The Christmas season can be stressful no matter what, but for those of us living with loss, not having our person (or pet) around this time of year can loom extra large. One way to help you to stay connected to them is by creating a meaningful ritual.
Rituals don’t have to be religious — they just have to be meaningful to you. They can be ongoing or merely a one-time thing. Their power lies in granting you a small bit of control over an experience that allows you very little control: grief.
In a recent “Light After Loss” Facebook Live episode, Modern Loss’ Rebecca Soffer talked with artist and ritualist Day Schildrekt, author of the book “Hello, Goodbye: 75 Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration and Change.” Here are some key takeaways from their conversation.
Ritual is always about an approach. It is something that you have to slow down to do while pausing anything else that’s going on in your day. It forces you to enter into a timeless place that requires your imagination and connection.
Rituals are typically positioned around thresholds, i.e., moments of change in our lives, such as weddings, graduations, career milestones, and times of birth and loss. They allow us to return to what’s important so that we don’t lose those past events in our memories. Holiday times are an important period for us to weave certain moments back into our memories in meaningful ways.
Ritual can and should be beautiful. With any one you create, imagine that you are crossing a threshold, and also adorning it, in the way that you might hang a beautiful holiday wreath on your door. Ask yourself: What is someone or something I want to weave into this moment? What is one memory that I want to remember while I do this?
How can ritual help us to recover from times of loss?
Loss is a part of life, and grief is a way of loving life well, as Schildrekt puts it. It’s not an affliction or something we have to “get over.” Our grief is how we can connect back to those we have lost. But we live very busy lives, and we can easily become overwhelmed by the fast pace of our work and day-to-day responsibilities. If we don’t mindfully create mechanisms to help us to remember, we can feel like we are losing our loved ones, and the memories of them, all over again. The rituals are what help us to remember that we have to remember.
How can we create simple, accessible rituals during the holiday season?
Anything done with intention and meaning can have a powerful effect. This can be as simple as leaving a glass of wine on the holiday table for your person because you wish they were there and feel the imprint of their loss. The ritual involved can be as simple as raising a glass and sharing a memory that you want to weave back into the holiday event. You might also consider making a wreath or bouquet of flowers while doing the same mental exercise.
Rituals have to be done physically. We perform them through our hands, feet, mouth, stomachs. They involve us breaking or tearing things, or submerging, burying, or igniting something. In doing so, we keep our bodies busy, and that can be healing to us when we are grieving and feel like we have nothing to do but wallow in our feelings.
Consider making a Zoom tree. Invite meaningful people onto a Zoom call and ask for them to join with a candle or tealight. Start the ritual by sharing a memory of your person and lighting your candle, and then ask someone else to share one of theirs and light their candle, and so on and so forth. By doing this, you get to, quite literally, illuminate your memories and remember together as a group.
New Year’s Eve is another one of those threshold moments, an occasion when it’s important to look back as well as look forward. Raising a glass and creating a ritual around toasting is an easy way to do this. Build it into four rounds: Starting at 11 p.m., ask yourself a different question every 15 minutes about the past year — “What is something or someone I’m leaving behind this year?” “What is a feeling I would like to have less of?” “What will I miss the most?” — and take a sip from your glass after each one. Then, after midnight, do another four rounds every 15 minutes and ask yourself what you would like to experience, accomplish, or work on in the new year, again taking a sip after each round.
This article was authored by ModernLoss.com, which offers candid conversation about grief and meaningful community throughout the long arc of loss.