Expressing Grief through Your Own Rituals

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When a loved one dies, you might feel devoid of life, hope, or happiness. Expressing grief through personal rituals can ease the pain. A ritual is any ceremony that progresses in established steps.

Although people generally think of ritual in the context of formalized religion, it need not be. You can (and probably do) make a ritual out of the smallest and most mundane acts in your everyday life, such as getting ready for work in the morning, preparing the evening meal, or getting ready for bed at night.

To develop your own grief ritual, all you have to do is figure out the following three things:

  • Place: Select a clear, clean space in a room where you can erect some sort of grief memorial or shrine. If possible, choose a room where any noise you make won't disturb your family or neighbors.

  • An established time: Select a time when you can devote yourself totally to remembrance of your loved one.

  • Activities: Select a prayer, inspirational reading, piece of music, or poem that you can recite or play when opening and closing the ritual. Fill the middle of the ritual with whatever it is you need to articulate and convey at the moment you conduct the ritual.

Creating a shrine as part of your grief ritual

When setting up the grief memorial or shrine, adopt an attitude of loving care and great awareness as you select and arrange each element.

[Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Irina Drazowa-Fischer 2011]
Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Irina Drazowa-Fischer 2011

You may want to add pictures of your loved one along with some personal or natural objects that remind you of him. Personal objects can include effects such as jewelry; awards and trophies; caps, hats, and other clothing; and even favorite books (especially a loved one's Bible or missal). Natural objects can include anything you have at hand, such as rocks (which you can decorate), shells and sand if you live near a beach, and bird nests (abandoned, of course) and branches from the back yard. And if it feels right, you also can add candles, incense, and flowers to the memorial.

Choosing activities for your grief ritual

When selecting activities for your grief ritual, pick one inspirational verse, poem, or song that you use each time you open the ritual and another that you use each time you close the ritual. That way, you have two established steps that you can rely on to mark both the beginning of the ritual and its end.

Even if you're not particularly musically inclined, you may want to release some energy by making your own sound for the ritual. If you don't have a musical instrument, you can use anything that makes noise — from an empty cereal box for percussion and an empty bottle as a wind instrument. And if you can't find something to use as an instrument, don't forget your voice. You can always recite words as a chant even if you can't carry a tune.

Grief rituals: Performing the ceremony

Before starting the ceremony, take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Don't worry if you break down in tears at this point or any other during the ritual. After all, this ceremony is all about expressing your grief as openly and freely as possible, whenever you need to.

After opening the ritual, play the middle activities completely by ear. Sometimes you may need to communicate something to your loved one, and other times you may have nothing particular to say but have a great need to release pent-up emotions.

When you need to communicate, speak the words out loud or meditate on the thoughts silently. When you need to release your emotions, don't hold back. Yell, scream, whine, and cry as much as you need to. If you're feeling a great deal of anger as part of your grief, keep pillows nearby that you can pummel as you rail against whomever or whatever you hold responsible for your woeful situation.

You don't have to conduct your grief rituals all alone (unless you want or need to). This is a perfect time to share your grief with others, especially other friends and family members who are also grieving the same loss. If you share your ritual with others, they may find it a great comfort if you allow each person to relate something about your lost loved one, such as a description, story, or vignette (and yes, it's okay to include a funny story and have a laugh amid your tears).

Conduct your grief rituals and keep your memorial up as long as you need to use it. At some point when you're ready and your grief is finally subsiding, you will want to conclude your grief rituals. At that time, you may or may not want to dismantle the memorial as well. If you do decide to dismantle it, after concluding the final ritual, take down the memorial or shrine with the same loving care with which you erected it.


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