Planning > Creating Your Own Ritual
After my own son died, it was very hard to find reasons to go on living my life. Though a lot farther inbetween and fewer in general, I still have days now, 7 years later, when I'm not sure there is reason to get out of bed. In those most difficult moments, I've often found the only thing to bring me around to living again is some kind of ritual.
Along the way, I've created and particiapted in lots of different kinds of ritual. Some very formal. Some casual. Some associated with one religion or another. Some very free flowing. Some connected to a highly recognized "holiday" like National Children's Memorial Day or Day of the Dead. Some just on any random day of the week.
By far, the most important element to any of them was that it had to FEEL right to me. If it felt uncomfortable or like I was fulfilling an obligation, then it was pointless. It was depressing enough to send me back to bed. But when it felt RIGHT on, when the vibe out in the room matched my inner being, then it was better than any drug any doctor could have prescribed!
So I wanted to share some ideas with you here for how you might create and participate in rituals that are right for you:
Outside the box
While formal funerals or memorials that happen just after the death of a loved one are often dictated by the religious affiliation of the bereaved, I encourage you to think outside the box for creating your own rituals to happen in addition to traditional rituals. Or maybe for rituals that happen a year or 10 years after the date of death. Sometimes looking to the basics of religious traditons can give me great ideas, but often they fall short of what the bereaved need over the long-term of living life after the death of our kids. So just consider thinking of ritual as something in safe space for sacred expression of whatever you feel in the moment. Try that instead of being locked into thinking of ritual as something dictated by a particular religion. Or look for ideas in religious based sources that encourage you to honor tradition AND make the ritual your own. For instance, if you have experienced pregnancy loss and want to do something within the Jewish traditions, take a look at Ritualwell.org where prayers, articles, and ceremony ideas.
Does movement help you to focus and be calm? Consider walking a labyrinth. This could be a labyrinth you make or one that someone else has made in your local area. Labyrinths can be made out of string, rocks, hedges, walls, anything. People walk them in silence. I like to pick a word or phrase to repeat to myself as I walk. Sometimes I just invoke my son's name. Images flick across my mind of what it means to spend this time with him. And I feel connected. It's an interesting experience. I don't know if it will be annual event or what, but Vashon Island is hosting a Labryinth Tour, 10am to 4pm, September 23, 2006 where anyone can come and walk a variety of public and private labyrinths. At several of the locations, there will be either poetic readings or live music being played as people walk. Imagine it will be very sacred space that day.
Does being still and quiet help you? Try a Reiki session, maybe a session that includes soft tones of crystal bowls or other meditation music. I know a Reiki Master who offers private and public sessions where sound therapy is also being offered. The Reiki feels very warm and safe to me. The sound of the crystal bowls or the chanting just put a zoned out spell on me. It's very relaxing! Sometimes I bring the print of my son's footprints with me and set them out in front of me during the session. I feel very connected to him that way, too.
Sometimes I need a prompt. When nothing at all will help me connect to a ritual sense, I will sometimes try to find a prompt. I have several decks of different cards on hand. One is a Support Deck from GriefWatch.com which is a deck of cards each asking a question about the grief journey. Like it might say, "If you could tell your loved one anything right now, what would you say?" And I create time and space around that prompt. Maybe I write. Maybe I make art in response. Maybe I go out and throw rocks into the water as I yell out the answer. But whatever I do, that prompt gives me a place to start.
Zen State Of Mind
On holidays like Day of the Dead, I may try to create some kind of ritual to mark the day, to honor my son. With Day of the Dead, I am very interested in the sugar skulls. There is so much to this holiday, and I encourage you to investigate it fully, read alot, attend celebrations in the cemeteries if you can. For me that most ritualized part of it is the making of the sugar skulls which is just tiny bit of the whole. But I really get into it. I like to make the moulds myself, time alone, music playing, candles lit. The repetition of making them puts me in a Zen sort of state. And then I like to invite people in to decorate them. Making art with others. Remembering their loved one also. It definitely is holy time, but also feels almost fun to me. I know that sounds awful, right? I mean, I would trade it in a second to have my kid back, obviously. But since that can't happen, I'll take feeling a bit of joy in making art with others. You can find more about sugar skulls at MexicanSugarSkulls.com online.
How to Finish
Consider the structure of your ritual. I saw Darcie Sims speak at the MISS conference this past summer, and she brought up this very interesting point about doing candle lighting ceremonies. We build the structure up leading up to the lighting, we light the candles, we display the candles, then what? Do people blow them out? That feels very sad to me. Blowing out the light of memory. Leaving my son in the dark. Or something. So she suggested just to at least think ahead of time about the structure of your ritual. How to you want it to conclude? For me, I can only do candle lighting when I can leave the candle burning till all the wax is gone. If I have to blow it out, it upsets me too much to bother doing it in the first place. Just a thought when you are planning!
Plan your space
Inside? Outside? Alone? With your partner? With friends? What will make your space for the ritual feel safe? Can you set up the space as you see fit? Do you need help to set it up? But then you don't want the person helping to stay? :) Whatever you decide thinking about it and plan for it. Consider having easy access to things like drinking water, a blanket in case you chill, a window to open in case you get too warm, pen & paper in case something comes up that you just don't want to forget.
Ask for help maybe. One year, some friends knew that I was thinking about doing a ritual. I asked what they thought. And they came up with the most amazing plan with me. We met in a wonderful little yurt, had a wood stove fire, played music, talked, created art together, shared our stories of loss and grief journey. They even henna'd me, so I'd carry the stains of the henna design into the next week as a reminder! This was the event that turned me full-on into a henna artist!
Addition and Creation
Consider that maybe the ritual you most need is really just an addition to a long standing tradition. I often see families really struggle during the "holiday season" or at Mothers Day or Fathers Day simply because they feel left out. If their child has died, people may stop including them as a mother or father on those Hallmark holidays. So maybe we just have to ask to still be included. Or at winter holiday time when gift giving is so pervasive, sometimes parents feel their dead child is forgotten. Everyone gets and gives gifts, but there is no mention of the child who died. Maybe we have to ask that when people are doing their buying for all the other kids, would they consider also making a donation to a charity in honor of the child who died. In that way this child can be included, too. Or hang a stocking with the deceased child's name on it. Ask others to write notes either to the child or something in his memory or something they remember about him or her.
Okay, you get the idea. You can go a million directions and back again with rituals. So do it. Make ritual your own. Create safe and sacred space! If you feel you can't do that for yourself for some reason, then think of your loved one who died. Do it for them. Make the time and space to reinvest in your connection to them.
About the Author
Kara has been using poetry and other expressive arts tools on the grief journey since the death of her son in 1999. Her poetic and non-fiction works have been included in publications such as New Works Review, PoetsWest, Real Henna, Shared Heart Foundation's "Meant To Be", LightHearts Publication's "Soul Trek", MISSing Angels Newsletter, American Tanka, Mother Tongue Ink's We'Moon, Honored Babies, Cup of Comfort series, and more. She is a Carnegie Mellon graduate who co-founded KotaPress with her husband Hawk Jones. Her books "Mrs. Duck and the Woman" as well as "Flash of Life" have both been released thru KotaPress. She is currently in an apprenticeship working toward Master level of Reiki. And she founded HennaHealing.com where she is exploring the ancient art of henna and its uses for ritual and healing.