The Importance of Rituals In Grief

There is great importance of rituals in grief during trying times. These are unprecedented times indeed, when it seems that every week there’s some calamity to shake our world.

First, came the wildfires of Australia which threatened to burn the country to the ground. Then, the Corona Virus which forced the world to hide away in their homes until the threat passes over. Next came the Killer Hornet which threatens our already endangered bee population. There are the warnings of upcoming famines as a result of the Corona Virus. The world’s economy in shambles. And then, the brutal police murder of George Floyd, which escalated the response to the terror Black Communities have had from police brutality they’ve suffered for years. Peaceful protests are being used as an excuse for rubber bullets and tear gas.

Grief isn’t just mourning a person – it can also be mourning the life you once had before a sudden change. We’re all feeling this now. We’re never going to go back to living the way we were at the beginning of 2020. Social isolation brought upon by fear of contamination will echo into our daily lives of the future. We’re grieving the loss of that freedom of movement, and of our pre-crisis days. When the world is anything but normal, rituals and traditions are so important even in these modern times.

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The Importance In Keeping Normality

When your life seems to have been turned upside down and inside out, it’s important to use routines and rituals in order to get a foothold of normalcy. Simple things, like keeping to a daily schedule, getting up and going to sleep at the same times, walking the dog at 3 pm, or maintaining Taco Tuesdays can keep a semblance of normalcy. If you have no control on what’s going to happen next on a worldly scale, then do what you can to keep control of your daily lives.

Why We Need Rituals In Our Lives

When someone dies, your life is turned upside down. You lose all control. First comes the shock, the disbelief of the event, which eventually fades back to let loose the powerful emotions lying behind the curtain. It’s impossible to think straight, the grief is so overpowering. Relying on the custom of funeral rites helps provide comfort and succor, as the steps have already been laid out. The rituals each culture follow help create stepping stones for the mourners to follow, when they can barely stand on their own.

The Rites of Passage is an important ritual in grief that allows a safe space for the mourners to gather and express their grief. Everyone gathered is there to mourn the same person, and this solidarity helps move grief along so it doesn’t get stuck in the psyche.

Importance of Rituals in Grief Respects and Honors the Departed

Whether it be a traditional funeral, a wake, a celebration of life, this ritual is important as it is designed to be the ultimate honor to the departed. The gathering of loved ones in a manner and space that respects the deceased wishes is the ultimate tribute ritual. Each ritual is different as the person it honors, tailored to their last wishes.

Once the mourners have gathered, the next stage of the ritual begins: the eulogies. Just as the dearly departed lead a multi-faceted life, each participant has a unique story to tell about them. By sharing these stories, each storyteller has their chance to relive their moments together, while connecting with their audience. This important ritual helps grief pass through each mourner, respecting and honoring the departed while coming together to celebrate their life.

Rituals Tie Us To Our Past

Each time an occasion is celebrated, there are certain keystones which must be in place. If it’s a winter holiday, perhaps this means a sprig of mistletoe is hung over the doorway. If it’s a birthday, perhaps red envelopes containing money are handed out. These keystones have been passed down from generation to generation. Over time, they may have adapted to accommodate others traditions which makes them relevant to their current participants while tying them to their past.

When one is grieving, recreating family traditions to honor your beloved departed connects you to all of your loved ones who are beyond the veil. When time zooms by so quickly, these traditions help plant a stake in time, bringing us together with memories of past celebrations. Usually, these are joyous celebrations, but in times of grief, rituals is so much more important. Each culture has their own ways of celebrating life. Each family follows their own path of keystones. The point of having these keystones in place is to help guide those who are lost in grief to where they need to be, while keeping a tether to our past.

Rituals Provide Space to Calm and Reflect

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Rituals also give us space to breathe for a moment. When everything is in chaos, you’re swept along in the madness. Maybe you’re panicked, in shock, depressed, or even a combination of these feelings. It’s hard to function when you’re in this state of confusion.

The Surprising Truth About Ritual and Grief

One of the benefits of the importance of rituals in grief, is that it creates a calm space to retreat to. For example, my mother is a devote Roman Catholic. Whenever she finds the world too much to handle, her special rose-scented rosary comes out and she’ll spend twenty minutes praying. As her fingers roll the beads through her prayers, she drifts into a deep meditation, reflecting on the mysteries of Christian history. Once the cycle ends, and her murmurs cease, she’ll come back to the present again, renewed with new purpose.

