at the mortuary. There is always a hesitation and a look that says “Did I just hear you correctly? Did you just say it is at the mortuary?”

    I love how you blend your two worlds as artist and Funeral Celebrant and how, in the blog, you describe the similarity and contrast. I so admire the storyteller in you – whether it be written word, spoken word or through your amazing art. You have me thinking about my own parallels, the melding of my personal and professional life, and my own creative outlets.

    I look forward to your show on the 3rd! It will be a great evening!!

    Becky

  • Ty, I love how you have found a way to merge your passions, your creativity, and your ministry to others. It’s so beautiful and unique. Rarely do we meet people who love their “work” as much as you – you’re such an example of joy & purpose and it’s just contagious when people are around you.

    Thank you so much for writing this piece and highlighting how death, art & life really do have a purpose and how a mortuary isn’t just about death, it’s so very much about life.

    Molly

  • Tom

    Thank you, Ty, for telling me more about you. I will be able to describe you with greater detail along with what you do, as a celebrant, to the families we serve at O’Connor Mortuary.

  • Carrie Bayer

    Thank you so much, Ty. Life & death go hand in hand, we all will ultimately have both. What we do with life & how we view death are crucial to our well being- we can either be afraid of both or we can embrace them & find a greater understanding & comfort for both. I’m very excited that you are having this art show at the mortuary. I feel that the facility has a diversity for accommodating many different types of events & this is a great way to get that word out there. I will be getting married in the mortuary chapel later this year- a first for this company- and some of the families I have served are excited to come to a happy event here. I believe we need to host & welcome more events in the mortuary to show our community that it’s not always a scary place. Thank you for all that you do! Sincerely, Carrie

  • Shasta Cola

    Ty, I think you have such a gift in what you do as a celebrant and it’s wonderful that you genuinely care about the lives you touch. I am sure your art is similarly outstanding!

  • Chuck Ricciardi

    Ty,
    It is always interesting to dissect the way things in life can parallel each other. Even the odd partners of death and art. Our world is filled with dualism, Light, Dark; Day, Night; Life, Death and so on. But one cannot exist without the other, so is it really dualism? I believe a lot of art is born of pain and death, certainly not all but a lot. It is a great exercise when we examine these intertwined existences. Ty I appreciate how you serve our families in need and are able to paint the picture of someone’s life so eloquently with words. It is very powerful and cathartic for our grieving families. I look forward to seeing your artistic talents as well.

    Chuck

  • Anne Anderson Collins

    Ty
    How wonderful to open the current blog and see that you wrote it! All of us here at O’Connor are so excited about the role of the Celebrant, one you have utilized to help so many of our families already.
    I look forward to seeing your art works in person and just contemplating them. People need to feel, not just see and hear, and I know that this is a gift you generously share with as many as will open themselves to it.
    I am so glad we are together in this endeavor in death’s corner of life.

  • Elsa

    Hello Ty,
    I am so great full to have you here with us in assisting our families through their grief Journey. I think what you contribute as a celebrant is truly a gift to be able to tell someone’s story in such an honorable way. Unfortunately, I myself have little to no creativity when it comes to artistic expression, but I really look forward to seeing your creative expression. Looking forward to being at your show!

  • Mitch

    Ty, I look forward to services you do for us.The way you show each person’s life has value and is worth celebrating is terriffic. I look forward to working with you in the future & to seeing your artwork. Thank you for what you do for grieving families.

  • Michael Thomas

    Ty

    I get really excited when I see that I have a service with either you or Keith. You gentlemen are truly class acts, and your care and trust you build with or families is unrivaled. Thank you so much for becoming part of our O’connor family!

