Celebrate a Life Well Lived
It's Okay to Defer Your Loved One's Celebration of Life
Allen and Christine Ransome own and operate Cheers for the Years, an Okanagan company that helps families plan and hold celebrations of life for their loved ones.
The Ransomes are also dealing with something that many Okanagan residents are facing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have a loved one in a care home—Allen’s 95-year-old mother—whom cannot be visited and is suffering from dementia. There is a very real chance the Ransomes will not see her again.
That is why the extended family decided to get together on FaceTime and prepare for her celebration of life.
“It was a difficult decision, but one we knew we had to move forward with,” Christine writes in a recent blog post. “We had discussed with her many times as a family, her need for us all to remember, rejoice and embrace all the moments we shared and the remarkable moments she lived as a young woman in war-torn Europe, prior to her coming to Canada and rebuilding another life.
“We knew she was unable to join us in this beautiful celebration of life. But we knew that this is what she would want. As a loving mother, amazing mother-in-law, awesome oma and beautiful great grand oma, this is how she would want to be remembered.
“Candles were lit, wine was poured and music was played. Every photo, every song, every laughter, every tear, brought back a kaleidoscope of beautiful memories for each and every one of us.”
All of those memories will be put together for a celebration of life when the pandemic passes and families are able to gather again.
“When you’re not able to actually see them, you can share memories about them and if you ever did want to do a celebration of life, it would all be prepared,” Christine says.
Another agonizing effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is a family’s inability to have a full funeral due to the government’s physical distancing recommendations. Cheers for the Years plans celebrations of life that take place well after someone’s passing, and unfortunately now there is nothing but time if you want to put together an event that will honour your loved one’s life.
“Let’s not rush through it,” Allen says. “Let’s use this time for planning and make it super special when everyone can be together.”
Anyone wishing to have a celebration of life will sit down with the Ransomes and go through a proprietary questionnaire in an effort to customize the event right down to the last detail. Cheers for the Years will take care of everything, including securing the venue, videographer and photographer, along with creating pamphlets, favours and picture collages.
Cheers for the Years also offers a “Celebrate MY Life” event for those who want to have their celebration of life while they are still alive or have a say in what they want their party to look like after they have passed.
The Ransomes are able to conduct a consultation through video conferencing during the pandemic.
COVID-19 UPDATE October 26, 2020
Cheers For The Years
Celebration of Life Event Planning
When planning an event, keep group sizes small; large gatherings are strongly discouraged.
Can I organize a Celebration of Life event?
When someone dies and you need to look after their affairs, you will need to make decisions about what to do next. The After a Death website can help you through this process. Find out the first steps, discover support options, and learn about funerals and wills. Review the funerals and memorial services page for more information on organizing a service and steps to take to stay safe during a service.
A Celebration of Life event for someone who has died can happen in a safe way. You can use the following guidance organize and safely hold a Celebration of Life service.
Remember: the things we need to do to keep people safe are not forever, but they are very important for now, to protect everyone’s health. There will be a time when we can all come together again.
Organizing a Celebration of Life event
There are some simple things that people can to do to plan a Celebration of Life event during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Make sure anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or who needs to self-isolate stays home
Anyone who feels sick should stay home. If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, use the Ministry of Health’s online self-assessment tool at covid19.thrive.health or call 8-1-1 to determine if you need further assessment for COVID-19 testing by a health-care provider or at a local collection centre. Read more about what to do if you feel sick here. Anyone who has travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days needs to stay home and self-isolate for two weeks.
Include people who cannot attend the Celebration of Life event
Think about people who cannot come to the event, such as people who are sick, people who live in another city, people who are quarantined, or people who are at higher risk of complications of COVID-19. Consider streaming the service online so that these people can take part. Some people may want to wait until the pandemic is over to hold a Celebration of Life service so that there is no limit to the number of people who can come and no risk of infection.
Plan to have the Celebration of Life service in a large, open space
Try to have the event outdoors if you can, with lots of fresh air and space for people to keep their distance from each other. If you have to have the event indoors, try to find the largest space you can, open doors and windows for better air circulation.
Make sure that no more than 50 people come together at once
The larger the group is, the higher the risk is for COVID-19 to spread. This is why events cannot have more than 50 people at once. This number includes everyone except for staff who work at the site. Whether the event is 50 people or 15 people, try to keep your physical distance from others who are not in your household. It is easy to forget guidance when surrounded by people you know and love, especially in a situation like a Celebration of Life service. Nods and waves are ways you can greet others and offer support.
