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Grieving Rituals

Make a Memory Book

A memory book is a scrapbook that includes photographs, cards, pieces of writing, drawings and other remembrances. Select a distinctive notebook or journal, or bind together separate sheets and cover them with material. The book itself can be made of most anything. Take the time to think about each thing you include. As you do, attend to your feelings. Write your thoughts or feelings about different memories in the book, and include the emotions the project evokes. Keep the finished book in a special place where you can interact with it. Add to it over time if you feel inclined.

Letter Writing

Even when you can foresee an ending and can plan for it, you can’t really predict the aftermath. Sometimes it takes a while to recognize what you feel and need to say. Our unconscious minds work in ways that may seem foolish to our conscious minds; we can talk to people or things that no longer exist, or are not in our presence. Here’s where letter writing is a useful practice.

Whenever you have any unfinished business, write a letter stating exactly what’s on your mind. Save the letter, burn it, bury it, read it to the stars or the wind, or to the image of someone who needed to hear it. Whatever you do with the letter has importance. However, the task of writing is often the most healing part of the process.

Candle Lighting

Lighting a small red candle in a holder is not the same as lighting a thin black sparkler candle, or a large white candle encased in a clear or coloured glass. A candle you mold from melted paraffin and inscribe with special words or symbols has a different feel. Choose or create a candle that matches your feelings and desires. Think about the colour of the candle. What does that colour mean to you? Use that meaning in an affirmation. “With this green candle, I bring growth and healing to me.” It can also be a request: “As I light this blue candle I ask that my mind become as clear as a cloudless summer sky.” Light the candle to draw the light of spirit down to ignite your personal flame.

Let your mind explore the properties of fire as warmth, light, illumination, awareness, and a connection with spirit. Let the candle burn all the way down. If you must put it out, pinch the flame to preserve your intention. Blowing the flame out disperses the energy you have brought into focus.

Song Writing

Words have power. Written or spoken, language has the potential to amuse, convince, anger, soothe, educate, and entertain. Music has a power of its own. Through music we can enter other worlds, both literally and figuratively. Imagine what can be done by combining words and music. Give your feelings words, rhythm, and melody. Transform your loss by expressing it as song.

Photo Collage

Photographs are one of the more effective means of eliciting memories. There are several ways of using these pictures in a collage. One method concentrates on finding photographs of who, or what you wish to remember. Viewing the images taken over the years is a good way to go over the special times. Arrange the photographs in frames that hold a number of pictures in a pleasing grouping.

Another way of making a collage involves a bit more artistic expression. Choose one or more pictures. Then, thinking about what these mean to you, look for other words, cards, pieces of letters written or received, symbols, and magazine images

that support your feelings. You can arrange these things on poster board or other sturdy material.

Symbol and Memory Burning

Fire has the ability to purify and transform. When you are using fire for this purpose you will find it to be more effective if you use a ceremonial fire. Select a spot in nature where you can focus your thoughts or do a ritual before a fireplace or outdoor grill. If you choose a place in nature find rocks to make a fire breaking circle, use a fire pit, or another safe container. Before you build the fire, focus your thoughts and centre yourself. Imagine that the spirit of fire which holds the power of heat, warmth, and transformation, is alive in the flames.

Ask that whatever safely burnable symbol you have chosen to release be taken by the flames. As the flames devour the symbol ask to experience release or transformation. Throw sweet herbs onto the fire afterwards as a thank you gift to the spirit of the fire. Wait until the fire dies or extinguish it with earth or water. Take some of the ashes to combine with soil and use the mixture to plant the seed of something new.

Memory Quilt

Both quilting and embroidery, as well as other lasting arts, bridge the present, past, and future and offer a way by which each generation can hand its messages to the next. Quilts are used in communities to mark life transitions, such as celebration and loss. When each member of a community contributes a square to a quilt, the finished piece becomes a lasting representation of the cohesiveness and common vision of a group. A quilt can be just as meaningful if made by only one person. Every person has many memories and many stories worth preserving.

You can make a quilt into a story by creating separate squares each depicting a particular scene and stitching them together in the order that provides the best flow. For lifelike scenes use a slide projector to cast an image onto a piece of cloth. Trace the image with a pencil, then embroider or paint with fabric paint, or even stitch symbolic items or appropriate memorabilia onto the piece.

Journal Work

Keeping a journal is like having a friend you can trust completely. A journal can hold your dreams, wishes, thoughts, feelings, and questions. You can write in it at a specified time each day or when you’re so inclined. Journals can be all words, all pictures, or any combination of the two. Buy or make a book that will be used only as your journal. Decorate it to make it more personal, or begin it with a quotation that is bound to your intention. You might find it helpful to make your entries on only the left-hand page. The opposite page can be used for later commentary or to paste pictures or words you run across that enhance and support your thoughts.

Build an Altar

Altars are sacred places. They can be used for offerings to a higher power or as a place to worship. Generally a table, mantle, or shelf is used as the foundation. An ordinary piece of furniture can be transformed with a select piece of cloth or covering. Because you will use the altar as a place of focus, it should have its own site. The items you choose to adorn it with should have special meaning and support the intention the altar is created for.

Using a symbol from each of the four elements, earth, water, air, and fire is appropriate as this represents balance and wholeness. Some people add fruit, flowers, or incense as offerings. Your altar or altars can be composed to last or to be changed over time. Once you have created an altar you feel comfortable with, use it in a ceremony, as a place to pray or meditate, or simply as a place to find your own centre.


Prayer is used for praise, thanksgiving, supplication, and transcendence. Prayer acknowledges something greater, and in so doing, connects to it. Prayer takes you out of yourself at the same time it brings you home. You need not be religious to pray. Prayers can address a higher power, all there is, love, hope, your ancestors, and your strength. Ritual is a prayer. There is no special time or place required for prayer to be effective. You determine when and where is most appropriate for you.

Cleanse with the Elements

Elemental cleansings can be very healing. A mud bath or a soak in salt water or Epsom salts are good ways to release tensions using earth and water. Any kind of bath can be turned into a purification by adding herbs or oils to the water, lighting candles, playing soft music, and creating a healing environment. Laying in the sun uses fire and air in a healing way. You can sit before an open fire or fireplace to cleanse yourself with fire. Incense smoke or the smoke of burning herbs is another way of using fire and air.


Meditation is the way to inner wisdom. There are many forms of meditation. Some use imagery; some are guided journeys led by another. The most basic form of meditation is following your breath. Choose a secluded spot where you can remain uninterrupted. Sit comfortably with your body erect. Close your eyes and begin to attend to your breath. There is no need to change your breath in any way. Just notice the breathing in and breathing out, over and over. You will find thoughts drawing your attention. When you notice that this has happened, just return to your breath. Do this for a few minutes to start. Do it every day. Let this time of day be your time. You deserve it.

Do a Give-Away

When you do a give-away you are making a sacrifice or donation. Black Elk says:“Giving is a sacred deed pleasing to the Mysterious One who gives everything”

When you give in someone else’s name, you are paying tribute to them. Giving a sacrifice in the name of spirit recognizes the eternal ebb and flow of life. Emptying yourself makes a place for you to receive.


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