Rituals are not scary practices. We all have our morning rituals (e.g. shower, brush our teeth, coffee etc.) and our nighttime rituals (e.g. work out, watch TV, journal, read etc.) that we carry out faithfully. In fact, if we didn’t do them something would feel off.
We also use rituals and ceremonies to mark milestones in life. Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, weddings, and graduations are all events infused with ritual and ceremony. It’s important to mark holidays and our “rites of passage” with celebration by taking time from our daily routine to do things differently.
So how can rituals help us to heal? Here are three important ways:
- Rituals give us expression for our feelings and it is in expressing our feelings that we are able to move forward after loss.
- Rituals will help us to feel the love we have for the person who has died and also to feel the love they had for us. There is no denying that love, above all else, helps us to heal.
- Rituals performed daily will build structure into one’s life. Loss is fraught with chaos and confusion so daily rituals can help us to feel more in control and therefore, reduce anxiety and stress.
When it comes to a loved one’s death, it’s acceptable to commemorate their life with a funeral or memorial service. Within these events, families and friends gather for prayer, song, and tributes. It often follows with a tea or social where people speak with the family and share stories. Outside of the funeral, families are not usually invited to create additional rituals or ceremonies; however, it has been my experience, that people do, but opt to not say anything for fear of criticism. For example, a dear friend of mine makes barbecue ribs on Christmas Eve as a way to pay tribute to her mom who passed away a number of years ago. It has become her simple, but loving ritual every year that helps her face the holidays without her mother.
When both my daughters married, it was important to me to include their father in some way. They have a wonderful relationship with their stepfather and he escorted each of them down the aisle. To bring their father into the ceremony, the girls handpicked fellow peace officers he had worked with to attend in their dress uniforms. My eldest daughter had her father’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police dress Stetson on display, and my younger daughter had his dress high-top boots and spurs on display. We didn’t have to explain to the near two hundred guests at each of their weddings what this meant- they knew. It was moving. It was precious. And it helped us to face the day without him.
I am not promoting that people memorialize the deceased at every event. Sometimes, people create shrines or don’t touch the dead person’s belongings – ever! While I can’t generalize the situation for everyone, but people can become stuck in their grief and this may require some intervention. What I am encouraging is that people listen to their heart, and if a family feels that including the memory of a loved one in a special event enriches it and helps to heal their loss, then they should do it. It doesn’t matter what others think – they haven’t walked in your shoes.
How have you included the memory of a loved one into your special events?