Celebrating Michael Falzon
It is always an honour and a privilege to act as a celebrant for a funeral of a person, but when that person is a friend that you cared for it becomes especially meaningful.
This month I was asked by my beautiful friend Jane Cho to officiate at her husband, Michael Falzon’s funeral festival, beginning with a two-hour musical memorial concert, followed by a committal ceremony at the crematorium chapel afterward. A few days later, once Michael’s ashes had been picked up, a small group of family and close friends gathered at Dennarque Estate, Mount Wilson for a deeply moving tree-planting ceremony where his ashes were laid to rest under the roots of a young black walnut tree .
This was a funeral process unlike any other I had experienced in my time as a registered celebrant so far. It wasn’t a rushed-through affair by any means, if anything the process was valued and appreciated, even savoured and cherished.
We were all lucky to have Victoria Spence from Life Rites as our facilitator (funeral director) because she underscored the whole process with so much consciousness and reverence.
In our society we don’t handle death very well. Mostly, we rush the whole process because it makes a lot of us uncomfortable. Nobody talks about it. It is still very much taboo in our society and is not a subject that people acknowledge let alone talk about easily.
It’s strange, unfamiliar territory – yet it is something that happens to all of us and most everything that is part of nature.The great lesson of life – that it must end.
It was inspiring to see that Jane made a conscious decision to take more time to process Michael’s death and plan his memorial and farewell really well, and in a way she felt Michael would have approved of.
From the beginning of this bittersweet journey, Jane spent many hours with Michael at the hospital and funeral home after he died.
She had never imagined that when Victoria asked her if she’d like to dress Michael before he was placed in his coffin, that she would say yes. She spent time with him and with a friend’s help, they dressed him in the tuxedo he wore when Jane married him.
Three of Michael’s best mates and fellow performers joined them when he was dressed to oversee the finishing touches – his tie and cufflinks – something the guys all did for each other before going onstage.
Jane said this experience was a life-changing moment and has helped her begin to process this transition in life.
You see, the process of crafting the funeral ceremony, how you’re going to pay tribute to your loved one and how you say goodbye, is only one part of the process. The other vital part or function of the process and ceremony is to lay the groundwork from which our lives continue on – after we lay our loved one to rest. How we all need to transform our reality and go on living without this special person in our lives. This cannot and should not be rushed – in honour of the person who has died, and also in honour of those that go on living.
Michael’s ashes were placed inside what’s called a Living Urn or Bio Urn which is housed inside a natural bamboo shell. Within it is a special ash agent that creates the perfect balanced growing environment for the tree to thrive with Michael’s ashes. Michael cared very much for our natural environment so I’m sure he’d be pleased that the Living Urn is made of only the highest quality eco-friendly materials and components. It’s 100% natural and biodegradable, made from recycled plant-derived materials using only water, heat pressure and is completely free from anything toxic. He will become one with this tree.
Michael’s ashes were laid to rest and we planted new life, a living tree tribute that will grow and thrive in his honour. Jane chose a black walnut tree as a symbol of longevity, tranquillity and life itself, as it will benefit the earth. It will produce shade for anyone who takes rest beneath its branches, it will provide shelter and food for many birds and animals and add so much beauty to the garden of Dennarque Estate. Its leaves turn bright yellow in Autumn (Michael’s favourite colour) and it is a real statement tree, loud and full of character, which Jane felt was quite fitting.
Michael will be a part of the misty mountains, witnessing daybreak, the buzzing bees and birdsong, the settling of dusk and the rise of the moon, the stars twinkling at night, the breezes will blow through his walnut tree’s branches, and he will be one with the rhythm of life…….
Losing someone you love and adore is incredibly hard, but it only gets harder and more unsettling if you don’t coax it into the light and look it in the eyes. We didn’t want Michael’s death in the shadows – we wanted his death to become as present as life.
Not talking about death doesn’t make it go away – in fact being more aware of death inspires us to live better every day with a grateful heart.
When we love unconditionally, acceptance and letting go of those we love is equally a part of our human condition.
We celebrate who Michael was and the wonderful life he lived. In Jane’s words, “Michael was very clear in his wishes that he did not want any funeral of his to be a downer. He wanted it to be joyous, uplifting and a celebration of not just his own life but of all of our lives. Because as Michael would say, “It’s OK”, “Life is Yummy”, “We are amazing” and we should now go out, be grateful, be happy and, “Live On”.
Michael’s wish was to shine a light on germ cell cancer and other lesser-known cancers, which require better treatments, clinical trials and resources.
Please donate to Michael's memorial fund for research and clinical trials for lesser-known cancers here.
You can watch Michael's memorial and celebration of his life in its entirety at the Sydney Coliseum Theatre on Friday 10 July 2020 - CELEBRATING MICHAEL FALZON