The cairn at the end of the journey

Charles Cowling



The cairns along  a wilderness trail are built of rocks of various shapes and sizes. The memorial cairn at the end of a life is also a composite, but an experiential one. It is made up of the memories, the thoughts and the feelings of all who are gathered in the one place together. It is a recollection (a re-collection) of what was for a time together and now is scattered and scattering. Here is the one we knew. Here is how our lives were touched by that life. Here is what we think and how we feel. 

The words spoken in the literal funeral or memorial service are not themselves the marker. The words spoken are evokers of experiences — thoughts, feelings, memories — within the people of the gathered group. These experiences are the memorial cairn. 

At the end of a life we compose a symphony, an ordered creation, whose notes and themes are the experiences of the people gathered. Themes dark and bright are sounded to recollect and to order the impact of the the life of the one who has died — honestly, fully, tenderly — and in the spirit of thanksgiving for the quality of that life. 

Rev Roy Phillips quoted in Dealing Creatively With Death.

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Wendy Coulton

This is magical. There is something special at a funeral when mourners nod or smile in recognition of the person being spoken of or there is a collective laugh at a memory or characteristic they fondly relate to. Complex threads are brought together with the different relationships and experiences shared with the person who has died. It may sometimes be dark or unattractive but it must be respectfully honest.

X Piry
X Piry

This is fantastic. Really gives us celebrants a good perspective. Thanks so much for posting it.


I want to mount that on a wall somewhere as a constant reminder, Charles. Spot on.

A Celeb
A Celeb


gloria mundi

The second paragraph is splendid, should be on The Perfect Celebrant”s Training Course. It’s a thought worth referring to, or having in the back of the mind, whenever we are discussing our work, or indeed, talking to families and congregations.