The Legacy Keeper

The Legacy Keeper: A Celebrant’s Gift to Me

My brother Jim had died on February 19th just over a month ago. The Sunday after my family gathered on that warm afternoon to share all of the stories we had accumulated throughout his lifetime. We (2 of my brother’s children, all 4 of mine + grandkids galore) had come to meet Keith Page, our Funeral Celebrant. I had briefly met Keith last year when he and Ty Rose, another Celebrant, came to our Mortuary to provide us with a glimpse of what a Celebrant service looks like. Little did I know that one year later he would be sitting in front of us, promising to tell our story.

Keith arrived on time. His dark hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail and his smile shown through a dark beard speckled with white . . . a profound sense of comfort settled throughout the crowded room . . .

via Pinterest

via Pinterest

After circling the room meeting our clan, he explained that he was here to capture the essence of the father, brother and uncle who had died. He wanted to hear not only the stories filled with life, love and fun, but also the heartbreaking truths about who this man was and the effect that he had on our lives. He was here to tell our story but, more importantly, to tell my brother’s story. A story of love and loss, heartache and pain. Of wanting to do good, but never figuring out how. A story of someone lost and then found. A story, when told would heal our pain. I didn’t know just how that would happen but I trusted the man who cared enough to let us speak the truth.

I shared my memories of my brother, of his life as a child, how proud he was to be a Corporal in the Marine Corps and serve his country in Vietnam. I recalled his struggles with PTSD, his addictions to opiates, and the lifelong demons that held onto him. I watched as Keith wrote on that big yellow legal pad with a bold, black marker. It seemed strange at first, but then I realized that he was writing with permanence and sweeping strokes the words that made up the legacy of my brother’s life.

Photo Courtesy of ©

Photo Courtesy of ©

As each of my kids brought their uncle into view, I was taken back by what they remembered. His favorite clichés, the cars he drove, his obsession with Peterbilt Trucks and the little girl slumber parties he crashed, performing his famous Elvis impression with a hairbrush for a microphone and dancing with each little girl. With a tube of lipstick he conned out of me, he would sign their little arms with “Elvis”. He was a wonderful playmate and they adored him. As I listened to them remember, tears sprang and earlier, happier memories flooded my soul. This was the man I wanted to remember. These were the days filled with life and laughter.

Photo Courtesy of ©

Photo Courtesy of ©

Then Keith looked over to my niece, Jim’s daughter Jayme, and said, “I haven’t heard from you yet.” She paused, and then said words that broke my heart, “I’ve been listening to all of the stories my cousins have been telling . . . and I don’t have any good memories to tell.” Too many broken promises had led his children into estrangement from their dad. I moved him from Oregon to California with a small hope of reconciliation but nothing changed until the night of his death when Jayme came. Keith asked if she would like to write a letter to her dad, she said she would but didn’t want to read it at the service herself. Keith lovingly said, “I will read your words.” Three and a half hours later, with legal pad in hand, Keith left us.

I was exhausted, emotionally and physically spent, and as I looked around the room, so was my family. There were tears and hugs, sighs and laughter, as we continued to recount the memories that filled the room that day.

Photo Courtesy of ©

Photo Courtesy of ©

Out of the stories emerged the man I wanted to remember, the man that I wanted to honor. I saw that he was worthy and that I was now the keeper of his legacy.

I miss him. When thoughts of him come rushing at me  there will be tears and moments of great sadness. But I do know that for our family, using Celebrant helped us to honor and pay tribute to my brother. After that family meeting my heart felt renewed and at peace. We had created his legacy.


|| what do you think?

– How does this idea of the “Family Meeting” strike you?

Is it intimidating or inviting?

– Would you like to meet Keith? Click here & come to our Art Show!


By | 2014-03-25T22:50:11-07:00 March 25th, 2014|Ceremonies, Inspiration|62 Comments


  1. Carrie Bayer March 27, 2014 at 9:28 am - Reply

    Dear Pat, I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother. I know how much you loved & cared for him. I’m so glad you had a celebrant service as this has brought about so much healing for your family. I love what celebrants do & am excited for the word to truly get out there about them. Once a family sees them in action, word of mouth is going to spread their message like wildfire. The family meeting is crucial to the success of a celebrant service. But it also begins the grief & healing processes on a positive note- so valuable! You are a true testament to why celebrants are so important & to how ceremony makes such a different experience of loss. Love, Carrie

    • Patricia Kolstad April 2, 2014 at 9:07 am - Reply

      Carrie . . I totally agree with your response. I do hope that we can create a more focused awareness of Celebrants and how important they are to families who might otherwise choose not to have a ceremony. Even as long as I have been involved in funeral service, I was simply going to have a visitation and a graveside service. Looking back now, what a missed opportunity for my family if I had chosen that path. What a glorious day it was as we morned the loss of my sweet brother, but we also had the chance to laugh and remember his very funny and caring side. His daughter, Jayme, really got the chance to hear those stories play out as Keith put my brother’s legacy to words. I will never forget how my brother’s death brought our family together . . in love and understanding of a man who tried his best to be good. Our healing journey is palpable and every time since the service, his daughter and I talk about him surrounded by a new wave of compassion and love. Thank you Carrie, for all that you do!

