Grief is a sacred journey

Creating a Grief Ritual: Love, Loss, and Continuing Bonds

Sunday, June 3 was the fourth anniversary of my husband’s death. I put aside time that day to mourn for Vic and our lost future while honoring the gifts of our marriage and my emerging life.

My friend Janet Wylde and I pulled on our rubber boots for a drizzly morning walk through fields of blooming lupines. Vic and I planted wildflower seeds for many years. Some varieties failed, but wild purple lupines thrived and spread across the hillsides on our land in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Thousands of exuberant lupine spikes welcomed me home the day Vic died in 2008 and their annual bloom on his death day became a symbol of renewal after loss and new beginnings that accompany the worst of endings.

On the first anniversary of Vic’s death in 2009, I invited friends and family for a walk to the forest site where Vic’s ashes are buried. My sons David and Anthony came home for the occasion, dreading what they thought would be a morose affair, but the June sunshine lit up the lupines and made everyone glad to be alive. We walked the trails, left flowers at Vic’s memorial cairn, shared food and wine, and celebrated life, love, and continuing bonds.

Since that first year, my rituals have been simple and private, but they always include walking through the flowering fields and leaving lupines at Vic’s gravesite. This year, after the morning walk, a prayer of gratitude, and the offering of flowers, I called Vic’s mother and spoke with my sons. Then I took time to remember and write, honoring all I have learned from grief. I wept for what I have lost and, later in the day, I remembered to pick a bouquet of purple lupines for myself.

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A simple grief ritual can be meaningful and healing. I’d love to hear about the rituals you create.

You might enjoy the following articles about grief rituals—some elaborate, some simple, some communal, some private, each bringing comfort.

Paul Bennett writes about a simple but powerful ritual in a chapter from his book, Loving Grief. 

At Journey through Grief, Janelle Shantz Hertzler writes about personal rituals she and her friends have created.

Marty Tousley is a hospice bereavement counselor who focuses on Valentine’s Day in this article, but her ritual suggestions are useful any time of year.

Finally, a list of ritual ideas from Utah Hospice Specialists.

For more of my articles, please visit the bereavement section of my website.

12 Comments
  1. What a beautiful post and a beautiful way to honor Vic’s memory. Thanks for the reference and for letting me know about this great blog you are creating.

  2. Your simple and private ritual is lovely, Elaine, and packed with personal meaning. Thank you for sharing it with all of us ~ and how kind of you to mention my own article as well. I’ve returned the favor at the foot of my post ♥

    • Thank you, Marty. This means so much coming from you. I first found your website by googling for grief rituals–and now I have tons of great reading to do. I’ll let the webmaster at Ithaca, NY Hospicare know about your site. If he hasn’t already done so, he’ll want to put a link in our newsletter.

  3. I remember that day in 2009, how lovely it was to be with old friends, gathering around the emptiness of Vic’s absence. At one point I wandered over to a budding out crabapple and on impulse held one of the hard maroon spheres between thumb and forefinger, at which point grief took me from my heart through my shoes into the earth. I noticed that the land itself felt his passing. Love to you. F.

    • I’m glad to hear your experience of the one year anniversary of Vic’s death. I felt nearly constant grief that first year–and then the anniversary day was filled with surprising lightness and solace. Yes, I imagine the land felt Vic’s passing, but it is also where his presence has remained strongest for me–on the trails he cut, the fields he saved, and the oak trees he hugged. It’s always great to hear about your perspective on things. Thank you, old friend.

  4. Elaine, this was very inspiring. Four and a half years after my mother’s passing, I realize I still haven’t expressed my grief adequately. Our mountain property is filled with stones that cry out for a new purpose. When I return I will find the right place to build a cairn and create a ritual to honor her life. Thank you for giving shape to my longing. Jeanie

    • Jeanie, I’m glad you’ll do this for yourself. Marion Woodman insisted on the importance of healing ritual when my mother died in 2007–for my sake more than my mother’s.
      Those boulders love being arranged with surfaces for flowers, shells, and small stones. Vic’s cairn looks precariously balanced, but it hasn’t budged for four years.
      I enjoyed seeing photos of you on FB signing books at the Book Expo. I have a deadline of June 20 for handing over my MS for a final editorial read through before writing a book proposal in July, so I won’t begin your book or anything else until June 20. I’m polishing a section about Marion Woodman and her instructions about my mother in 2007. Synchronicity abounds.

  5. Dear Friend, you have brought such richness into this dry, terrifying territory. Your post reminds me of the warmth that Vic always brought into his interactions – like a sun-soaked rock, he was. And you, you are magnificent. I am with you in spirit, if not in body. Much love!

  6. Elaine, thank you for this beautiful ritual. I often take walks in Sapsucker Woods by myself to remember my husband. And when our youngest son comes to visit, we always go to the grave at the Natural Cemetery in Newfield, hold hands and cry together.

    It has been just over a year since Adrian’s death. I am surprised by how strong the grief is, still.

    • Dear Lynne, The grieving process is longer, deeper, and more transforming than I could have imagined. Sounds like it’s the same for you. I’m glad that you’ve found rituals that help. Nothing fancy has to happen, but if the intention is there, something moves.

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