Location: Choose a location that is quiet and pleasing for this very personal ceremony. The ceremony can take place somewhere that is meaningful to the honoree; it may be in a garden, on a hilltop or overlooking a body of water, in a home, or in a restaurant with a private room. If the ceremony is outdoors, be sure there’s an indoor backup plan in case of inclement weather.
Whom to Invite: Invite friends, maybe family, and even work associates to join in the spirit of acceptance and love and to welcome a new day with renewed commitments for growth and fulfillment for the honoree.
Say It with Style: Add to the honoree’s ceremony quotations from their favorite movies, poets, and/or comedians. A good example of a quotation well used in a ceremony comes from the great American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, from his book A Farewell to Arms: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.” Or Maya Angelou, the world citizen and poet, writes: “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” Bring on the music and the arts! Live music or friends contributing their musical or artistic expertise can also make the ceremony a memorable and positive experience for all.
Time It Right: I suggest that a divorce ceremony take place after the divorced person/honoree has received the issued final judgment divorce papers or another significant event, such as the last alimony payment or at a future date when the honoree feels that the time is right.
Take a Deep Breath: During the ceremony, invite witnesses/guest to get involved: ask them to stand up, stretch, take a deep breath in, breathing in all they need in their lives, and then breathing out whatever they no longer need in their lives. This is a great, healthy yoga stretch that you can ask a health-conscious friend to lead the guests in this ritual with and for the honoree.
All about the Honoree: Incorporate music, dancing, colors, nature, crafts, foods, and cultural elements into the ceremony to reflect the honoree’s personality.
Clear the Space: Incorporate a space clearing ritual in the ceremony to leave negative feelings from the years of turmoil from the marriage behind in a ritual of healing and catharsis, and to move forward from this ceremony with joy, strength, and tranquility. Light a candle, ring a bell, blow some bubbles, yodel, burn some sage — be as creative as you wish.
Gifts Are Great: Loved ones and family members may want to give a special gift to the honoree, such as a watch signifying that you are on your time now, or a special music CD, or a gift certificate at a spa, or a special-interest magazine or book. You might consider having the guest gather together with the honoree to plant a tree representing the deep roots of love shared with friends and family throughout life’s good times and hard times.
Whether or Not to Include the Ex: In some cases, a divorce ceremony may include both of the divorced spouses. Some divorced couples, especially if the couples have children, decide to have a ceremony that includes both parents to help the children with this passage and possibly include the children in a comfortable way into the ceremony.
Looking to the Future: Invite guests to write wishes for the future and put them in a wish-box. Create a shrine by having guests bring symbolic objects as totems of strength or meaning to give to the honoree, and have them describe the totem and bestow their wish for the honoree within the ceremony. These ways of having guests communicate and express themselves to the honoree during the ceremony will resonate and have a positive effect with all attending as well as the honoree.
The Celebrant Foundation + Institute of North America is a 501c3 non-profit educational institution dedicated to helping families personalize celebrations that mark life’s milestones. Since the first Celebrants began practicing 35 years ago, they have performed over one million ceremonies worldwide. Celebrants officiate at virtually every life event, including weddings and civil unions, funerals and memorials, baby ceremonies and adoptions, survivor and healing ceremonies, and dwelling- and work-related ceremonies. With a focus on personalizing each ceremony to reflect the needs, beliefs, and values of the couple or family, Celebrants are staunchly trained and certified in the art of ceremony, symbolism, and traditions.
Below is an example of the Celebrant Foundation’s Client Honoree Questionnaire that they give to divorce ceremony clients. It is used as the basis for their ceremonies.
DIVORCE CEREMONY QUESTIONNAIRE
1. How would you envision a ceremony that honors your divorce?
2. Delve into your journey and elaborate on your thoughts and feelings about your divorce and the road that led you to divorce.
3. In your own words, describe your personal evolution of who you are now and how the experience of being married has shaped you.
4. Describe the trials, tribulations, and triumphs in your relationship with your former spouse.
5. What are the enriching experiences, lessons learned, or discoveries that have emerged from this journey?
6. What would you like your guests, family, and friends to gain in understanding of who you are now and where you are in your life at this point in time?
7. Explore the relationship you have with any family members/friends and what you would like to express in the ceremony that would reflect your feelings and thoughts towards them.
8. Talk about and special relationships during this difficult time with your friends and family that have supported you and how you would like to recognize their support in your ceremony.
9. What are the key things that have helped you during this time between being divorced and now?
10. Think of your hobbies, skills, or talents that you might wish to somehow integrate into the ceremony.
11. What do you think would be a good title for your ceremony? Think of a metaphor that best describes this life experience.
12. Are there any words of wisdom, grieving thoughts and feelings, expressions, or humorous thoughts that you might want to share? Think about any philosophical quotes — poetry, culinary arts, music, films, art of any kind, or anything that might describes you and your personality. We could find a way of weaving these ideas and expressions into your ceremony in a meaningful and tasteful way.
13. Are there any traditions or rituals that you wish to include?
14. Gifting: At the ceremony, you may want to offer a gift to the supportive or special people in your life. What would the gift(s) be? How would you like to present such a gift(s)?
15. Tell me about the person you are, what your values are, your talents, what you love in life.
16. Talk about your needs that are not being fulfilled at this time, including your fears and your vulnerabilities that you may need help with now and possibly into future?
17. You might consider sharing a toast with your guests. You or a friend could make a toast (or light a candle) to the future, the past, and the present. What are your thoughts?
18. How would you like to include the special people in your life into the ceremony?
19. Describe the importance of having your friends and family witness and be a part of you ceremony.
20. What are your hopes and dreams for your future?
21. Where do you see the ceremony taking place (location), and what date do you have in mind? Is there some significance to either the location or date that would be important to mention in the ceremony?
22. Furnish me with the names and contact info for your colleagues, friends & family that you would like me to speak to and to interview. Tell me how you envision them taking part in the ceremony (if at all). Also send me a short bio about each of them, their contact information, and tell me how you forged a bond of friendship with them.
23. In what ways would you like yourself to be honored in this ceremony?
24. Think about any themes or reoccurring images that have surfaced from this exercise.
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.