There are many different types of ritual, used all over the world. In my little world, I use yoga and meditation to bring myself back into myself. Journaling is a common ritual, as is going for a run or a bike ride. Anything that you find helps push away the noise and bring you into a reflective state can be considered an important practice to return to whenever the world’s grief is too much to bear.

The Importance of Rituals in Grief Link Us Together

As we celebrate life, as we mourn, cry, laugh and reminisce, rituals are important to help us grieve as a community. Grief felt individually is a dark, lonely place. Grief shared is a blanket that comforts us all.

Whenever people come together to proclaim their hurt publicly, it validates their individual pain while providing succor and support to the group. When we turn to the importance of ritual in grief, we turn to each other. Whether it be a widow’s group mourning their unwanted role, or a group of minorities raising voice to be finally heard, they are all asking for recognition of their grief.

Lets You Be In The Moment

Our lifestyles demand an insistent timetable. Literally running from breakfast, to dropping the kids off at school, to work, to picking up the kids, after-school activities, making dinner, eating dinner, bedtimes. The demands of our lives require us to constantly be thinking three steps ahead, with contingent plans in the wings if/when something goes off schedule. Sometimes it’s too overwhelming.

 

One of gifts of the pandemic lock-down, was that it forced the world to put on the brakes – literally overnight. We watched the news from our couch as the reports of the virus spreading across the world flashed it’s color-coded maps on screen. Our kids were stuck with us at home, schools and daycares closed, leaving us to try to help these frustrated kids homeschool, or giving up altogether to focus on working from home. Each day blended into the next, schedules kept or abandoned, who to say what worked better.

 

But as the world was forced to sit and wait, it also broke us from our treadmills. We no longer had outside obligations to run to. No rushing from work to school to home. We were literally on lockdown, with potential death as the consequence if we broke it. And gradually, ever so gradually, we learned to sit and be in the moment.

 

The world grieves for the days past, when we didn’t have to wear masks outside, or social distance while we shopped for groceries. But in this grief, we also finally recognized the importance of being still to get through our grief.

The Importance of Rituals in Grief for You

What family traditions are important for you to uphold? During these times of grief, what gives you comfort? I’m sure there are so many that I haven’t been able to touch on in this post. Tell me what I should include – important rituals and traditions help you through your grief? Comment below, or email me privately.

You’re not alone.

 

10 Replies to “The Importance of Rituals In Grief”

  1. I have a friend who asked me , “is it unhealthy for me to celebrate my son’s birthday?” My response is no. When people pass away, we are going to remember those days regardless if we celebrate or have a ritual or not. It isn’t just about the person who passed, it is about taking the time for us to reflect. I love your article, especially about rituals being a calm place to retreat and to reflect.

    1. I’m sorry that your son passed, but am very glad you honour his memory on his birthday. I do the same every year on my husband’s birthday. Much love to you!

  2. My coworker’s dad passed away and because of covid she was unable to fly and participate in the funeral. No one could. I think these are so important and it breaks my heart that people are having to change their grief rituals in our new normal. Very touching article!

    1. This sudden adjustment to our “normal” grief rites is what prompted me to write this post. Hopefully we can all adjust and find comfort in new traditions.

  3. Rituals in life are very important. I have not really thought about how the world’s issues are affecting me so much but really, I agree as you posted above, it does affect us – in so many ways. Your last statement – you’re not alone is a great reminder. Thank you!

    1. My family and I have just had a loved one pass. Dealing with the loss and grief is overwhelming. I appreciate the advice you offer here. It gives manageable and realistic ways to deal with grief. I will be forwarding This article to my family. Great read!

    2. Thanks, Katrina. I could see how it was/is affecting everyone. I’m so glad you were able to get something from this.

  4. What a beautiful post. The idea of ritual to keep us grounded is a smart way to move through this pandemic. It lets us focus on making meaning during a time when everything feels out of our control. Particularly on days when we feel consumed by the expanse of open time we have in the day, ritual gives us something to do that feels meaningful. The image of your mom using her rosary is a great symbol of how staying grounded in ritual can help ease emotional distress.

    1. And this is a beautiful response! Your words are heartfelt. I’m so glad that you were able to get some peace from this post.

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widow solo parent of two

I’m Sarah!

I created this site to be a safe place for those who are under a tremendous amount of stress. My focus is two-fold: helping those who have experienced grief learn how to live through it; and helping solo parents bring their all to their kids, without losing their minds.

My goal is to tell our continuing story to help other widow/ers of young kids find hope and inspiration again. I want to help guide you along your path of grief, through the shadows and pain to a better, brighter life. To help you live with death, while embracing life.

 

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