  2. Joe Lavoie March 27, 2014 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Thank You so much for sharing and again allowing me to help serve your family for your brother jim. I was very pleased when I heard you would use a celebrant for your service they are very powerful in telling the whole story of our loved ones and very important to the entire family. I absolutely encourage this meeting with the family and again a celebrant helps every family on the journey to healing their heart, i say this would be something every family should do and they will find it to be very inviting. I appreciate your story of your brother and the time spent with Keith.
    Sincerely , Joe Lavoie

    • Patricia Kolstad April 2, 2014 at 8:53 am - Reply

      Joe. . . I so appreciate all that you did to make my brother’s service so very honoring. I will never forget your kindness to my family. I have such respect for all of our arrangers and how you guide us through all of the difficult decisions that need to be made. I felt so at ease knowing that everything I ever wanted for my brother was going to happen. His service really honored him, just as its suppose to be. I will forever be a proponent of Funeral Celebrants. They are so much apart of the healing journey!
      Thank you .

  3. Cheryl Lanterna March 27, 2014 at 9:47 am - Reply

    Beautifully and eloquently
    written, Patty. All of these wonderful memories are part of the Legacy your brother left. HIs children and future generations of his family are also his Legacy. He lives on in them. Each time you see their faces, I am sure you will see him too. You have such a loving heart.

    • Patricia Kolstad April 1, 2014 at 7:58 am - Reply

      Thank you so much for your friendship and for being there at my sweet brother’s funeral. There was so much to say about him, and our Celebrant, Keith Page, was such an integral part of weaving his life into a legacy. We, as a family are so grateful for the gift that Keith gave. I don’t believe that we could have told his story more eloquently. The good and the not so good are all part of our life’s story. Keith gave us the opportunity to love my brother even in the depths of his despair and his demons. It gave his daughter, Jayme, and chance to fall in love with her father . . . maybe for the first time!
      We are blessed as a family and know now that Celebrants are a gift!

  4. Becky Finch Lomaka March 27, 2014 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Hi Pat,,
    Thank you for sharing and allowing us to become a part of your family experience. Jim’s service was so beautiful! Even though I never had the opportunity to meet him, I left feeling like I know him. What a true blessing and gift your brother gave his daughter through his death. Although he was not able to always be there for her when he was alive, he left her with one of the greatest gifts a father could give to a daughter – the gift of family and legacy.

    Love you!

    • Patricia Kolstad April 1, 2014 at 7:51 am - Reply

      Becky . . .
      Thank you so much for being there for me and listening to all of my thoughts about my little brother. I miss him so much . . more than I realized. I have watched the video several times and it fills my heart with joy and sadness. Interesting how we can combine those two so expertly.
      Keith was so very comforting and compassionate as we moved through his life at our family meeting. It was an eye-opener for me because as I watched my kids tell their stories a flood of memories came back like a tidal wave. It was overwhelming at times and exhausting, but worth every minute of the three and a half hours we spent with him. I will forever be an advocate of Celebrants. I know the difference it made in our service, and I know that it can create the beginning of the healing journey.
      You and I share a unique bond in that we have both lost our brothers. May our love and memories keep them forever in our hearts!

  5. Chuck RIcciardi March 27, 2014 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story. For when we share our journey with others, many times we help them with theirs. I’m so glad that your family is on the path of healing. Celebrants like Keith have a wonderful gift of being able to skillfully tell the story of one’s life. Not hide from the bad and make the deceased a saint, but honest story telling, the good, the bad and the ugly. In 60 minutes I felt like I knew your brother’s story, in all it’s glory, pain and sadness. I love you and hope you obtain the peace you deserve in this world!.