If you want to hold several events, think about scheduling people to attend the events at different times. Remember the maximum number in each group is 50 people. It is especially important for family members who attend multiple events to maintain physical distance or wear a non-medical mask. There should be no overlaps between attendees except for family members who need to attend multiple events. Ask people to wait inside their vehicles prior to events and not gather in the parking lot outside of their cars.
At the Celebration of Life service
Keep things clean
Before and after the service, wipe down surfaces that are touched by a lot of people, such as door knobs, light switches, cupboard handles, and tables. Use a product that is effective at killing viruses. Information on how to clean and disinfect surfaces is available here.
Make sure there are places where people can clean their hands and dispose of used tissues
Put hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol at the entry and exit, near your loved one’s personal corner of hobbies, and near any food services. Make sure that washrooms have soap and running water to wash hands and paper towels or hand dryers to dry hands. Encourage people who visit to clean their hands:
When they arrive
Before they touch their face
Before they eat
After they touch things like the display photos, used tissues, or doorknobs, and
After they use the washroom.
A poster with instructions on how to clean hands properly is available here.
People who want to wear masks need to remember that they still need to wash their hands regularly and keep their distance from others. There are instructions on how to wear masks on the BCCDC website.
Singing and choirs
Singing is a very important activity for many people. Although it is a higher risk activity, there are ways to make singing safer:
For people who are well enough to attend services, stay two metres apart.
Try to be outdoors wherever possible.
If it is held indoors, open windows or doors to help ventilate the room. Limit the number of people who are singing and limit the time spent singing.
Consider breaking into smaller groups that sing together for shorter periods of time.
Consider having a soloist or a small group of singers perform for the audience.
Try humming along to recorded music or along with a soloist or small group of singers.
Do not share microphones, music stands, or other equipment.
Children can play together safely
Children who attend the Celebration of LIfe service may want to play with other children. This is safe as long as they wash their hands before and after they play, and the time spent playing is shorter rather than longer. Try to have children play outside with supervision. Try to have children play with others who are in their bubble or usual playgroup.
Food and drinks can be served
Food and drinks can be served safely. People can serve their own food if they are able to wash their hands before they touch food or utensils. You can also have one person serve others. Wipe down and clean things that are shared, like utensils and condiments.
Help Public Health
Write down the name and phone number of people who attend the funeral or memorial service event(s). This will help public health with contact tracing should an attendee be found to have COVID-19 and others are exposed. One person could do this, or visitors could sign a sheet or submit information online. Make sure there is hand sanitizer available so people can clean their hands if using a shared pen.
MEMORIES OF SARS 2003
Written by Christine Ransome March, 2020
"The SARS virus outbreak in 2003 that infected 375 people in Toronto, killing 44, left behind a widespread physical reminder of that dark time. While they have become often out of order and otherwise neglected in recent years, dispensers for hand sanitizer are still found in most public buildings at their entrances and dotted along their hallways."
Written by Canadian correspondent Ian Austen. Jan. 31, 2020
I lived in Toronto then.
My three children were aged 13 to 17 years of age. I was alone and scared.
My husband had already made the move to Barbados to work with the bank as Head of Offshore Financing. We had made the cavalier decision that I would stay at home, sell our house and allow our two eldest sons to finish high school in Toronto and move onto university in Canada.
In words, it all made so much sense, but life disputed all of our decisions.
It started slowly. But how fast it escalated.
No movie theatres.
Implement Social Distancing
And how do you do all of that as a mother of three young teenagers biting at the bit to party in whatever shape or form they could.
Life was frightening.
The Toronto Star would land on my doorstep every morning.
I opened my door with trepidation each morning, so afraid of the words which were about to pounce at me.
Spread of infection.
Slamming the door closed was not an option. I would pick up the paper, reluctantly read it over a much needed cup of coffee and send my children off to school.
In perhaps the same stage of fear as present mothers send children to school in the aftermath of yet another school shooting.
That was not our worry then, but SARS was.
It was a Toronto thing, and we were Toronto.
It totally changed our world.
I was a teacher at the time, in a private school nearby.
Teaching kindergarten which I loved, but traumatized with my professional and personal need to keep my beautiful little students safe.
How do I do that?
First meeting of staff with Health Ontario, where we we are asked to implement and surreal guidelines.
Children must wash their hands whenever necessary.
