July 12th, 2020
Absolutely. The year after my husband died, I actually traveled the world to create rituals in his honor, as a way to honor his and my father's deaths, and life. There are many ways that we can do that really simply, just lighting candles and really acknoweldging their spirits. I mourned the loss of my husband's physical flesh by creating alters and meditation practices and nature offerings.
I went out in nature and built alters with his ashes and with found objects like pine cones, leaves, flowers, shells. I also created as what I felt was a form of ritual was a way of communicating and being with him. And that process made it clear for me that while his body had died, his spirit was still very much with me and had become a great teacher.
July 20th, 2020
Creating your own ritual is such a beautiful thing to do, such an act of love. One of the most important and beautiful things to do is to be prepared to wash the body. So you need to consider how you're going to do that. Discuss this before the death. Who do you want to wash the body? How do you turn the body? How do you use the rose water, or whatever perfumes you want in the water? Who's there?
For some people, just washing the hands and feet is enough. You want the body treated with the utmost respect, and when the funeral director comes, you can say, we've washed and shrouded the body. You'll want to know what fabrics your loved one wanted to be shrouded in. Get all this prepared ahead of time so that when the person dies, everyone's ready to go into action.
A ritualistic side of this, too, is preparing the room for the bathing before washing the body. Do you want music, candles or incense? It's about creating the right container for this really, really final act of love. Because once this ritual is complete and the body is shrouded, you call the funeral director and that's the last time you're going to see the body unless there's a viewing and memorial or funeral. But this is the last gift of love you can give.
A few months ago we had a beautiful ritual. I'd been seeing this gentleman for a few weeks before he died and we discussed all these things: who do you want in the room while dying, are there family members you do not want there, who are they. So the morning he died, he was laying in bed, the wife and live-in nurse were there, and we invited the three sons into the room. They were unable to step close to the bed because seeing their father suddenly dead was really shocking for them. They were around 19, 15 and eight. I invited them to come and help with the washing and they said no, they couldn't do it. So we said, "tell us a little bit about your dad and what he meant to you. What was his favorite song?" It was "Wild Horses" by Mick Jagger. So we opened all the windows in the bedroom, this beautiful apartment in New York, got onto Spotify, and played Mick Jagger full blast.The kids were dancing with mom and they were laughing and crying and telling stories.
Once all that was done, talking about dad and remembering who dad was in his life, we were able to slow the whole process down and the kids were able to wash the body. Such a beautiful inroad to something that can be really frightening to some people. After the memorial service, each of the kids said to us that they were so glad to help wash that body, and if they hadn't they would've regretted it for the rest of their lives. They said they'd always remember it. So that kind of ritualistic taking care, that final act of love is so important. And some people don't want that, which is of course ok.
July 21st, 2020
Creating your own rituals for the death of a loved one is so important. And it's rare that any one ritual serves all needs. We have a propensity to talk about rituals of bereavement, and memorialization as a way to get closure to, to move on. But I believe that rituals around the death of a loved one are really about a transition that carries the relationship from one that is among those that are living to relationship between the living and the dead.
Many kinds of rituals may serve the purpose of honoring and incorporating the new form of the relationship over time. I also believe it's never too late to create a ritual to honor the death of a loved one. I work with a lot of folks on what they might call re-do, because there were things that were really problematic or perhaps there was a vacuum with no ritual at all, especially in the era of direct cremation, where we don't actually even have to pause after the death of a loved one.
Folks can find themselves with regrets, some months or years later. That's where there are many creative options, ways to look into one's own cultural heritage, about rituals for honoring the death of a loved one. Possibly there can be some sort of through line or revival to historic cultural rituals, or working with one's contemporaries to create a new ritual that will serve whatever the needs are in the moment where the grief has been experienced.