I’m Charlotte Eulette, the North American Director of the Celebrant Foundation & Institute. We are the North American Chapter of the International Federation of Celebrants, which began over 30 years ago in Australia. As ceremony (rite of passage) specialists, Celebrants have presided over one million ceremonies throughout the world. Our Celebrant practice echoes our mission, which is: to mark the milestones in people’s lives in a personal and meaningful way — through ceremony. Our 400 North American Celebrants throughout the U.S. and Canada officiate at over 3,000 ceremonies a year for people from all walks of life.
Some of the ceremonies we create with and for our clients are what you’d expect — weddings, civil unions, renewal of vows, baby ceremonies, funerals, and memorials (life celebrations) — but there are other life events, such as divorce, that are just as important to acknowledge. We offer people experiencing divorce the respect they so deserve as they survive one of the most heart-wrenching, exhausting, and financially devastating times in their lives. People often call upon Celebrants to create and preside over what we describe as “survivor” or “healing” ceremonies. Divorce is one of the most significant rites of passage, affecting not only the divorcing people but their families, friends, and society. A healing and constructive way to honor divorce as a rite of passage is through a personalized and meaningful ceremony.
Divorce celebrations or parties continue to be a compelling topic for the media. Journalists from the BBC in the U.S. and Europe, the New York Times, and various authors that write how-to books about divorce have interviewed me at the Celebrant Foundation for their divorce stories and segments. I’m glad to be interviewed as a spokesperson for my divorcee colleagues regarding society’s attempts to address divorce as an expression of modern culture, but all too often, journalists focus on the trendy, funny, and sometimes weird aspects of divorce ceremonies or what they call “bashes” in which an ex-spouse may burn a wedding dress or their marriage certificates instead of focusing on the more important positive aspects. It’s always refreshing for me when a journalist “gets it right” by reporting on the value of a life-affirming force that a dignified divorce ceremony can offer.
Many an enlightened journalist then proceeds to actively interview several of our past clients that had their own divorce ceremonies and want to share their stories with others. These divorced-honorees describe their ceremony as a “healing ritual” in which they genuinely express their feelings and thoughts for their future and communicate to and include their loved ones in the ceremony. Most of all, the ceremony represented a set time and place and a safe haven to begin building their self-esteem and confidence. This is exactly what my divorce ceremony did for me, and I’m eternally grateful to my Celebrant, Cindy Reed, and my friends and family who supported me through one of the most heart-wrenching times of my life. I was amazed and surprised when my mother and several of my cousins flew from Chicago to New Jersey to be by my side and support me on this special day when I reclaimed “me” and my family name.
The stats are clear: more than 50% of marriages in most countries lead to divorce. It is central to us as a society to pay this life transition its proper homage and focus on it in a way that is meaningful, respectful, and constructive. Let’s not sweep divorce under the rug by continuing to make divorced folks and children of divorced families feel diminished by this experience; instead, we can take to heart the wisdom of late sociologist Joseph Campbell: “As some doors close, others open, and the possibility of renewal in life always exists.”
Collectively, we as a society can begin to honor these very difficult life experiences like divorce, illness, losing one’s home or job, or (even worse) the death of a loved one — just like we celebrate through traditional, happy occasions like marriage or birth. We all know that we learn the most from the roughest roads traveled in life, and therefore, we can reap the benefits by fully appreciating them instead of pretending they don’t exist. It is even more staggering to think that 80% of divorced couples remarry and many do so without the opportunity to heal the wounds of their previous marriage or address this deep grief in any way. Also, many divorced couples with children could only benefit from clearly expressing to their children that “even though mom(my) and dad(dy) are no longer a married couple, they are still and will continue to be your parents and family.” Children can be assured through a well prepared, healing divorce ceremony that everyone important in their lives will continue to love and support them, including friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, and parents.
No couple walks down the aisle on their wedding day saying, “Hey, I can’t wait to get a divorce.” Couples marry with the full intention that their marriage will last a lifetime. For many couples, this is the case, but for those whose marriages end in divorce or separation, we as a society should not make them feel stigmatized, nor describe their relationship in negative terms as a “failed marriage”.
A thoughtful divorce ceremony will assist with the transition from marriage to separation and finally to divorce. It can include a party of shared toasts and breaking bread, and it can also be a unique opportunity for adults to show support to their children and to share and recognize the place of family and friends.
Divorce is a major life transition that society more often than not fails to recognize, and individuals are wrongly made to feel guilt, shame, or failure. Anyone that has been or is now going through a divorce needs to know that they are respected members of their community, respected for bravely being able to come through one of life’s most overwhelming experiences with a little help from their friends. Like the phoenix of ancient mythology, divorced folks can receive the opportunity to rise like a bird from what may to some be perceived as ashes, but in reality, it’s just life in its full glory on planet Earth. Throughout civilization, ceremonies have proven to be vital to the health and well being for individuals and their community, and with open hearts, Celebrants embrace this life-affirming tradition!
Charlotte Eulette is the North American Director of the Celebrant Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organization with 400 Celebrants who create and officiate at virtually every life-cycle event, including divorces.