“Ritual is so important, it supports us throughout our lives” including when there is a death in the family, says Candice Courtney of Scottsdale, Arizona, the author of Healing Through Illness, Living Through Dying. She recently spoke with Dr. Gloria Horsley of the Open to Hope Foundation during the 2015 annual Association of Death Education and Counseling Conference. Rituals are so ingrained into the human experience that many people don’t realize they’re participating in rituals—whether they’re cultural, religious or otherwise prescribed. Some people even create their own rituals without realizing it. Dr. Horsley has a particular interest in rituals, having personally moved away from religion and, while happy with that decision, finds herself missing the rituals involved.
To address this new disparity, Dr. Horsley’s family has been working towards creating their own, new rituals. “I’ve been exploring the history behind our rituals and what other cultures have done around the world and throughout history,” says Courtney. She’s discovered common threads throughout all of these communities, and it’s perfectly fine to pick and choose what works for you. After all, others have established the “best practices” over thousands of years, so there’s a good chance the foundation for your best ritual has already been established.
No “Right” Ritual
One of Courtney’s favorite rituals that she’s discovered works well for the grief process is “Taking what used to be done and slightly shifting it.” For example, this is common with someone’s birthday. “You want to celebrate them, and the same thing is true when there’s a wedding anniversary.” You might not have anyone to open a bottle of wine with to celebrate an anniversary, but you want to celebrate the love while still respecting your grief. A few easy shifts can make this feasible and be a great way to heal.
In Courtney’s own first anniversary after her husband’s death, she found herself slipping into a black place. However, she let herself grieve four days, and then on the actual anniversary she celebrated their love by lighting a candle and writing a letter to her late husband. “Celebrate the love,” she says, no matter how that’s achieved.
Discover everything Courtney has to share about rituals around the country and figure out your own avenues for celebration and ritual.