Why Practice Grief Rituals?
Grief can sometimes feel powerful enough to rip you apart at the seams. It is such an enormous, all-consuming, and overwhelming experience that it can make it hard to stay grounded in your body and present in the moment.
When coping with grief, some
people may find it helpful to create a system, pattern of behavior, or ritual
to anchor themselves. While grief rituals are not a replacement for therapy or
other forms of professional help, they can give you a container for that consuming,
world-shattering feeling we associate with grief.
Rituals are deliberate
and intentional, which can make them a good way to offset the confusion and
chaos of grief. Grief rituals provide a time, space, and structure to help you
connect to your feelings. The more in-tune you are with yourself, the more
easily you’ll be able to make progress toward one of the hardest steps in grief
Grief is difficult and painful, but it’s also a largely unavoidable part of life. The challenge is processing and responding to these changes in your world. By expressing your grief healthily, you can transform and grow as you move forward.
A Guide to Grief Rituals
For all rituals, it may be useful to find a way to mark the beginning and end of your practice. You could try lighting a candle when you start and blowing it out when you’re done, or turning music on for the duration of your grief rituals and turning it off when you’re finished. You could even try something as simple as putting on a jacket for the ritual and then removing it afterward. Regardless of the method you choose, the goal is to get into a habit that prepares you to access your grief at the beginning of the ritual and then shifts your mindset toward something else once you’re done.
With that out of the way, here are seven grief rituals that may be able to help with the healing process. You could pick one that suits your purposes, or combine them until you have something that is perfectly tailored to your needs.
Burial or Release
Whether you are grieving a death or some other form of loss or trauma, many people find that a burial or other form of physical release helps them begin the process of moving forward and finding closure. If you don’t have anything physical to represent your grief, consider writing your thoughts and experiences down on paper (or any fitting material). Once you’ve done that, try burying the note or burning it and releasing its ashes into the wind.
Write a Letter
Writing is one way to organize and understand the disorienting and sometimes numbing whirlwind of emotions we associate with grief. When you’re ready, try writing a letter to yourself or to the person or event you’re grieving. Write down anything that comes to mind. It may not make sense to you, but grief isn’t always a logical experience. When you’re done writing, you can place the letter on an altar space; put it in a box with other things related to the loss or change you’re experiencing; or release it by burying, burning, or composting it.
Create an Altar
An altar is a curated space of remembrance and honor. Choose a space that can remain relatively untouched, then place items connected to your grief on the altar. These can include photos, items of a relevant color or color scheme, letters, or a rock from a significant location, among other things. You can also place offerings on the altar such as flowers, food, healing crystals, candles, and art. At regular intervals, try to look at the altar and think of the person, event, or change that is the source of your grief. Make an effort to remain fully present as you experience your feelings in this moment. You can play music if you like. Just ground yourself in your memories and emotions.
Visit a Significant Place
Spend some time in a space that reminds you of the source of your grief. Feel the presence there. Open yourself to whatever feelings come your way, and allow yourself to act however your instincts tell you to (provided that you’re comfortable and safe). Do you feel like dancing, singing, or sitting still? Or do you feel like throwing something, crying, running, or walking? Do whatever feels right to you, so long as it isn’t harmful to yourself or to anyone else who might be around.
Celebrate an Anniversary
Designate a date for you to remember and/or do something to honor the loss or shift that initiated your grief. This allows you to keep that person or experience present in your life on a regular, recurring basis.
Light a Candle
Pick a time that you feel connected to your grief, light a candle, and take a moment to breathe and remember. Maybe you light a candle at 6 p.m. every day because that’s the time that the person you lost usually arrived home from work, or maybe you light a candle at the exact time the traumatic event occurred. You could also light a candle whenever certain emotions, thoughts, or memories rise up within you. Let the flame remind you of the lasting impact someone or something has had upon you.
Make Some Noise
Choose a time and location that you don’t have to worry about being too loud, then get to work! Produce some loud noises in whatever way appeals to you. You could play an instrument, yell, blast some loud music, or bang on a pot. Just do what feels right to you as long as it’s safe! Let the vibrations wash over you. Maybe you can let go and access your feelings, or maybe you just want to externalize for a while. See what works for you in the moment!
Be Open-Minded About Your Grief Rituals
You’ll likely find that the frequency with which you want to engage in your grief rituals changes over time. That’s entirely normal! Some people might use their grief rituals often when the grief is fresh and less once time has passed, while others may do the opposite. Either is alright. Just don’t tie yourself to a schedule that doesn’t serve you.
Grief varies wildly from person to person, and even from time to time. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every person or even a solution that works for one individual in every single situation! There’s no need to overanalyze these differences. Grief isn’t exactly patient or logical. As long as you’re being safe, just listen to whatever it is you feel called to do, even if you don’t understand it. You may set out to perform an elaborate ritual only to find that all you can do is cry or sit and stare.
Make space for your feelings to emerge in their own way, and don’t be ashamed to seek out help from a mental health professional if you need to. Be tender and forgiving with yourself right now. You’re meant to grow and shift as your world goes through these changes. It isn’t comfortable, yet it can be deeply meaningful. The things and people we lose don’t have to be a source of pain forever, but they can remain a part of our hearts nonetheless.
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