And how do they do that well?
Simple answer was given.
Sing Happy Birthday.
Not just once, but twice, and then you know your hands are clean.
Make it fun and happy. Happy Birthday To You can be sung to anyone you want.
It can be sung to yourself.
Your mum and dad.
Your best friend.
Just sing it twice and your hands will be clean.
And so the washrooms were filled with a chorus of beautiful little voices singing this magical song. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you.
And we did it.
We Beat SARS
We did it. Every contribution helped.
Every change in lifestyle, small or large, helped us do it.
Every age, young or old, helped us do it.
Every Happy Birthday sung, helped us do it.
Every single effort played such a part in this role of suppressing this terrible virus, SARS
And we can and will all do it all over again with CORONAVIRUS.
I left Toronto shortly after the SARS epidemic in Toronto when my children were all placed in places they should be.
I was scared and traumatized by all that had passed before me.
I truly didn't want to move, but Barbados was waiting for me.
I was leaving my country, my family, my safety, to move once again to a whole new world.
But I did it.
I sold my home and moved to Barbados to start another life.
I needed to be with my husband who was working there and rebuilding our life once again.
I moved my young daughter with me and tried to rebuild a whole new world.
I wanted to contribute some way to life there.
But life was so different there. I was constantly told how lucky I was to be living in Barbados, but life was different. So different from Toronto.
I had left all my family and friends behind and had dragged my daughter down to a whole different world in the Caribbean, in order that I still had something to hold on to.
I offered to volunteer at the hospital.
Being a teacher, I thought I could contribute someway to enhancing the life of children in the hospital.
When I lived in Ottawa, many years ago, I volunteered at the Hospital there, working on the Children's Cancer Unit. We did arts and crafts, we read stories and we talked.
And we cleansed.
I would change street clothing into hospital clothing. All was sanitized. It was all perfectly clear and normal. All as it should be.
But Barbados hit me with a bang.
I so needed to belong and contribute.
Volunteering in the hospital would help to assimilate me into local community as well as the Canadian Women's Group which was a strong presence on the island.
I needed to be strong and do this.
But I so questioned my motives.
My first day.
Very surreal in a Third World Country hospital.
No change of clothes.
Just hot. Very hot.
Shortage of staff.
I arrived in the staff room...
Secured a locker, beside which there was another locker marked SARS UNIT.
One tiny cupboard allocated to the onset of SARS.
My heart sank.
Coming from Toronto and what I had experienced, I knew that this would never work.
One little cupboard of supplies would never conquer SARS on this beautiful island.
I walked through the children's ward.
It was hot...so hot. Babies were crying. Cribs were wet and often dirty.
The stench of urine in the air overcame me. Fans were blowing, but not enough.
And the flies...too many flies.
I stopped off on my tour at a few cribs. I attempted to cuddle some little ones, but discouraged from doing so, due to sanitation reasons.
My personal cleanliness far succeeded what I had around me, and I knew that these babies really needed to be cuddled.
I left my volunteer position.
It totally grieved me to do so, but the thought of bringing infection back to my family, grieved me even more.
I struggled for so long leaving my volunteer duties behind, but worked hard at compensating in many other ways.
My husband and I worked hard for many years, sponsoring a golf tournament to raise money for the children of Barbados.
Canada's Birthday, July 1st, was the highlight of our year.
Our beautiful golf course was embraced with the love of Canada. It was a blanket of red and white.
Flags. Clothing . Decorated golf carts. It was all about Canada and raising money for these wonderful children. And we raised so much money.
So, I know we did our bit. We did as much as we could.
And now I worry.
I have since left Barbados and returned to Canada, but I feel so sorry about how the CORONAVIRUS will affect this beautiful island and the people who live there.
When SARS hit Toronto, we were not prepared. As big a city as we were, and so medically educated in many, many ways, SARS blindsided us.
But we all got through it and survived.
Yes, terrible heartaches had to be endured. I'm so grateful that my family was not one of them, but other families were.
CORONAVIRUS will take many families with it. It already has, and we know it will take many more.
The newspaper on the doormat has been replaced by the news update on the internet, but news is news in no matter what form it takes.
The headlines will get better.
Our world will eventually return to normal.
And we will all reload, renew our energy and prepare ourselves for the next challenge which will no doubt come at as further down the road, but they will be conquered.
Let's always remember the good times.
Here's to our beautiful families.
And here's to their memories.