We all need healthy ways to grieve or commorate loss. Ceremony helps ease grief.
Com·mem·o·rate kəˈmeməˌrāt/ verb:
1. Recall and show respect for (someone or something) in a ceremony*.
We all have commemorative dates in our minds and hearts – our mother’s or children’s birthdays; the death of a sibling, or most beloved pet. Deep emotion etches details into our memory and holds them there. As we live, we tend to accumulate commemorative dates that can set off a flood of sad or wistful memories and feelings: significant birthdays, relationship anniversaries, special occasions, death days. Whether the memories are joyful or painful, or both – they serve to connect us to the larger cycles of life on planet earth.
Our ancestors had plenty of rituals and ceremonies – for births, deaths, moon phases, harvest, etc. – to mark passage through of our cosmic, social, and biological cycles. Annual ceremonies punctuated their lives and give them (circular) shape and meaning. Some ceremonies were small and quiet, some were crowded and loud, but joining in rituals and ceremonies has always been a huge part of what it means to be human.
As homo industrialis we hardly notice moon phases; we don’t celebrate coming of age; we aren’t aware of a need for rain. We may keep track of political anniversaries, like Tax filing day (April 15), the day JF Kennedy was shot (Nov 22) and the day the Twin Towers fell in New York City, (9/11). When large, socio-political events touch us personally, we need both public ceremonies and quiet, personal ones to honor and express the sometimes-complicated emotions big loss events bring up. Traditional cultures have deep rituals to connect us with the miraculous gifts of birth and death. You can tap into those gifts with a simple ceremony or practice by yourself or with others.
Wayne Dyer died last week and his fans looked for meaningful ways to honor his contribution to their lives. They posted favorite quotes, brought flowers to places he frequented, and celebrated what he brought to their lives. We can usually find company for the “big” events – like remembering the events on 9/11/11. But what about commemorating the less-public losses? What do you do when the public way is not your way?
Imagine yourself as a young child whose mother, or grandpa, or pet died and this is the anniversary. Wouldn’t you like a wise, loving adult to acknowledge and honor your feelings and help you put them into a meaningful gesture? Well, you can do that for yourself. You don’t need a lot of props or stuff. You can light a candle, draw a picture, make a special food “in honor of.” The important thing is to feel your feelings as you do the thing you planned out.
Here are some satisfying and effective ways to honor your feelings and commemorate loss. If the memories are painful, you want to move that energy through and out! Not marking these important events disconnects you from and shoves down feelings that have no outlet, causing issues into your tissues.
Commemorative Action List
- Light a candle or take some quiet, meditative action while you go into your feelings.
- Commemorative Action – Design a simple event that would satisfy your need to remember and honor a person or event.
- Special meal – Prepare special foods that your loved one especially liked or you shared together.
- Give a gift that would mean something to both the person you’re commemorating and the person you’re giving it to.
- Go into nature with the express intention of remembering and celebrating that person or event.
- Give it to the Elements – Set it on fire, throw it in the ocean, bury it in the ground with the feelings you are ready to release.
Celebrate with Conscious Action
It is in our bones and blood to process our feelings with ceremony. On an important birth (or death) day of someone or something you have loved and lost, you will probably feel better if you do something tangible, with the intent of feeling. This is a very powerful way to heal through the sadness and grief that can return year upon year around an anniversary.
Your ceremony may be as simple as closing your eyes and feeling the heaviness in your heart (Commemorative Action List #1) or holding an associated object as you think of what you have lost. You can visit a grave or a special place you went together. The important thing is action with intent and I’m suggesting here that you dress it up a bit. Reach farther, give it a little more preparation and energy and reap the healing rewards when you do.
If you are feeling the loss of a person close to you, consider doing something that would delight that person if they were alive to enjoy it. (#2) If your dad always took you out for ice cream on special occasions, take yourself out on “his” day and get yourself that favorite flavor you used to enjoy. Get yourself a double. Make it your dinner. Invite someone and tell her about your dad. There are so many creative ways to have fun by honoring your feelings.
To celebrate my mom on her birthday, this first year after her death, I got up early, made tea, set out a cup for her and, sat musing about her and my life now as if she were at the table with me, hearing my thoughts. My mom would love nothing more than to spend uninterrupted time talking with her daughters, hearing about their lives. I didn’t always give my mom the time she wanted with me when she was alive, and that was a small way to atone for my omission. I don’t know if mom “got” it, but I felt connected with her and aware of the guilt that colors my grief. I imagined we forgave each other and ourselves for not being Perfect. The whole thing felt sweet, and supportive, and healing – and was a great way to mark her birthday.
At a restaurant on Mother’s Day, I watched 5 women celebrating their late mothers. (#3) They were mostly joyful, sometimes tearful, but very alive and present. I think it touched everyone there who understood why they were gathered. It’s the intention that matters most and let the form follow the function. Connecting with food is so basic to our deep psyches.
Like most of the things I recommend you do, start by asking within: What would feel good to me, now? What needs expressing or outlet? How would I like to honor this person, this relationship? Are there ways I feel the loss of love that I can reclaim?
You can take time out to do something you enjoyed doing with the person you miss. For example. if you used to make pies with your grandma, you could make a pie or two as you imagine both of you working together in the kitchen. To Pay it Forward, you could even share a pie that you’ve made that way with an elderly neighbor or a neighborhood child who doesn’t have a grandma to make pies with now. You could share what you love/d about your grandma and watch her live on in the other person’s heart. (#4)
If literally doing what you used to do together is impossible, you can get creative and imagine something that would give you a corresponding feeling. You can involve others or do it solo. I miss running in the pineapple fields with my dog – and those particular fields are gone, too. So now, when I want to honor my dear Pua, I go to the beach and tune in to the other dogs enjoying their freedom in the surf and sand. (List #5)
Set it On fire
If there’s an anniversary that bothers you every time it comes around, you can energetically set it on fire with a simple ceremony. Fire is grand and dramatic. It is also cleansing. You can do it alone, with a witness or with many. If you are ready to let go of the pain or guilt of a divorce, for example, write out a list of the good parts and the bad parts of the marriage, or draw a picture, or choose an object to represent it. You can rip or crumple the paper and say a prayer of release while you light it on fire A safe place outdoors is best for a fire but you can burn paper in a large pot or pot lid in your sink or bathtub. Put on significant music. Light candles. Pump up your feeling so there’s life energy moving as you watch it burn.
Many relationships represent a tangle of sweet and painful feelings and giving it all to fire is a way to symbolically give it all up to a higher power. Having a witness adds the element of community and anchors it in reality. The point is the energetic and emotional significance you give to your symbolic gesture. The details are secondary but you can have a lot of fun with them. 😉
Give it to the Air, Water or Earth
Bury it in the ground, flush it down the toilet, throw it in the ocean. I’m not advocating that you ruin the environment (avoid burning or burying plastic and keep yourself safe) but there are lots of creative ways to represent something you are ready to let go of with paper, wood, glass or natural materials. You can design a ceremony to both honor and release that energy from your life, henceforth. You can specifically keep some parts and bury or burn others. Let your imagination run, driven by feeling. Play with colors and textures. Recall your younger self that was impacted at the loss initially and ask him or her what would be fun and satisfying to do, now.
If you need it, here’s permission to feel, to grieve, to play, and to let go, if that’s right for you now. Blessings.
If you want more like this, check out my post on Conscious Death.
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