    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      My sweet, dear friend. . . my life as been enriched because you have been in it. And having you there the whole time . . even at the graveside was more than I could have ever hoped for. Thank you for leading us all on paths of healing. Without the 4 of you we may have never looked at a Celebrant the way we do now. What a blessing Keith was to our family, and what a transformation I am seeing in Jayme’s life. My brother gave us all a gift . . . he brought our family together. He helped us to understand the importance of loving without boundaries. We are moving forward in a healthy way . . and I am so grateful for that. My sweet brother was given the honor he deserved . . because he was worthy.
      I love you dearly,

  6. Tom March 27, 2014 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    I attended Jim’s service and felt like I knew him personally, because of the way Keith shared the stories about him. I teared as I heard them. The idea of bringing a family together is a testament to the power of healing through the stories they share.

    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 3:51 pm - Reply

      Tom . .
      Thank you for attending my brother’s service, and thank you also for your kind words. I am so very blessed by the outpouring of love that was shown to our family on that day. And I am also thankful that the stories that were shared that morning, touched lives. My brother will forever live within me, and as I watch the video, I will remember that you were there!

  7. Kari Lyn Leslie March 27, 2014 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Though we’re still adjusting to the loss, the tide of grief and saddness has receded greatly because of our Celebration of Life. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. I am so thankful that Keith was able to paint such an amazing picture of Unkie. My fondest memories will be that of love, laughter, and tears, as we recounted his life. It couldn’t have been any better.


    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 3:48 pm - Reply

      My sweet daughter . .
      It was, as I mentioned, a very exhausting time for all of us, but nonetheless, it was needed. We didn’t know it at the time, but we sure do now. It truly begins the healing journey. And as you have witnessed, it brings redemption to a man who I believe, felt he didn’t deserve it. I have watched the video several times and I feel so comforted, even through the sadness, by listening and visualizing his life. Keith blessed our family, and I know you feel the same when I say that we shall never forget the kindness he has shown all of us.
      Love you dearly,

  8. Michael Thomas March 27, 2014 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    Grammy Pat

    I’m so happy I got the opportunity to be involved in that meeting. You hear so much about those meetings during services for others, but actually experiencing it is totally different. I’m so glad we had Keith come, as I through work have already generated a huge amount of trust in him, and this solidified it.

    Love you

    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      I was so very proud when you mentioned in the arrangement that you wanted to have Keith Page be our celebrant. Even though I had only met him once in a morning training, I knew he would be perfect for our family. You are right by saying that when you hear about the meeting, you can’t fully understand the very huge importance that it gives the Celebrant as he prepares the Life Story. He really becomes part of us. He knows us deeply, warts and all! I will be a lifelong advocate of Celebrants from Unkie’s service on. We need to shout it from the rooftops!

  9. Shayna Mallik March 27, 2014 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    Wow what a touching and heart felt story about your experience in this difficult time. I love how you describe the family meeting and how you felt from beginning, middle, and end. I am very happy that Keith brought you all together and heard all stories from everybody. I know how difficult this time is even though its been over a month it doesn’t change how our emotions feel. You are such a brave and powerful women and I admire the courage you have and how you have been there for your brother and now for your kids, niece and grandkids. You are truly amazing.

    Love you
    Shayna <3

    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 3:27 pm - Reply

      Shayna . . thank you for your response to the blog.
      Caregiving on any level is exhausting. And I have great admiration for those who care for their spouses or siblings over many years. When my brother died, I felt like my purpose had died with him. Even though it was only for a little more than 8 months, I missed those days when I would be with him, or when I brought him to my home for the week-end. Honoring his life in the way that we did was what he deserved. He would have never believed that folks would be there to honor him the way we did. Keith was a huge part in telling his story and bringing to life the man that we knew as “Unkie”. I will forever be grateful for that special Sunday afternoon when our family gathered to tell his story!
      Love you too!

  10. Neil O'Connor March 27, 2014 at 5:30 pm - Reply

    Hi Pat –
    I am glad you choose to have a funeral service for your brother Jim. No person is perfect, no person will ever be. We all have a story that needs to be told. I hope your family’s journey is reflective of life and healing.

    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 3:15 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Neil . .
      Your friendship and constant support has been a lifeline for me these past 20 plus years. I know that bringing Keith to meet with my family that day was the beginning of healing. The stories told and the comments made were not always easy to listen to or accept, but we did. Truth can bring healing, and I have already seen it in his daughter, Jayme. From now until my own funeral service, I will be an advocate of Funeral Celebrants when a family needs someone to speak on their behalf. As you mentioned, we all have a story that needs to be told. Are we brave enough to let the truth heal our broken hearts? I know it can!

  11. Molly Keating March 28, 2014 at 9:04 am - Reply

    Auntie Pat,
    This is probably one of my favorite blogs so far this year. I think you hit on something so important, that it’s up to the family to come together and piece the story of their loved one together through memory, pain, laughter and truth. Your family wove a beautifully honest story of Jim’s life that didn’t cheapen any of the pain he went through. What a tribute, to not diminish the hardships of life, but to recall them with love, understanding, and forgiveness at the end. It was perfect.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with us.


