I had the privilege of working with Rev. Denise on a Zoom memorial service for a member whose son tragically took his life in October of 2020. She handled this painful subject beautifully. At the mother’s request, she used the memorial as a way to normalize depression, anxiety, mental illness and ADHD, raising awareness among those who attended the service about how we might support those who suffer from suicidal thoughts and the families of those who have lost loved ones to suicide. His mother’s hope was that if anyone else could be helped by a better understanding of her son’s passing, that would be a gift that he left us. To that end, the service also included information about a local youth crisis support service and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Rev. Denise spent many hours co-authoring the eulogy with his mother, getting to know the whole of who her son was so we could celebrate his tender heart, the bright moments in his life and the joy he brought to his loved ones. She offered resources for the memorial, incorporated Native American elements in honor of the family’s heritage, and empowered the parents to take on readings for the service as they were able. The service included a slide show tribute, hymns, a eulogy, and a time for shared memories at the end. I could see that it was a healing experience for the family, as members of the extended family connected over memories of their beloved cousin, nephew, brother, and son.

Healing from a memorial or funeral service of any sort is often underestimated at the time of grief. Regardless of the circumstances around the ending, healing can happen. I have long been called on to memorialize family and friends. Funerals and healing in the process of grief has long been part of my calling. Thank you to everyone who have trusted me in this process.

Funerals, memorials, death rituals, graveside, military honors, interment, for all faiths available.

Complicated Memorials & Death by Suicide

Pastoring a community through a suicide is something most ministers don’t encounter or if they do many report of one. In 2021 I had someone die by suicide in each church I was ministering at that year. The second one was a very public tragedy and the people left behind were more than just the family and friends but witnesses were traumatized by the event as well. People are complex. I aim to hold mental illness and addiction for what they are – illnesses. I hold that complexity along with all the good the person offered our world as well. Complex memorials have become a specialty of mine. I hope my clear and kind manner of addressing hurts that loved ones hold after a complicated death takes them from a place of shame or guilt into a place of healing.

“Pastor Denise was wonderful to work with for creating and leading my grandfather’s funeral service. She was compassionate in demeanor, flexible and available with her time, and intensely interested in crafting the ceremony that the he would have wished for. To start, Denise thoroughly interviewed me about his life story and beliefs. From there, she went above and beyond to craft a service that not only included a traditional recounting of his life, but also readings, tributes and music that uniquely fit his philosophies, values and experiences. On the day of the service, Denise was punctual and worked well with the funeral home. The service itself was well-organized and eloquently delivered. Despite only a brief time with our family, Pastor Denise felt like a close friend by the time the service was over. I am grateful that she was available for us in our time of need.”

Mark Freeman

“At the funeral of John P., the minister presented a half-hour tribute to John and his life. The tribute was very well done, especially considering that the minister, Denise Cawley had never met John and his family. She spent time with the family members consoling and counseling them in the days before the funeral. On such limited exposure and in such a short time, she put together a great reflection on John’s life, both serious and humorous, and a really thoughtful presentation. She is an excellent representative of your faith and organization.”

Kathleen Z. Braun

“My name is Jennifer. My mother, Sue Morgan, was a long time member of this congregation. My own introduction to the congregation was last July after my mother died by suicide at the train tracks in Wauwatosa.

Reverend Denise reached out and offered her support to me, which I gratefully accepted. She composed a service in my mother’s memory that my mother’s life justice and helped us all say good-bye when there hadn’t been any other opportunity to do so. It helped pull out the weeds of self-doubt and anger that so frequently follow the suicide of a loved one. I am grateful that these weeds did not get a chance to take hold. They are useless to me and I have needed all my resources to grow beyond my mother’s death.

How did Rev. Denise do this? She took the initiative to reach out to me and offer her assistance. She led me through planned out, thoughtful questions about my mother’s life which gave me a chance to reflect on the whole of her life. She was a supportive witness and coach to the challenges I experienced as I interacted by conference call with my estranged sister through the process. She helped us sort out our stories when our memories of events didn’t match.

As a result of Rev. Denise’s kindness, experience and skill I have been able to focus on compassion for human suffering rather than getting stuck in grief and despair. My mother’s suicide was a time of growth in the midst of destruction and confusion.
I could not have done this myself. I could not have been creative or decisive in the midst of my shock, fear, and anger in the days and weeks following my mother’s suicide. Without the kindness, support and experience that only comes from people coming together in a community, those days may have been just a blur of bureaucratic police and coroner’s reports, account numbers and relentless, endless decisions.

I am giving to the church today because growth in such times only comes from the persistent cultivation of relationships in a community where knowledge, experience, and creativity come together to make new meaning and awareness happen…..a community like this congregation. When the wind is at one’s back, one tends to mistakenly believe there isn’t any wind. This congregation was the wind at my back when my mom killed herself. My gift may change the trajectory for others whose hearts are receptive and in need.”


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