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Mourning Rituals: A Powerful Way to Cope with Grief


“Mourning in our culture isn’t always easy. Normal thoughts and feelings connected to loss are typically seen as unnecessary and even shameful. Instead of encouraging mourners to express themselves, our culture’s unstated rules would have them avoid their hurt and ‘be strong.’ But grief is not a disease. Instead, it’s the normal, healthy process of embracing the mystery of the death of someone loved. If mourners see themselves as active participants in their healing, they will experience a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in life.” 

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, Founder and Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. 

Rituals can be defined as “a way of doing something in which the same actions are done in the same way every time”.  Mourning rituals are practices that give us something to do with our grief – a way to hold it, honour it, and express it in a way that is meaningful to us and helps us to feel connected to our loved one.   

Small rituals can be created and incorporated into our lives on a regular basis such weekly or even daily.  Special days such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or any other celebrations can be particularly challenging times. We often feel the absence of our loved ones more intensely, and we are reminded of times we shared together with them on days like these. During these times, rituals can be particularly helpful. They can be carried out in the presence of others, or they can be private actions which are observed alone. 

Below are just a few examples of rituals that can be included: 

Light a candle in your loved one’s memory. A great way to do this with family or friends is to each have a candle, and to take turns lighting it and sharing a special memory or expressing a way that the person being commemorated has touched your life.  

Make or buy a specific item that reminds you of that person. You can also sit down with family or friends, and all create something together. Then, on future special days, you can set out the items you’ve made previously and work on creating something new each year.  

Give to a charity in your loved one’s name. Was there a specific cause they were passionate about? If you don’t want to make a financial donation, volunteering your time for a charity can also be a meaningful way to honour their memory.  

Tell stories. This is a great way to keep your loved one’s memories alive and provide others with fond memories of them as well. This could be a special or funny memory you have of them, and it is a great way to celebrate their life. 

Eat! Prepare and eat a special meal or go to a particular restaurant that reminds you of your loved one.   

Listen to music. Create a special playlist of your loved one’s favourite music or of music that makes you feel connected to them.   

Write a letter. Writing a letter to your loved one can be healing and comforting, providing some structure and expression for the many thoughts and feelings that can be so overwhelming.   

Meditate. Honour your grief. Allow your body and mind to find some refuge and peace. Sit in silence or find a guided meditation.  

 For more ideas, Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt has written a beautiful book called “Grief Day by Day: Simple, Everyday Practices to Help Yourself Survive… and Thrive”.