    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 3:09 pm - Reply

      Molly . .
      Thank you for your sweet words and your support. As you know, my brother was a challenge, and yet I felt at peace knowing that, even on the worst of days, I needed to show love and compassion. I’m so very thankful for all of our O’Connor Family that supported and loved us through that time. And for my Grandson, Michael, for stepping up and saying that we needed Keith to be our Celebrant. If only I could get the message out to the masses that in death, story telling becomes the Legacy of the loved one. It becomes what you pass down through the generation. The video of my brothers service, his life and his struggles, I know, will be something that I hope my great grandchildren will be able to see. I feel so comforted knowing that we “did the right thing” to honor my brother. I also know that his daughter, Jayme, feels the very same way. What a miracle took place in her life. But that’s a story for another day!
      Auntie Pat

  12. Anne March 28, 2014 at 9:27 am - Reply

    It is interesting how our paths have intertwined over and over. Long before we began running the front office together 18 years ago, we discovered that we both worked at World Savings in Lynwood, one year apart. We also discovered that our daughters both attended Bethany Schools, one year apart. Now I find it significant that we are both experiencing personal grief, one year apart.
    Your service for Jim was so touching and meaningful. I am so glad you did it just how you did it.

    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 3:02 pm - Reply

      Annie . . It’s always a blessing talking with you. We do have so many life similarities. Thank you for being there for me and my family. It was such a life honoring service. One that none of us will ever forget. I watch the video and even through the sadness, a smile come over my face and I feel at peace.

  13. Erin Fodor March 28, 2014 at 5:54 pm - Reply


    I am so honored to have been able to be working your families service. I get to see Keith a lot in action, but to know the family he is helping, gave me a deeper respect
    for what he really does. The way he is able to connect is second to none. I
    wish I could’ve used his services when my father and uncle were killed. I will always keep a celebrant in mind. I think it is an inviting time when Keith wants to have a sit down with you. So he can gather as much information to tell your loved ones story. To help your family heal, to pay tribute, to create an experience that will stay with you forever.



    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 2:59 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Erin.
      My family and I were blessed to see your sweet face there and to know you would take care of every need. My brother, as you heard, was complicated, and struggled with life and family. Being able to share HIS story as we were able to reflect, gave us the first steps in healing some of the disconnects we had with him. I miss him everyday, and have watched the video several times. My memories are precious and I will hold him close to my heart forever. Thank you for being there for me and my family. We will never forget you!

  14. Lauren March 30, 2014 at 9:24 am - Reply

    What a great memory to have with all your family members gathered to talk about a man who had such an impact on your families life!

    This post has made me rethink the term family meeting and to see the effect a celebrant has: they help create a space that allows people to be heard and honestly and openly share their memories.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post!

    • Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 2:54 pm - Reply

      Lauren . . the “family meeting” you have in the arrangement, in some ways, is much like the one we had with Keith. You bring comfort and empathy to those who have yet to show you their very real, raw feelings. For my family, there was a sense of peace and healing just getting everything “out in the open!” I know that the families we serve feel that same sense of peace knowing you are going to take care of everything they want. I highly encourage the use of a Celebrant when the need arises. They are a gift . . . as you are!

  15. Patricia Kolstad March 30, 2014 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    My Sweet Cousin . .
    Thank you so much for commenting on my Blog. I’m so glad that you were able to see the webcast and feel somewhat like you were there with us. We all have a story to tell, and his was told with all the love we could muster. Our meeting with Keith was like a healing balm to my soul. It was such a very sad day for me, but as I look back, I know that it has given me great peace of mind. He was so loved, and honored.
    I love you so very much!

  16. Fitz March 31, 2014 at 6:26 am - Reply

    Hi Pat,
    What an incredible transformational service you and your family (with Keith’s help:-) arranged to honor all facets of your brother’s life. It’s been amazing to watch how that one decision – to have a viewing and celebrant service – has impacted the direction of your family’s grief.
    It was truly a meaningful and healing service. To hear from you how this has helped your niece process her complicated grief is a testament to the family meeting. Thanks for sharing and for your family being bold and willing to share all facets of your brother’s life so all in attendance could get a full picture of a life lived.

