light a candle for loveEvery person carries within a sea of unshed tears, and it is not enough to simply cope with the grief of loss, bereavement. That is mere survival. Somehow, you must transform the most terrible pain into gold, the sweet light of laughter, the will to carry on as a human being, to hear and rejoin the keening song of life. Only then can you ever hope to reclaim your life.
- Jeff Taylor

Rituals are symbolic and respectful acts. They honor the memory of someone you have lost. They can be cathartic and help survivors cope. Studies show that, after a personal loss, performing rituals can help you regain a sense of control. They can provide satisfaction, comfort, engagement, meaning, power, joy and balance.

Standard rituals are obituaries, wakes, funerals and memorial services. I tried to make the services for Doug as special as he was. I skipped a viewing at the wake. Instead, Gilman & Valade helped us personalize it by arranging a neat display of some of his favorite things in life - climbing gear, his game ball, his Homeless Man coat, etc. Friends decorated with wildflowers from yards in the neighborhood, since he spent so much time outdoors. There were photos and a slide show of his exploits and silliness.

There are other things survivors can do to help them with accepting loss.

Some ideas for rituals to consider are listed below. (I'm a big list-maker in case you haven't noticed :-) Grief support groups recommend choosing ones that have meaning for you and your loved ones.

  • Light a candle. You can buy a special candle and light it on special dates - birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, Father or Mother's Day, etc.
  • Visiting a grave or the spot where they lost their life. Sprinkle fragrant dried rosemary and tansy on the spot.
  • Send a message. When I went to China with Kim when she adopted her second child, we visited a monastery. People lit incense. They believed that their thoughts and prayers would then waft their way heavenward. You could write a note on a piece of paper and then burn it. Some people visit spiritualists or mediums (look out for scammers taking advantage of grief.) (Some put a note in a balloon and let it lose, but eventually it is going to pop and create waste or perhaps injure wildlife when they try to eat it.)
  • Lighting and floating a Chinese "sky lantern" up into the night sky is a mystical tribute that may leave you with a sense of peace.
  • Keep a journal. Right after I lost Doug, a friend asked what I needed. I asked her to pick me up a journal. When Doug and I were apart, we wrote to each other every day and then read them together when we reunited. Now I write in this journal most nights, especially when I can't sleep. It is a cathartic release. It is almost like talking to him - telling him all the things I normally would - what happened that day, complaining about who bugged me, etc. I also vent about things that are even more inappropriate that what I write on cragman.com. It is private and safe. It helps me develop insights and provides relief. More on journaling the journey.
  • Have a gathering or gathering. Include your loved ones - closest family and friends. Or have one for work colleagues. You could do something Quaker style, where people share remembrances. You can share pictures or do a slide show, scrapbooks, stories, and reminisce. You can play their favorite songs. You can order and release butterflies at your home or by their grave. This could be a celebration of their life. Personally, I favor a party or drunkfest. Somehow it seems more appropriate for Doug. (See the first birthday without him.)
  • Keep memories alive. This is one of the reasons I set up this website.
    • Make a scrapbook or collage of photos and/or mementos
    • Make your family tree
    • Transcribe some of their letters or the story of their life and share it with those who knew them
    • Make a shadow box of some special things that belonged to them
    • Make a quilt from their clothes
    • Make a list of the positive things you do NOT regret. More.
  • Continue a project your loved one started. If they were in the process of building something, volunteering, or had a business, you can help keep things from being left unfinished. When Doug passed away, he was right in the middle of restoring the back room of our historic house. I was overwhelmed by the state it was in (up on jacks, gaping holes in the exterior walls.) Family, friends, neighbors and colleagues came over and got it into shape. I will keep working on it.
  • Help others. Doing good makes you feel good. You need that now. You have something that can help others. Also, it gets you away from your own head and problems. You will see that some people have it way worse. For example, if you would be spending Thanksgiving alone, you could help feed the homeless. Read more.
