Many of us who are caught up in the conspiracy of busyness are often cut off from our grief. In many cultures in the U.S., we are trained to be fearful of death; we are conditioned to “get over” our loss and move on as quickly as possible. However, as a Jewish prayer states, “We do best homage to our dead by living our lives fully even in the shadow of our loss. Our grief is what allows us to begin to live our lives fully again after loss.”
Rituals are symbolic actions that usually acknowledge or honor transitions in our lives and can be very powerful tools for processing our emotions. For one, they can provide some containment for what feels like a chaotic, out-of-control experience. We usually don’t know what to do, especially in the aftermath of an unanticipated trauma like suicide. Rituals sometimes have very soothing, reassuring aspects to them and give our minds something meaningful to focus upon.
Many other reasons for the effectiveness of rituals exist. When words don’t suffice, rituals offer symbolic means to communicate. Community rituals help build a sense of solidarity. As we try to figure out a “new normal” in our individual and family lives, rituals can help give us structure. Rituals can become intentional releases like pressure valves; they can bring forth cherished memories and connect us to what matters most. Here are some:
Rituals of remembrance: Probably the most common ritual for grieving a loss are rituals of remembrance. Lighting candles in honor of our loved ones is a powerful and beautiful acknowledgement of the light they brought to the world. Saying the names of our deceased loved ones out loud also has a strong impact.
Rituals of communication: Rituals of communication can give us the opportunity to say the things we couldn’t or didn’t while our loved one was alive. One way to do this is by writing a letter or a poem to our loved one.
Rituals of nurturing: Grieving is hard work, and often we are so overwhelmed by the intensity of our emotions, we forget to take care of ourselves. In the process, we can find ourselves drained or continually sick, and this just adds to our misery. Having a “comfort box” nearby can give us some ideas on how we can replenish ourselves. Soothing music or aromatherapy might be nurturing for some. Other people might include religious passages or affirmations that they find grounding. Pictures or stories that make us laugh or warm our soul can also help.
Rituals of reflection: In our busy lives we often find it hard to pause and reflect on where we have been, where we are at and where we are going. Rituals of reflection give us the space and structure to do this. Sometimes this form of ritual can be through meditation or prayer. Others times we may find journaling or drawing serve this purpose.
Rituals of community connection: Many of the local and national suicide prevention walks offer rituals of community connection as a way to publicly honor our loved ones and create a sense of belongingness among bereaved people. Survivor quilt displays, dove releases and “mardi gras” bead wearing are examples of these community practices. These group rituals let us know we are not alone in our pain.
Rituals of release: Sometimes we have places in our grief that seem to get in our way. Guilt, anger, and regret can fester and keep us stuck. For rituals of release, some people have written these thoughts out on paper and then have burned the paper as a symbol of letting these toxic emotions go. Others have buried symbols of these emotions in the ground.