    • Patricia Kolstad April 1, 2014 at 7:42 am - Reply

      My dear friend . . . thank you so much for honoring my family with your presence at my brother’s service. I have been so amazed by the response from friends, family and colleagues about how much we honored my sweet brother and, more importantly, how we told his story. It really has become the legacy and healing experience I wanted to provide my little family. Keith was extraordinary in allowing us to express our deepest thoughts, good and not so good, and create memories that will last. I believe with all my heart that Celebrants can capture the essence of a person and lay before the participants their very unique life story.

  17. Elsa March 31, 2014 at 9:40 am - Reply

    I think the idea of the family meeting is so vital. I see it so important for families to come together to be able to share all the different stories about a persons life and for someone as talented and spot on as someone like keith to be able to share all those stories in such a beautiful way. It is so much more personal than a “Standard” celebration. I don’t see it the least bit intimidating. I am so glad that you and your family had the opportunity to experience exactly what a celebration of life really is, with this blessings of a celebrant.

    • Patricia Kolstad March 31, 2014 at 7:36 pm - Reply

      I’m so very thankful that you and the rest of our team support and encourage families to think about using a Funeral Celebrant. I, for one, did not totally realize just how important this is for families who do not have a church home, or have a loved one who may have had a past that is not something they want to share. I can tell you that we all have things in our lives that have hurt or embarrassed our family or friends. Even so, there are many good things as well to share and bring forth. Celebrants weave the story to bring a life into view. How much better we all would be on our healing journey, if those things are brought to life, shared and then honor that person for who they were. I’m an advocate for life!
      Thank you & Love to you,

  18. Lori March 31, 2014 at 10:23 am - Reply

    What a beautiful picture you describe of what Keith, Ty and other Celebrants bring to a ceremony. Your story is so beautifully written that I felt as though I was in the room while you all shared your stories.
    I know you gave your all to care for your brother, often risking your own health in the process. It was mentally and physically exhausting for you. You should have absolutely no regrets that you did everything you could to give him a wonderful life around his family in his final years. You are not responsible for his choices, he was. Always remember that and be proud of how you cared for him.
    As you know, I will eventually be planning a ceremony for my grandmother. I am not certain if it will be this year or ten years from now since she refuses to give up!
    I had often envisioned just doing a visitation, no clergy and a private graveside service.
    After meeting Ty and reading your story about Keith, I will definitely have a Celebrant service when the time comes. I think it will be very healing for me to have her full story shared.
    Thank you for sharing so much of your brother and yourself with us.
    Love you!

    • Patricia Kolstad March 31, 2014 at 7:06 pm - Reply

      Lori . . thank you so much for your kind words.
      It was important for me to bring my brother to California. I did not want him to be alone any longer, nor did I want him to die alone. Becoming a caregiver is an overwhelming responsibility, especially when those in your care need so much attention. You never really know how sick someone is until their bodies cannot get better. He was so very sick and even though he tried to get better he just couldn’t. It was heartbreaking watching him decline. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’m so glad that you are rethinking your grandmother’s service. What another great legacy you would leave with those who love her. Not only her legacy of years, but everything she’s done throughout her life. I for one, would love to hear that!
      Love you!

  19. Rosemary March 31, 2014 at 12:30 pm - Reply


    I am so sorry for the loss of your brother, much too soon.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience of preparing for and having a celebrant service for your brother. The Family Meeting concept strikes me as absolutely vital so that each family member can share their own unique experiences and feelings. And doing so makes the service that much more meaningful and healing for each of you in return. Your brother was so obviously very loved by all of you in your own ways!


    • Patricia Kolstad March 31, 2014 at 6:36 pm - Reply

      Hi Rosemary
      Thank you so much for your comments. I so agree with your comment that the family meeting is one of the most vital part in preparation for the service. It brings everyone together to reflect on their memories and share their true feelings. I don’t see that always happening in services that I have attended. In fact, one of my brothers life long friends said that his service was one of the most truthful and courageous services she had ever attend. I felt very comforted by that.

  20. Amy March 31, 2014 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story. Thank you for allowing yourself to be transparent and realize that no matter what life you lived it is worth celebrating. Far too often we glaze over the bad and try and only remember the good. I commend you for bringing your brother here and trying with all your heart to initiate the reconnection with his children. Even though it wasn’t until the end it still happened. The best part is now the relationship you will have with your niece Jayme.

    • Patricia Kolstad March 31, 2014 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      Amy . . . Amen to that last sentence.
      This really has been a renewal of family. And as I have said many times since the service, my brother gave us all the greatest gifts in his children. We cannot see our family gatherings with them. And Jayme is moving forward so wonderfully, She’s even put her dad’s favorite song as her ringtone, and downloaded one of his favorite albums to listen to while she’s driving. It has been nothing short of miraculous as far as I’m concerned. I will stand on a soap box to let anyone know the power in having a Funeral Celebrant tell the story. Keith Page will always have a very special place in my heart and the hearts of my family.
      PS: I know you are going through a rough journey right now, and I want you to know that you have the support of all of us here. We love you and care about you and your family.
      Love you . . .

