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.
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.
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
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.
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.