The Power of Rituals When Grieving

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

Center for Growth / Grief Therapy in Philadelphia

The power of rituals when grieving: How to Honor a Loved One’s Memory

Whether you lost a loved one a few months ago or a few years ago, grief and letting go can be a process. The clear absence of someone you are were close with can feel like there is a large whole in your heart, or even in your life. To help you cope with your grief and this ongoing process, rituals can be essential in remembering your loved one in a positive manner. Having established rituals provides a consistent and cathartic outlet in honoring your lost loved one. Often having a plan for the more difficult dates (anniversary of death, birthdays, holidays, etc) helps one feel prepared and leaves less of an opportunity for the significance of the day to take you by surprise.

Rituals can be as small or as a big of a gesture as you wish. To help you assess what rituals would be a right fit for you, reflect back on your favorite memories of this person. What about his/her personality or characteristics stood out the most, what represents this person? Was he/she passionate about art, food, or a volunteering? Was your loved one an avid runner? When you think about who your loved one was, what stands out the most to you? Like 3-5 things that represent this person the most, and take it from there. You can decide who to include, if anyone. Perhaps there’s a small ritual that you would like to do just on your own, but include your children or siblings or friends in a more elaborate ritual. Your options are endless, so try not to limit yourself. Part of your ritual could be giving in his honor, or having certain kinds of discussions.

To help inspire your own development of rituals to honor your loved one(s), here are a few different ideas for different dates.

The Power of Rituals / Grief Therapy in Philadelphia: Holidays

-If you’re around friends and family who knew this person, go around the table after dinner exchanging your favorite stories or memories about this person. The stories can be humorous, or more touching experiences, whatever you feels best honors and represent your loved one. Storytelling is not only a cathartic way to share your thoughts, love, and sorrow openly with others, but it keeps the memories alive by passing down stories.

-If you want to do something on a smaller scale with less attention, bake your loved one’s favorite dessert, or perhaps they loved to cook, make one of their recipes for your Thanksgiving dinner, or New Years celebration. This honors your memories in a more symbolic way, sharing with others recipes you learned from this person, or sharing with others what you remember most about him/her. When someone says, “I loved your pumpkin pie,” you have the opportunity to say, “Thanks, it was my sister’s recipe, she loved to bake.” If you’re not ready for that response, it’s okay. Either way you are remember your lost loved one without putting too much attention to it.


The Power of Rituals / Grief Therapy in Philadelphia: Birthdays

-On your loved one’s birthday, buy 3 balloons, or as many as you want. Write a note and tape it to each balloon. Your note can be a simple, “Happy Birthday, I love you.” Or it can be a wish or a hope you have: “Please bring someone new to me” or “Please keep watching down on me.” Your note could also consist of letting your loved one know about your life, the things you are up to, your successes, your challenges, whatever you want to share. Then let the balloons go, and stay with your emotions while you watch the balloons fly further away.

-For a larger scale idea, arrange a fundraiser in memory of your loved one. Choose a foundation that either your loved one was involved with, or perhaps there was an organization that served as a support for you after your loved one’s death. Recruit mutual friends or family members to help organize a celebration, incorporating your loved one’s favorite music, food, place pictures and mementos of your loved one at this celebration/fundraiser. Use this celebration to ask for donations and contributions in memory and in the name of your loved one.


The Power of Rituaals / Grief Therapy in Philadelphia: Anniversary Date of Death

-Go to your loved one’s grave site, or if that is not an option go to a place nearby that reminds you of this person. It can be a running trail, a park, a church or temple. Use this time to sit in silence for even a moment; reflect on your relationship with this person, allow yourself to miss him/her.

-Do their favorite thing. Go to their favorite restaurant, play the album that reminds you of this person. Arrange to go running with a friend or support system as a way to remember your friend who loved to run.

-Ask others close to your lost loved one to do something with you. Make the bond and connection live on.

The Power of Rituals / Grief Therapy in Philadelphia: On the days you’re just “down”

Just because it’s not the holidays, doesn’t mean you can’t honor the person. This is the best thing to do when it’s just a plan day but you’re full of grief and sorrow. The most beneficial thing for you is to take your grief and sadness for the person you lost and honor their memory in a positive manner. On the “regular” days, have a few go-tos when you need an outlet. Take a moment of silence, write your loved one a letter, write 5 things you miss about the person, then 5 things you are grateful for in the moment. Call someone who can relate or someone who knew your loved one. Share your experience with that person. Do something small that represents your loved one: cook their favorite meal, enjoy their favorite sandwich, read a book that reminds you of him/her, maybe they played the lottery everyday, go play their numbers.

The benefit of all of these rituals is that the little and the big things that you loved about this person will live on because of the rituals you carry out. When you do something like write your loved one a letter or cook a recipe that reminds you of him/her, you are staying connected with this person. Many people who have experienced grief, over time fear a losing their connection to this person or fear their memories of this person will fade. Rituals are a way to keep the connection going and the memories accessible. If you haven’t found your rituals yet, try a few of the suggested rituals above, as well as try a few of your own ideas and see which ones work best for you. See how you feel going into the rituals, and check-in with yourself after. Do you feel better now that you wrote your loved one a letter? Do you see yourself releasing balloons and letters again next year? Remember, what works for one person may not work for someone else. So be open to trial and error and get creative; it matters what fits best for you.