Day #10 of the 12 Days of Coping with Christmas

by Karla Helbert

The tenth coping strategy is “Create Rituals”

Rituals large and small can help us manage the chaos of grief. Rituals of remembrance help to bring order, aid in transition and help us to understand complex feelings.

Through observing our own senses, acknowledging how we are feeling, and purposefully using the tools of ritual to safely come into the present moment with our grief, with our love, and with whatever else the moment holds, we can find ways of moving through each moment and into the next. In grief, this can be an essential practice.

In our culture we get only one socially sanctioned ritual: the funeral

That is not enough to help us move through the ongoing turmoil of grief. Grieving people create their own rituals whether they know they’re doing it or not. Wearing his shirt to bed, lighting a candle, putting on the special piece of jewelry, saying good morning to them each day. We do these things to connect with them and to bring some stability to our shattered lives. When you create and engage in ritual purposefully, you can deepen this connection and care for yourself at the same time.

Creating your own personal rituals lets you access grief in a safe and structured way. A ritual can be as elaborate as a public memorial service or as small as a quiet moment alone with your loved one’s picture. All the things suggested in the Make Something post can also be part of a ritual. Ritual itself is creative.

  • Light a candle at special times of the day or week to remind you of your loved one
  • Create a memory book and fill it with things that connect you to them
  • Create an altar or shrine in their memory
  • Plant a tree or flowers for them
  • Make a donation to a charity that your loved one supported or that reminds you of them
  • Visit the burial site
  • Carry something special that reminds you of your loved one. Hold it when you need to.

Create Your Own Ritual

Rituals tend to follow a basic structure. They include preparation, an opening, a middle, and a closing. Clearly marking the beginning and the ending of rituals helps us move into a different frame of mind, into sacred space, and then signals that it is time to shift our consciousness back to an ordinary mode of being at the closing.

Some suggestions for openings and closings of rituals:

  • Lighting a candle or some incense.
  •  Read or say aloud an inspirational verse, poem, or prayer.
  • Sing, chant, or play music.
  • Ring a chime or a bell.

After the opening, take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Remember that all feelings are okay. A ritual is your space and time to express grief and love in whatever ways you choose and need to. Whatever happens in between the opening and closing of the ritual is up to you. You can plan an activity, such as working on a memory book, writing a letter, planting a tree—the possibilities are unlimited. Or you might have nothing planned. After opening, you might simply sit quietly, listen to music, cry, look through photos, meditate, pray, read. It is okay to do whatever comes to you in the moment.

Sometimes you may need to communicate something to your loved one. The sacred, safe space of a ritual is an ideal for this. When you need to communicate, you may choose to speak aloud, meditate on your thoughts silently, or write a letter.

You might feel the need to release energy in your ritual space. Yell, scream, or cry as much as you need to. If you’re working with anger, keep pillows nearby that you can hit, punch or throw. Tearing and ripping paper or stomping cardboard boxes can also help release anger. 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.

You can have rituals alone or with others. Your ritual could be a good time to share your grief with friends and family members. If you share your ritual, you might ask each person to share a memory or have a group activity like chanting, drumming, or letter writing. You might ask them each to bring something to read or share.

You can have grief rituals for as long and as often as you need or want to. You might find that your need to engage in ritual will diminish over time as you grow and integrate your grief in different ways.

Every day rituals like carrying your loved one’s photograph, or wearing a particular sentimental piece of jewelry or sleeping with an item of clothing may also shift over time. You may feel the need to hold more structured rituals only on special days such as birthdays or anniversaries or not at all. This is all okay. Change is natural, like grief is natural. Rituals help us move from chaos and pain to wholeness and stability. They are always there when we need them.

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Anne Moss Rogers

I am the mother of two boys and the owner of emotionally naked, a site that reached a quarter million people in its first 18 months. I am a writer and professional public speaker on the topics of suicide, addiction, mental illness, and grief and currently working on getting a book published. I lost my youngest son, Charles, 20, to suicide June 5, 2015. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory.

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