When someone you love dies, everything changes.
Change can be difficult and there’s nothing more life-changing than losing a loved one – and the closer you were to them, the more affected you’ll feel. Though rituals aren’t tied to a particular belief system, culture, or religion, the ancient rituals of death —from Hinduism’s ritual washing of the body, to the Jewish custom of sitting Shivah, or the Buddhist Powa ceremony — shift us from a place of isolation, pain, and despair toward acceptance, connection, meaning, and wholeness.
Over time, rituals can also help us complete one of the most important tasks of mourning — moving on with our lives and coming to terms with a loss. They can be done just once, every year on the anniversary of the loss, or simply when the emotions of grief come up. Some people do rituals on the deceased person’s birthday or an anniversary. Others choose daily or weekly rituals. The frequency is a personal choice, and the style can be as elaborate or simple as you decide.
To better understand how rituals can help us, let’s talk about what a ritual actual is. A ritual is any action done with a purpose to connect us to something or someone else. This can encompass something that is bigger than ourselves —such as religious rituals, or actions that connect us to a particular person or tradition. We may not realize it, but we do mini-rituals every day already — from our morning routines of making coffee and making the bed, to brushing our teeth at night.
Rituals provide us with meaning, structure, and connectedness which provides a healthy way to process grief, honor someone you’ve lost and reconnect with them and the memories you have. Funerals and memorial services are common grief rituals that people plan and use for the loss of a loved one, but there are several other things that can be done in addition to these services to help with grief.
Some examples of rituals include:
- Lighting a candle at certain times of the day or week to remind you of your loved one.
- Creating a scrapbook of photographs, letters, postcards, notes, or anything else you shared from your life together.
- Spending time listening to your loved one’s favorite music or creating a special mix of music that reminds you of that person.
- Watching his or her favorite movie.
- Planting a tree or flowers in your loved one’s memory.
- Making a donation to a charity that your loved one supported.
- Visiting your loved one’s burial site.
- Carrying something special that reminds you of your loved one that you can physically hold.
- Creating a work of art in your loved one’s memory.
- Preparing and eating a special meal in honor of your loved one.
- Developing a memorial ritual for your loved one on special days.
- Writing a letter to the person and consider burying or burning it to help release the energy of the words.
Whatever ritual you chose, do what feels comfortable for you and remain open to whatever feelings and emotions come up. Perhaps you’ll be moved to pray, meditate, or cry. If you find yourself feeling angry — feel free to scream, cry, hit a pillow, or do whatever you need to help release the intensity of your emotions.
Rituals can also change over time according to your needs. They can go on indefinitely or for only a short period of time. Stopping a ritual is not indicative that you no longer care for the person or no longer miss them. It simply means that you are processing your grief in a different way according to time. It’s a personal process developed by you, for you, as you move through the healing process of loss and bereavement.
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