Using Rituals to ease the anguish of loss
Experts and survivors agree that using rituals can ease the anguish of loss, practising acts of love to move forward toward a place of peace.
Culture, rituals, and ceremonies
Your cultural background can affect how you understand and approach the grief process. Some cultures anticipate a time to grieve and have developed rituals, to help people through the grief process. Grief rituals and ceremonies acknowledge the pain of loss while also offering social support and a reaffirmation of life.
You may not be aware of how your own cultural background affects your grief process. Talking with family, friends or clergy is one way to strengthen your awareness of possible cultural influences in your life. Friends and family may be able to help you generate ideas to create your own rituals. Some people find solace in creating their own unconventional ceremonies, such as a funeral or ceremony with personal friends in a private setting.
The psychology of rituals in overcoming loss and restoring broken order
Those who are grieving cannot raise the dead or change the laws of nature. But by performing their own private rituals, the bereaved can regain their footing in a world that has become much emptier than it was before.
Create Your own rituals
Creating your own personal rituals to remember your child, allows you to access and work through your grief in a safe and constructive way. Some people plan rituals in honour of a child’s birthday or an anniversary of their passing. Others choose to express their grief through small daily or weekly rituals. A ritual can be as elaborate as a public memorial service or as small as a quiet moment alone with your child’s picture. Some examples of small rituals include:
- Lighting a candle at certain, special times of the day or week to remind you of your child (for example, at dinnertime to represent sharing meals)
- Creating a memory scrapbook and filling it with photographs, letters, postcards, notes, or other significant memorabilia from your life together
- Spending time listening to your child’s favourite music or creating a special mix of music that reminds you of them
- Watching his or her favourite movie
- Planting a tree or flowers in your child’s memory
- Making a donation to a charity that your child supported or was helped by if they were ill
- Visiting your child’s graveside
- Carrying something special that reminds you of your child that you can take out and hold when you feel the need
- Creating a work of art in your child’s memory
- Preparing and eating a special meal in honour of your child
- Developing a memorial ritual for your child on special days or whenever you wish
Some people engage in the smaller, spontaneous rituals listed above on a regular basis. You may do something similar, or you might choose to create a more structured ritual. You may decide to create a special ritual only one time, or you might decide to hold your ritual (or some version of it) on a regular basis; daily, weekly, monthly, or on special days like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or other special occasions.
When selecting activities for a more structured grief ritual, choose specific things to mark the opening and the closing of your ritual:
- Light a special candle used only for your ritual purposes
- Light some incense
- Read or say aloud an inspirational verse, poem, or prayer
- Sing a song
- Play a particular selection of music
- Ring a chime or a bell
Clearly marking the beginning and the end of the ritual will help you transition into a different frame of mind at the opening, and it will signal that it is time to shift consciousness back to daily life at the closing.
Remain open: Do what feels comfortable to you
Before starting the ceremony, take a few deep breaths to centre yourself. Remember that it is okay if you cry. This is your space and time to express your grief in whatever ways you need to. If all you can do is cry during your planned ritual time, most likely, that is what you need to do. Whatever happens in between the opening and closing of the ritual is completely up to you. You can have an activity planned, or you may be the sort of person who feels more comfortable planning nothing at all. Perhaps you’ll choose to do whatever you are moved to do once you are in the ritual space. You might wish to simply sit quietly for as long as you need to, listen to music, spend time crying, look through photos of your child, meditate, pray, or read some healing literature or a sacred text. It is okay to remain open and do whatever comes to you in the moment.
Sometimes you may feel the need to communicate something to your child. The sacred, safe space of a ritual is an ideal place to do this. When you need to communicate, you may choose to speak aloud, meditate on your thoughts silently, or write your thoughts in a letter.
Consider incorporating the burning, burying, or floating of the letter that you write. If you wish to let go of negative thoughts or emotions you may wish to make burning of the note part of the ritual (please make sure this is done in a safe way) or you may wish to bury the letter in a favourite spot in the garden they loved, or just keep them in a special memory box.
You may simply feel the need to release energy in your ritual space and shout or scream. If you’re working through feelings of anger in your grief, keep pillows nearby that you can hit, punch, or throw. Tearing and ripping paper or stomping cardboard boxes can also help to release anger or you can energetically release your feelings of anger etc. via energy releasing techniques like EAM (Energy Alignment Method®). You may wish to include some movement, dance, or vocal expression such as singing, chanting, or yelling. You might want to beat on a drum or play some other instrument to release energy and emotion through sound.
Consider inviting others
You can conduct your grief rituals alone, or with others. Your ritual could be an ideal time to share your grief with friends and family members grieving the same loss. If you invite others to join your ritual, you may wish to ask each person to share something about your lost child; a memory, story, or thought. Ask guests to bring something to read or share as part of the ritual, and invite them to participate in any ritual activity you develop, such as chanting, drumming, or letter-writing.