  21. Jeff Turner March 31, 2014 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    The ceremony for your brother was truly honoring of him. Seeing the depth and dramatic change on his daughter’s face from the day I first met her while you were making funeral arrangements, to the moments after the service when she hugged Keith Page will be etched in my mind. The heavy weight and look of bewilderment I saw in her as she pondered having a service for her father was clear. How could she honor the father of her expectations that she never had? The family meeting you described is such a huge healing event. It seems so simple yet it is so profound as the stories come. Perspectives change. My last memory of your niece just after the ceremony is of her almost bouncing up to Keith with a big smile and long hug for him. The weight was gone. Her father’s true story had been told. It was worth telling. The faceted perspectives of those who saw him in their own ways wove together a story that honored who you brother was in this life. That brought healing to a little girls heart who needed her dad’s story to be told so that she herself could begin to understand.

    Though the Funeral Celebrant is relatively new to us, it is becoming a passion for all who have experienced the beauty of the process.

    Thank you for sharing this story with us all. Thank you for choosing to allow the community to come together and to learn to love your brother by understanding more about the light and darkness that embodied him as it does us all.



    • Patricia Kolstad March 31, 2014 at 6:23 pm - Reply

      My sweet friend . . . I am so very thankful to have had all of you at my brother’s service, and to have you experience first hand the incredible healing power that occurs when a Celebrant is involved. I am so grateful to Michael for literally pushing to have Keith tell his story. My thought was to have a visitation and graveside at Riverside National. With the encouragement of Michael, Joe and Neil, I was able to see in my minds eye how I could bring honor and worthiness to my brothers life. . . . even though he had lifelong struggles, inconsistencies, addictions and demons. As I mentioned in the blog, I didn’t know at the time of the arrangement how that was all going to work, but I trusted our team to explain and assure me that we would not be disappointed. After our family meeting I knew that Keith was the right fit for our family. He made sure that everyone who wanted to speak got the chance, and our sweet Jayme, even though she said she didn’t have any memories to share, Keith assured her that if she wrote a letter, how much better it would be for her on her healing journey. She couldn’t and wouldn’t read it, but when Keith spoke her words, it was incredibly powerful. As you observed, she really did start to “fall in love” with her dad again. I have watched the video several times, cried and laughed, but mostly I have felt such peace knowing that we did the right thing. In talking with my family, this will be how we honor our loved ones in the future.

  22. Christopher Iverson March 31, 2014 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Remembering those we love is so important in our journey through the landscapes of celebration and grief. Celebrants like Keith and Ty possess the trained skills that assist us as we bring these stories forward; enriching the memories of all touched by the life of the deceased. We find comfort and memory in the structure of the service that might not be experienced without the proper guidance of a skillful and attentive Celebrant. Your brother’s service touched many people because of the depth mined by the Celebrant.

    • Patricia Kolstad March 31, 2014 at 6:08 pm - Reply

      Chris . .
      Whereas some folks might want to write their own eulogy or “life story” for their loved one, what we chose to do is have each family member give their recollection of their time with my brother, and in doing that, we had the opportunity to hear and remember things that we had forgotten. Each had their own remembrance to share, and that gave the story a rich truism of just who my brother was. Even though I had him in my life for 60 plus years, his children and mine had memories that helped us to understand his life, his struggles and his successes. I surely want to be a proponent of Funeral Celebrants. Keith helped us to truly honor his life. Thanks so much for your comments.

  23. Diana March 31, 2014 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    Dear Pat,
    Thank you for sharing your experience with Keith Page. I’m glad that he was able to guide your family through this difficult time and capture wonderful stories that honored your brother’s life.

    • Patricia Kolstad March 31, 2014 at 7:29 pm - Reply

      Diana . .
      Keith will always have a special place in my heart and the hearts of my family. I will never forget his kindness and the care he gave to putting words to some heartbreaking memories. He helped us bring truth and honor to my sweet brother.
      Thank you,

  24. Mark March 31, 2014 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Pat…Thank you for sharing insights into your “family meeting” in all my years of meeting with families this has always been a highlight for me….I remember my family gathering the night before my father’s service and sharing and hearing stories about my wonderful Dad…..thanks for reminding me about those special times….Mark

    • Patricia Kolstad March 31, 2014 at 7:27 pm - Reply

      Hi Mark
      I’m so blessed to have had Keith Page as our Celebrant. For everything that my brother went through in his relatively short life, having Keith tell our story with love and care helped all of us to better understand him as a man, father, brother and uncle. We all knew he had demons, but the stories my kids told were wonderful memories of when our days were filled with the fun loving, extraordinary “Unkie”.
      I will always remember his service and how much love was in that room. I have watched our video several times and feel more at peace each time I do.
      Thank you,

  25. Shasta Cola April 1, 2014 at 10:02 am - Reply

    What a wonderful experience for you to have with Keith as a celebrant! It must have been very healing and meaningful to spend that time telling him the stories of your brother’s life. I am glad you could honor your brother so perfectly!

