Rituals Help the Grieving Process

The ceremonies and rituals we observe when a loved one dies serve many purposes and accomplish various emotional and psychological needs, not just for the immediate family but also for the deceased’s community.  Rituals are a symbolic activity that helps us express our deepest thoughts and feelings about life’s most important events and they offer many benefits:

  • Ceremonies provide stability and order in the chaos of grief
  • Rituals help confirm the reality of death
  • Ceremonies help us validate the legacy of our loved one
  • Ceremonies provide support to mourners and offers continuity and hope for the living
  • Rituals encourage the expression of grief as a positive way to heal

Grief is a natural process and a normal reaction to loss. Everyone at some point in their lives will experience grief in varying degrees depending on the relationship lost.   Experts think that in order for healing to occur and arrive at acceptance, one must pass through the five stages* of grief:

  • Shock and Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

These stages come in waves and there is often no order to them.  However, the ritual of remembering a loved one is very important in healing.   Holding a memorial shortly after a death aids in coping with an immediate loss.  It provides a sense of tradition and familiarity and offers short term benefits from the chaos of grief.

Family and community support is in abundance in the first stages of grief but some of the hardest days after a loss is when life returns to “normal” and friends and family return home.   Studies have shown that the 3 to 6 months following a loss are the most difficult therefore planning a ceremony during this time can be very therapeutic.  Memorials around your loved one’s birthday, favorite holiday, family reunion or later on the anniversary of their passing are also popular.   Do whatever feels right for you but most importantly, don’t skip the ritual of remembering and honoring your loved one as it prolongs the grief period.

The Importance of Creating Your Own Rituals

As you proceed through the grief process, it can also be helpful to establish some of your own personal rituals to remember your loved one and develop a new self-identity.

Some personal ways to remember your loved one:

  • Lighting a candle at special times of the day or week to remind you of your loved one (for example, at dinnertime to represent sharing meals with him or her)
  • Creating a memory scrapbook and filling it with photographs, letters, postcards, notes, or other significant memorabilia from your life together
  • Spending time listening to your loved one’s favorite music or creating a special mix of music that reminds you of that person
  • Watching his or her favorite movie
  • Planting a tree or flowers in your loved one’s memory
  • Making a donation to a charity that your loved one supported
  • Visiting your loved one’s burial or entombment site
  • Carrying something special that reminds you of your loved one that you can take out and hold when you feel the need

If A Loss Was Not Sudden

Anticipatory grief is the gradual reality and coming to terms with the impending loss of a loved one. There are several phases one goes through in order to begin healing through grief.

Phase 1 – The individual and their family realize death is inevitable.

Phase 2 – During this phase the concern is for the dying person. Past differences are often reconciled, and being close to the loved one is often a mutual comfort.

It is at this point in the grieving process that some decide to hold a “living life memorial service”.  This is a unique service to honor a loved one while they are still with us.  This is an opportunity to reminisce, express feelings and forgive old arguments.

Phase 3 – In this phase, the dying person may make their memorial wishes known and says goodbye to loved ones.

Communication with family and friends is critical. Pictures, words and emotions are expressed that will be important to remember.  Click on the link below to request a journal to Honor A Life’s Legacy Through Journaling from Celebrate Me Home.  It is an excellent way to capture final words and thoughts, both for the infirm and the family.  The journal can become very meaningful for future generations to enjoy and being able to reflect on these thoughts, emotions and memories are a valuable tool to aid in the grieving process. 

Phase 4 – Family members begin to imagine what life will be like without their loved one.

Experiencing loss and grief are a normal part of life. Everyone at one point in their lives will experience grief.  When passing through the stages of grief successfully and healing is obtained, valuable lessons on life are learned. However, grief that debilitates and stops a person from moving forward with their life can be very serious.  If you or a loved one is experiencing depression due to a loss, seek out grief support services.


*Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. author of The Five Stages of Grief. www.ekrfoundation.org