Continue your ritual as needed
Conduct your grief rituals for as long and as often as you need to. As you heal, you may find that your need to engage in ritual for your grief will wane. Continuing to maintain some of your small rituals, such as continuing to carry your child’s photograph or wearing a particular sentimental piece of jewellery may serve you. The more elaborate rituals may change over time, or you may feel the need to hold them only on special occasions, such as birthdays or anniversaries. If you have created a shrine or altar that you have used in your rituals or kept in your home, you may find that you wish to make changes to it over time. This is okay, too. The changes mean that your personal process through grief is progressing, and your rituals have helped you move from chaos and pain to wholeness and stability.
While spiritual practices can help you work through grief, here are five things to be mindful of:
- Don’t rush it - People might ask if you’ve ‘gotten over’ your grief. It’s not a virus, and it’s not something you can ‘get over’, so, give yourself time to move forward at your own pace.
- Don’t judge yourself - Everyone grieves in their own way, and there is no statute of limitations on the grieving process, as long as it doesn’t hurt you or someone else, it’s OK.
- Don’t try to be your old self - The ’old you’ doesn’t exist anymore, by allowing yourself to feel your grief, and listening to your inner voice, you can grow and transition into a ‘new normal’ and a new you.
- Don’t try to control it - Grief will come and go, sometimes taking you by surprise. That’s normal.
- Pause to Remember - Rituals, religious or personal, can help you feel connected to your child long after they are gone.
Need help getting started? Try one of these ideas:
- Lay an extra table setting for your child during the holidays or on their birthday
- Take up an activity your child enjoyed in life. Use the time you spend doing this activity to remember or feel your connection with them
- Write a letter to your child. Burn the letter, and visualize the smoke carrying your message to them, wherever they are
- Light a candle in a special place
- Plant a tree, or an entire garden, and dedicate it to the child you have lost
- Make an annual gift to your child’s favourite charity, or one that helped them, on their birthday
Perform simple acts of kindness and dedicate them to the memory of your child.
Meditation is an excellent way to help you process grief, get some peace and feel connected with your child again. Meditation is soothing and peaceful and when your heart is in turmoil it is a real gift to yourself to take a moment to breathe. Meditation drains away all negativity and may reveal what you further need to heal your pain.
To meditate find a quiet space where you can be alone with your mind, in your garden, at a scenic spot or just in your bedroom on your bed; wherever you feel safe and serene. Find a space where you feel comfortable and consider wrapping yourself in a blanket or shawl. You can also hold something that belonged to your child; a favourite toy or a piece of jewellery as this will help to free you from anxiety and connect with loving thoughts about your child on the meditation. You could arrange a few stones/crystals in front of you that have either uplifting sayings on them or have healing properties, or light an aromatherapy candle whose essential oils are known to support the grieving process such as Sandalwood, Frankincense, Myrrh, Grapefruit, Chamomile, Rose or Lavender.
Before you meditate, protect and ground yourself in healing white light, this keeps away any negative energy whilst you are in meditation; imagine filling your body with white light from your head through your shoulders down through your back and stomach, down via your hips to your legs and feet. Then ground yourself by imagining two cords from the bottom of your feet and one from your tailbone going down into the earth and locking them in like the roots of a tree.
During your meditation choose an object that speaks to what you are feeling at that moment. You can sit quietly with your eyes shut to help clear your head if you are on overdrive. Focus on your breath with a hand on your heart if you want to show yourself compassion or ask your child’s soul a question and sense a response if you need guidance. You can also focus on a positive word or phrase; such as “I will make choices that help heal my soul”, or focus on what your body is doing, breathing, feeling, hearing and smelling, as you concentrate on the present moment. If you sense that you have a lot of pent-up feelings to release (such as anger, pain, sadness, fear), you can just sit quietly and allow them to float up and out of you. Do not consciously try to think about sad thoughts, let these be your unconscious thoughts, just let your emotions guide you. Allow them to reach their peak on their own and then feel them fade away. Meditation can cause an energetic release, so if you feel a good cry coming on, don't hold back, let it out. The phrase ‘better out than in’ has never been so apt!
If you would like more structure to your meditations there are numerous meditations available online that specifically focus on grief and healing; or check out the resources section on my website for some FREE downloadable meditations that I’ve created to support you.
For me, meditation is a nice way to be quiet and focused enough to hush my mind and allow me to be guided by my higher self. The best way to feel tranquil and fulfilled, both during and after meditation is to set your expectations aside and simply receive. If you are someone that journals, then draw or write about what you saw in your meditation.
Set a timer for 11 minutes, this is a spiritual number which is related to Angelic guidance and protection and the master number in numerology. Think about something you need from your life; something like an emotion that you can control. For example, maybe you want to wake up without anxiety, have the patience to raise your other children whilst also mourning the loss of your child or let go of any fears you have. Spend 11 positive moments visualising what this desire would look and feel like and when the timer goes off say “Please show me opportunities that will make it happen” and then take them!
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