    • Patricia Kolstad April 2, 2014 at 7:57 am - Reply

      Shasta . . . I will never forget your love, your kindness and your expertise in caring for my sweet brother. I will forever be grateful to you for presenting him so wonderfully. You truly gave him back his dignity. And like Keith, you are a gift to our families. You want only the best for them and have their experience be one they will look back on and be at peace. Thank you again for all you do . .

  26. Jenn April 1, 2014 at 2:01 pm - Reply


    Thank you for sharing your story, I think the idea of meeting with the celebrant and hearing the stories between families, good or bad seems like a great opportunity to have some private grieving/”memorial” before the service privately. I have seem Keith and Ty in action and there is no comparison to services with celebrants as opposed to the cut and dry service. It is so personal and I am so happy we have access to these wonderful concepts.

    • Patricia Kolstad April 2, 2014 at 7:54 am - Reply

      Hi Jenn . . . you have the perfect outlook to what is best for the families we serve. I remember when Keith and Ty came to the mortuary and gave us a opportunity to watch them in action. I loved it then, but little did I know that one of them would be the catalyst in bringing my family together to create a legacy for my brother. We did experience emotion pain and a couple of stressful moments while sharing, but it really did begin our healing journey. What a gift Keith gave our family. I’m so thankful that you and the rest of our O’Connor family see the unbelievable value in Celebrants! Thank you so much for your dedication and the values who hold.

  27. Mitch April 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experience with Keith. We sometimes think we can do these things because we exposed daily to it. But what a difference being on the other side and really feeling what a difference Keith made. I wish more celebrants or pastors would take this kind of approach. God be with you and yours.

    • Patricia Kolstad April 2, 2014 at 7:48 am - Reply

      Hi Mitch . . . AMEN to that last sentence!
      I will stand on my soapbox and shout to the rooftops that having a Celebrant will offer families the most healing experience they could possibly have. I realize that not all families will want or need. . (let me rephrase that, I believe that everyone needs a Celebrant to weave the story) but for those families who haven’t a connection with a faith community, or for those whose loved one has died of a traumatic experience, a Celebrant can bring peace, understanding, comfort and healing. I believe it is my greatest opportunity now to talk about my brother’s service and the blessings it has given me and my family. It’s powerful!

  28. Stacy April 1, 2014 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experience Pat. I believe celebrants have so much to offer in terms of personalizing services. I have always enjoyed knowing more about the deceased person and what their life story is. I also think that when families come together it is a very healing and meaningful moment. Everyone participates in painting the picture and remembering the good qualities about their loved one. I am glad that your family was able to come into terms with the reality of your brother’s struggles but were also able to look past that and remember all the good times, laughs and positive legacy he left. Once again, thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

    • Patricia Kolstad April 2, 2014 at 7:42 am - Reply

      Hi Stacy
      Yes, you are so right! The meeting on the Sunday before my brother’s service really brought our family together. For my children, the stories they remembered as kids really brought into light his fun-loving ways and how he always wanted to make them laugh. His antics will always be part of the great memories they hold close to their hearts. And, for his daughter Jayme, it helped to trigger those same wonderful memories that she had pushed down and away from her heart. All she could remember was how disappointed and angry she was at her dad. Her evolution has been the greatest joy of my healing journey so far.
      In retrospect, I would not have thought to gather my kids and his kids together and tell stories. Having Keith there to guide us really did make all the difference in the world as to how we would honor my brother. Thanks so much.

