Last week, I had the humbling honour and privilege of leading a burial and memorial service for Louise Laurens – Lou. She was an extraordinary and inspirational woman. I want everyone to hear her story because the tragedy of a young mother dying from breast cancer also has the potential to bring about a seed change in the life of all who knew her and all who hear about her.
Lou died at 41 from inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of breast cancer, which was diagnosed shortly after the birth of her son Rupert, who is now 16 months old.
I am feeling increasingly saddened and alarmed at the number of young women who are being diagnosed with cancer. I wish to support women and their families who are navigating this devastating diagnosis and trying to make sense of it. Although I don’t have all the answers, I think that we need to be proactive and support each other. We need to find a way to walk this life as a nurturing journey even when this disease is having an impact on our lives. Let us all take inspiration from Lou’s life and let it be a call to action so that we can inspire others throughout our lives and beyond.
Lou’s committal service was a quiet and beautiful family burial in unexpected, gleaming Welsh sunshine. The site and the ceremony were chosen to reflect her respect and love of nature, her grounded spirituality and her deep connection to the land. The words used were developed specifically to blend the beliefs of Lou’s partner, her mother, father and sister. Traditional and contemporary readings were chosen and simple ritual was used to provide a beautiful and supportive funeral to meet the wishes of Louise and her family. The family chose to have the funeral and committal they wanted. They had the committal ceremony first as a private event outside, rather than in a chapel of rest or church.
We often do not think it is possible to have the funeral that suits our wishes. We spend years getting our weddings “right”, for ourselves and our families, but spend little or no time thinking about our funeral.
Lou’s burial ceremony is a reminder to us all that we can have the funeral and burial that we want. We should all feel free and able to tell our loved ones what our spiritual beliefs are and what kind of funeral we want. Knowing our wishes will help them with the grieving process and make life easier for them at a difficult time. Have you told your loved ones what your wishes are?
The love and support for Lou and her family was palpable throughout the committal ceremony. Lou’s close family were able to affirm, show and tell Lou just how much they loved her at the ceremony and also support each other at her funeral. Through the last few weeks of illness Lou’s mother and father had to nurse their daughter in a way that no parent every imagines they would have to. Their dedication and love for their daughters and each other has been completely inspirational to observe.
Family and friends have rallied around the family to support Lou’s partner and baby providing food and gifts to try and make things easier. Lou had said that she truly felt how much she was loved by the overt displays of love, support and kindness during her illness. How many of us are sure that we are loved and supported? This depth of love and dedication can inspire us all is to remember to affirm, show and tell our family and friends just how much we love them whilst we have the chance. When was the last time you truly showed love and appreciation for your family members and friends outside times of need?
At the public memorial, the impact that Lou had on the local community and beyond was clear. She was an incredibly talented vocalist, performer, musical director and choir mistress. She was a creative, yet subtle community activist who inspired others to live fully and burst out of their comfort zone through music. The venue for the memorial, the Small World Theatre, was full of friends, family, choir members, artists and performers, who were all inspired by Lou in life. Three of her choirs combined to sing amazing and inspirational songs.
Poems were read; a heart opening, honest and beautiful eulogy was given, dedications, silent prayers, and love filled thoughts poured into the space. Then guests were invited to eat, drink and add to the beautiful beach shrine that will adorn her grave. This Siegfried Sassoon poem was one of the readings and sums up the feeling of the ceremony.
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on--on--and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away ... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
One of the most generous and beautiful gifts that Lou left as a legacy was her final response to her illness. Lou had taken a very difficult journey and had gone through so many difficult emotions during her diagnosis and treatment. However, she stated that she had reached a state of peace during the last few weeks of her illness. She stated that she had reached a “state of love” and acceptance. Although many will find it difficult to accept the loss of her physical presence in their lives, her expression of peace, love and acceptance will support people to cope with this transition.
It is my hope that Lou’s life journey will inspire more of us to reach a state of peace, love and acceptance in our lives. It is a challenge to use the tragic and difficult moments of life to take us to that place. It is a strong and difficult call to action but I feel that Lou brings that gift to our door. We have a choice whether to open the door and accept the challenge. Are you willing to take up the challenge to find peace?
Lou’s funeral service was the first full funeral that I had ever supported as an Interfaith Minister and Spiritual Counsellor in training. I felt humbled to support this process for Lou and her beloved family. Lou and her family have changed my life. I cannot be grateful enough for putting their faith and trust in me and the process.
This year, I had already made a commitment to my yes, yes, yes life. Even with this commitment - I had been procrastinating about getting my programmes out, saying what I do in the world and what is important to me. I love my family and friends. I love ritual and ceremony. I love that I can see the balance of light and shadow in others and myself. I have spiritual and emotional gifts to share which help people navigate the inevitable ups and downs of life.
I hope that Lou’s story will inspire people to live their lives to the full and make preparations for an unknown future. Her story is a reminder to: tell our family and friends how much we love them; sort out and share our spiritual beliefs and wishes with our families; know that it is possible to create ceremonies that meet the needs of all religions, faiths and none; arrange our wills and personal affairs; find peace amongst the ups and downs of life; live our lives fully and expand our comfort zones.
Let us be honest about the grief, pain, joy, relief and full range of emotions that we may feel with the death of a loved one. Let us find ways to open up to a state of peace amongst the pain and sadness. Let us speak out about our hopes, fears and aspirations with those who want to support us. Let us commit to loving our loved ones, the world and ourselves completely.
Thank you Lou for the gifts that you have given to me and the world. I wish to share these gifts with others. I feel that Lou’s story can help and inspire so many people. Lou’s family asked for donations to Marie Curie instead of flowers. If you wish to donate to Marie Curie in Lou’s honour please click here. For more information on interfaith ministry and the One Spirit Interfaith Foundation providing support for people of all faiths and none through ceremonies and spiritual counselling click here.