Once after one of his many brushes with death, my father filled out a Five Wishes packet.

Under “If anyone asks how I want to be remembered, please say the following about me:” he wrote, “He worked hard at being a good person. It was really a battle for him.”

He didn’t die that go around, but a handful of years later, six-year ago today, he did die.

I hadn’t spoken to him for years at that point.

When I arrived at the hospital and stood over his dead body, I yelled at him.

I was, and still am, so angry.

I attended a grief ritual a few months ago and I’d debated whether or not I would add his photo to the collage I’d made of deceased beloveds for the altar. My resistance seemingly rooted in him not being deserving of my tears. Which is a crock-of-crap because it’s not like I haven’t cried a million.

Ultimately, the reason I brought him into my grief space was not to grieve his death so much as it was to grieve what I never got from him in the first place. And worse, to grieve what I did get from him, which was abuse. Honestly, his death was a relief in the sense that if nothing else, I knew he could never hurt me again.

While training as a Celebrant, I was adamant that I wanted to explore what it would look like if I encountered families grieving the death of someone like my father. Someone who did more harm than good.  Someone who left pain and trauma in their wake.

What would I have needed from a Celebrant if I’d called on one for my father’s service?

Often, when someone dies, we (or others) put them on a pedestal.

We hone in on the good, and offer platitudes and stories that reflect only the merits. They could do no wrong. At a time when people (usually those more distant in relation) share things like “he was such a great man” with a family that begs to differ, it can leave them feeling isolated, resentful, and conflicted as they embark on the journey into grief that lies before them.

I strive to present these types of families with real, raw, and honest ceremonies that address the elephant in the room with tact, and grace.

Last year, I asked my mother if I could bring home my father’s bronzed baby shoe.

I keep it by my nightstand, as a reminder that he was just a little boy once.

Honoring his innocence doesn’t excuse anything he did as an adult, but it allows me to have a sliver of compassion for who he was as a whole, imperfect, wounded being.

And in doing so, I in turn have compassion for myself as a whole, imperfect, wounded being, too. 


Piss & Vinegar 

by Tawnya Musser

You told me once

“I love you,

but I love whisky more.”

And I knew that very day

as I was walking out the door

that it wouldn’t be long.

It wouldn’t be long

before I fully realized

that all the hurt

and tears

that I had cried

were the rule.

No exceptions.

It’s hard to turn your back

on someone that you love.

But, when the bad outweighs the good

there’s no place

for “kind-of”

worth it.

It’s tragic

that we came second

to your disease.

No matter how hard we begged

and pleaded with you


Break Free!

Addiction had a hold of you.

She had you in her grip.

Seducing you


Just a little sip”

Her siren call was louder…

than ours.

We just simply



her powers.

So we abandoned ship.

Please know that we did it

to save


Cuz you were sinking

in those ocean swells.

And while there was

no saving


we had the chance

to start


We grieved our loss of you

a long time ago.

In many ways,

you were already dead to us

and that sounds harsh.

I know.

We hope that in death

you understand

in life

you were a very sick

and hurtful man.

That’s not to say we didn’t love you

and don’t love you still.

We just had to

protect ourselves.


You were free.

All we ever wanted


some peace.

We hope you


have found that

in deaths release.