  29. Diane Kopylow April 3, 2014 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Again, Pat, you have beautifully described a life event with finesse and deep caring for everyone involved. I think the phrase that affected me most was when you wrote “I watched as Keith wrote on that big yellow legal pad with a bold, black marker. It seemed strange at first, but then I realized that he was writing with permanence and sweeping strokes the words that made up the legacy of my brother’s life.” The imagery here creates an imprint of understanding that truly captures what a celebrant does to ease the pain of losing a loved one. I have to admit I have never heard of the concept heretofore of a celebrant, but I have been at many services where it is just as painful to witness the pain of a friend or family member as the actual loss of the person. Having a liaison to reveal such strong memories and love I believe is an ultimate act of human kindness to those left in unspeakable need. You asked if I thought this process was intimidating or inviting; I find it neither. Rather, I think a more apt word would be relieving. If I ever find myself (and I most probably will) in a similar situation, I think it would be so much easier to share my true memories and pain in the comfort of my family and close friends in a relaxed atmosphere rather than in the stressful setting of a large audience. Thank God for people such as Keith who are adept at understanding the essence of one’s life through their loved ones’ stories. And… thank God for people like you, Pat, for having the strength and foresight to write about the experience, share it, and encourage thought about it prior to the loss of our own loved ones. Knowing that a celebrant is always an option is helpful beyond words.

    • Patricia Kolstad April 22, 2014 at 8:37 am - Reply

      Hello my dear friend . . . thank you so much for the depth of your words. I’m thankful that I was able to paint a picture of how Keith helped us, not only to tell our story, but to “get out” all of the discontent and frustration of the man himself. Being able to share our stories really began the healing process for his daughter, Jayme. As in the Bible, John 8:32: “And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free,” I tend to use that in helping myself and others understand who my brother was. It has strengthened Jayme and she is moving into a place where she can see her dad clearly.
      I hope by sharing our journey that I can help others understand the great gift that Celebrants give to the families in their care. As you have mentioned, it makes the transition from life to death a little more bearable, and gives truth to the legacy of the one who was deeply loved.
      Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. Your response encourages me to move forward and continue to share the enormous benefits of using a Celebrant.

  30. kristen April 7, 2014 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Hi Mom,
    Actually, the idea of a pre-funeral family meeting was quite intimidating for me! I had not yet grasped the concept of a celebrant when you organized our gathering at Kari’s house with Keith. My initial thoughts were of preference to just have our family there to enjoy and lean on each other during this difficult time, not to welcome in a stranger to the mix. However, by the end of the evening, I felt truly released of some of the emotion and stories I had held onto over the years regarding Unkie. It was so cathartic and therapeutic to listen to my siblings, cousins, you, and the grandkids talk about their version of Unkie. All facilitated by a caring and empathetic voice: Keith Page. He wove our stories together so that no voice was left unheard or unvalidated during the service. It was an authentic experience that I am grateful for and will continue to share with others. Love you, Mom. Great blog post 🙂

    • Patricia Kolstad April 22, 2014 at 7:50 am - Reply

      Kristen . . I know what we would have done if not for Michael, Neil and Joe guiding us to Keith. Once those words were spoken, I knew it was the right thing to do, and will be forever the way our family will do funerals. I never realized how we all could cleanse our spirits by telling the true stories of the life of this very unpredictable man. We never really knew from one visit to the next when we would see him again. But then he came home, and that made my time with him all the sweeter. Unkie was who he was, and I pray that others have reconciled their deep feeling for him. His passing has made me want to be more involved with his children and with our family. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and how his legacy will endure through you!
      Love you . . .

  31. Joey O'Connor April 28, 2014 at 9:23 pm - Reply


    Those were such beautiful and honoring words about your brother…very honest and authentic sharing his good qualities and his pain. I love all the pictures you painted with words…well done! You shared and modeled the importance of passing family stories from one generation to the best. Blessings to you my friend!

    • Patricia Kolstad April 29, 2014 at 7:58 am - Reply

      It’s very interesting to me how my family has embraced this not-so-new concept of storytelling within the ceremony. For us, it provided an opportunity to, in a safe place, to share the love and frustration we felt. Opening old wounds and talking it our amongst ourselves and with our celebrant, provided the first very important steps in grieving . . . telling the story and being true and authentic. Keith was such a good match for us, and I will forever be grateful that we were able to provide our family with such a great “Jim Legacy!”

  32. Patricia Kolstad April 30, 2014 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    My girl . .
    We all learned a great lesson from our Celebrant . . stories keep a love one within our hearts, and stories that contain “all of a life” are the best ones. Being authentic and sharing our joys and our sorrows is what a legacy is all about. You spoke of Keith having an “open heart”. I think all of us had a revelation of just what an open heart looked like. The stories of “Unkie” were embraced, as each of us provided our very own memories. My heart feels full now when I think back to his service and how much it touched me, as I know it did for everyone who attended. I love the fact that you were inspired to look into becoming a Celebrant. I think the more families realize the depth of what a Celebrant brings to a loved ones life, the more they will choose to honor them with stories that folks will carry with them forever. .