  • Make a donation or gift in your loved ones' name. See above.
    • You might choose a charity or organization your loved one was involved with. Or one that was related to what happened to them. Or an organization that helped him. I know how much it means to my family when people who want to do something make a donation in Doug's name to some of the organizations he believed in.
    • You can set up a scholarship or memorial fund.
    • Donate a bench with a plaque on it to a park.
    • Some people buy gifts on their loved ones birthday and holidays and donate it in their name.
      • Some folks buy a special gift for themselves on their own birthday or Christmas, since the person who usually gave them something is gone. This may cheer them up.
  • Plant a memorial garden. You can also plant a healthy live tree or bush suited for your area. Put it in a place that was special to you and your loved one. Be sure to get permission if it is a public place. Some gardens will take donations of plants, or funds to purchase them. Consider native plants that are good for the environment. They are more likely to thrive in your area, and can attract and benefit wildlife. Or consider planting healing herbs: the aroma of basil, thyme, mint, lilac and lavender are said to relieve stress, headaches, and improve sleep.
  • Put up a nestbox. Life can come from your loss. Some birds like bluebirds (a symbol of hope for many) will nest in birdhouses. You can purchase or donate a bluebird nestbox and give it to an individual or organization that maintains a trail. Some organizations will even put a dedication plaque/woodburning on the outside of the box. See: bluebirding organizations | getting started with bluebirding | starting your own trail.
  • Look to your faith. I am a skeptic, but it comforts a lot of people to pray, participate in religious ceremonies, meditate, or participate in activities at their place of worship. Clergy are trained and experienced in counseling the grief stricken.
  • Join a support group when you're ready (or maybe when you think you're not) or attend a gathering. Check with hospices, hospitals, funeral homes, clergy, or phone books for bereavement or grief groups. Most are free. You can learn more about how to deal with your loss, and meet others in the same boat. Be forewarned that group therapy things can be depressing. However, you may still find parts helpful. You may also just want to form your own "group" with people going through a similar experience. Try to pick bereaved folks who are grieving in a healthy way. In my area, LifeChoice organizes amazing gatherings for family and friends of organ and tissue donors.
  • For Christmas: See donations/gifts. You can hang up a Christmas stocking for a loved one. Everyone can write a special note and put it inside. You can buy a Christmas ornament each year to remember them.
  • Write a poem or song about them or your loss.
  • Create a little private shrine. It might have pictures, flowers, and a candle. It can be in your home or a special place you went to together. You can visit it and talk to your lost one or pray. Or dance. This contained space can be a safe place where you can grieve, deconstruct and then reconstruct. Read more on grief rituals from other cultures.
  • Express rage or anger in a safe way. Instead of picking a fight, getting negative or hostile with others, or tearing out your hair, consciously release the anger in a productive way. Maybe buy a cheap set of china and then break every piece. Take a bow and shoot arrows into the air in all directions. Chop up some wood for a fire and burn it.
  • Get a tattoo. There are health and safety issues (e.g., transmission of hepatitis via inks), and I've seen some bad, blurry ones. Remember the rule about no major, irrevocable decisions in the first year. Consider a bracelet or locket instead, and wait to see if you still want to do a tattoo a year later.
  • Keepsakes. Some widows or widowers have their engagement or wedding ring put in a new setting for a necklace or pin. I wear Doug's ring intact on a chain he gave me. I can put my finger through it and feel connected to him in a way.
  • Anniversary Thank You. Use the first anniversary of your loss to thank the people who helped you make it through. You can post yours at recover-from-grief.com and send the link to those you thanked..

Allow yourself to live life - read more.


A ritual enacts a newfound consciousness, making its deepest reality proximate and palpable. It sanctifies the place we are in and the things we feel by consecrating them to something higher than the transitory.
- David Richo, How to Be an Adult in Relationships

Evoke one good memory for each bad one from now on.
- David Richo, How to Be an Adult in Relationships

For Betsy Marie. 07/17/2010



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