“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.




Gloria Horsley

Dr. Gloria Horsley is an internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent. She started "Open to Hope" to help the millions in the world with grief. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Nurse Specialist, and has worked in the field of family therapy for over 20 years. Dr. Horsley hosts the syndicated internet radio show, The Grief Blog which is one of the top ranked shows on Health Voice America. She serves the Compassionate Friends in a number of roles including as a Board of Directors, chapter leader, workshop facilitator, and frequently serves as media spokesperson. Dr. Horsley is often called on to present seminars throughout the country. She has made appearances on numerous television and radio programs including "The Today Show," "Montel Williams," and "Sallie Jessie Raphael." In addition, she has authored a number of articles and written several books including Teen Grief Relief with Dr. Heidi Horlsey, and The In-Law Survival Guide.

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