The death of someone loved often causes major changes in the way we deal with life. And, a proven way to manage change is through the use of rituals. One major function of ritual, among others, is to provide a means of combating the disorganization and sense of helplessness that pervades the grief experience.
In this vein, how you start each day when you are mourning is indeed very important in terms of how the rest of the day unfolds. Few mourners consider instituting an informal ritual at the beginning of the day. Yet, it could help you integrate your great loss into life. Will you begin the day in immediate deep sadness, or will you choose a wake-up ritual to help you cope with the loss of your loved one?
You especially need a wake-up ritual if you awaken each day, and on looking at the beautiful picture of your loved one on the night table or dresser, it immediately plunges you into sadness and despair. You can prevent this from adding unnecessary suffering to your mourning. Temporarily place the photo in another room and adopt one of these six wake-up rituals that mourners have told me they use.
1. Start with a reading from a daily inspirational guide. These small books can be purchased at bookstores or from organizations that can be searched for on the Internet. If so inclined, you may want to start with a reading from a book of poems or a religious text. Meditate on what you have read and attempt to put it into action that day.
2. Start with your own personal affirmation. One person I know uses “One day at a time.” She tells herself, “I’m going to take this day as it comes.” Or you may want to repeat, “I am getting through this day” or “I am capable of getting through this difficult time.” Put great emphasis on the “I am.” What you say out loud or silently to yourself can have a powerful effect on your behavior. Start repeating your affirmation as soon as you awaken.
3. Start with a prayer. Many people drop to their knees and start the day with a prayer. Talk to God, your loved one, the Universe, a saint, or whoever you feel is appropriate. Share what you need and ask for the wisdom to make the right choices that day in dealing with your loss and the people you meet. Pause for a moment after praying and listen. See what pops into your mind as you listen for advice.
4. Start with a walk every morning. Some mourners take a ritualistic walk each morning counting steps, prayerwalking, or playing music on an iPod. For most, it is a great release of feelings and is invigorating.
5. Start by heading for the shower and talk positively to yourself when showering. Use your own creative affirmations. Some mourners sing their favorite hymns as they shower and find strength in the words they sing. Through trial and error find out what works best for you.
6. Start by consulting your schedule for the day. At night before you retire, make a plan for each hour (yes, each hour) of the next day. Where you will go, who you will plan on seeing, and what you will try to accomplish. Put the list on your night table. As soon as you arise, start focusing on the first thing on your list. See yourself doing the task or meeting the person and what you will say. Play all the details out in your mind’s eye.
Regardless of what ritual you choose to begin the day with, be sure to form the intention within that you are beginning a new ritual in your life that will help you cope with your loss. Believe it will give you structure and breed confidence early in the day. Your intent, and the belief in one of these alternatives to starting the day in pain, is an essential part of using your ritual. Beliefs affect everything you do every day. Intent will fuel those beliefs.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His monthly free ezine website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com.