    Michael

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Hello Ty,

    We have only met once, but you left quite an impression on me. Thank you for coming to speak with the staff here at O’Connor. I am Patricia Kolstad’s daughter and Michael Thomas’ mother, and we as a family could not appreciate Celebrant’s more. I am so thankful to have you here and working so closely with our Mortuary. I am looking forward to learning more about you and enjoying you’re “other” work. God bless you and what you bring to the masses!!

    kari

  • Rosemary

    Thank you, Ty! Although I work here at O’Connor Mortuary, I have not yet had the opportunity to experience a celebrant service. I have heard so many good things and hope to attend one very soon. Your explanation of how your work and your art relate is particularly meaningful and shows again just how much art is a reflection of life, not something separate. And I really look forward to viewing your artworks next month!

  • Jeff Turner

    Hello Ty,
    It is fascinating to have an insight into your creative process. I would never have imagined the similarity that you described between the two. I am so thankful for our friendship that began this past year. Thank you for the incredible value you bring to the ceremony and the effect and impact it has upon the family, launching them into their grief journey in such a healthy way.

    Blessings upon you,
    Jeff

  • Jenn

    Ty,
    I look forward to the art show, art is full of emotion and so is the experience of losing a loved one so I can see the parallel. I too have been to the cemetery in Paris and most of my photo’s taken were taken there specifically, I have attached one that was a favorite of mine. The work put in to some of those graves and mausoleums is just breathtaking and I can remember some of the most emotionally riveting ones like it was yesterday even though it has been three years. Thank you for sharing your story, see you at the show!

    Jennifer

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Ty,

    What an interesting perception you have with the connection between art and death. I, myself, enjoy the arts very much so and have written papers in the past based on works of Frida Kahlo, Picasso and Van Gogh. I find that I best express my creativity through art. I do not draw or write as much as I do but have found photography as a great medium. I have a previous commitment so I will not be making the art show but I wish you the best.

  • Amy

    Ty,
    It is always a pleasure to see you. I so enjoy when you come and visit or do a service. What you give to the families and friends of our families is priceless. You provide such comfort and care that you would believe you personally knew the person. What you give to the families is truly a gift and I’m sure much more then they ever imagined.
    I too have attended a art show in a cemetery at night. You forget your in a cemetery due to the art and solace that is felt. I am very much looking forward to seeing your art and visiting with you. Thank you for what you do and your heart of gold.
    Amy

  • Christopher Iverson

    Hey Ty,

    When I was in Paris, I did not have the opportunity to visit Père Lachaise, but I read about it and will visit it when I return to Paris in the near future. Death is inescapable so it is natural that it is reflected in our poems, songs, stories and paintings. I wrote a poem entitled “Death As I Saw It One Night” for a writing class I took when I was in college. Even then, death became a referenced theme for my life in the early 1980’s. We all see death but the artist creates a lasting image that lasts long after we are gone.

  • Shayna Mallik

    Ty,
    Thank you for your great post. I love how you compared your job as a Funeral Celebrant and a Painter. I personally have never heard one of your services for our families, but I was in attendance when you and Keith Page came to the Mortuary and taught our staff. I was taken away by the “Mock” Funeral you and Keith Page did for us. I truly felt like I knew this person. Thank you so much for everything you do, and I cant wait to see you art!!

    Shayna

  • Joe Lavoie

    Ty
    Thank you so much for sharing , I see art as also a way to tell a story just as you do with your service to the families you serve. I truly appreciate you as a celebrant and understand what an impactful storyteller you truly are. Yes I look forward to seeing you the evening of April 3rd. Thanks so much Joe Lavoie

  • Diana

    Ty,

    I don’t have the opportunity to work with you but I have met you a few times and it is always a pleasure. I like the fact that you found a correlation between the 2 things that you do best. It is interesting because it gives me a new perspective as well. Thank you for sharing.

  • Neil

    Hi Ty –
    I am thrilled that we will be able to share your art, your stories and YOU! I have always admired you, you have such a deep sense of compassion and love for our community.
    My creative outlet is mainly thru work with Becky, Molly & Jeff, we have so many dynamic challenges, I love trying to see what solutions we can create. Art & life/death go hand in hand since the dawn of time. Out western society is probably one of the few societies that has managed to keep them separate. I look forward to seeing you at the Art show!