Grief is a sacred journey

Solstice Blessings: A Family Ritual of Remembrance and Love

On the shortest day of 2010 when my sons were home to celebrate the holidays, I took a clipper and cloth bag on my morning forest walk and gathered evergreen boughs and pinecones. I picked up small chunks of shale and granite and some acorns, too.  At the house, I emptied my bag on the dining room table next to a few candles and a photo of my husband Vic who had died 18 months before. Then I waited.

“What are we doing with this stuff?” my son David asked as he inspected my treasure.

“I thought you guys might build an altar with me, maybe light a few candles.” I felt shy, afraid they would think my idea was silly or sentimental, but I needed to balance the grief I felt with Christmas coming.

“Let’s do it,” David said with his big hearted enthusiasm.

He called his brother Anthony while I laid a red cloth on a cabinet near the front door. Taking turns, we added pine and spruce branches and placed candles in front of the greens. We placed stones and then scattered pinecones and acorns, arranging things just so.

“And this?” Anthony asked, picking up the photo of his dad. I’d chosen a photo of Vic peering out from foliage. I found it in the back of his desk the Christmas after he died. It was the last print in a packet of promotion headshots that I had taken eight years before for Vic’s second book. Tired of posing, he slipped beneath the red maple branches and peered out at me.

“Let’s put the photo behind the evergreens,” I said, “so we have to pay attention to notice it. It will be here but not easily visible, just the way your dad is in our lives now. Is that OK with you?”

“Of course,” they said, so I tucked the picture behind the evergreen boughs. From the photo, Vic’s eyes gazed out at the three of us, the fourth member of our family circle watching from the other side.

“Let’s say what we want to release and what we hope for this coming year,” I suggested. “Or you could just light a candle and not say anything.” I still wanted to give them a way out.

Anthony went first, silently lighting a candle and wiping his eyes with his shirtsleeve. David was next, carefully describing what he wanted to leave behind and add to his life before lighting his candle. Anthony thought better of his silence and spoke his heart’s desire before he lit a second candle.

“It’s your turn, Mom,” David said.  I took a slow breath and lit my candle.

“Fewer tears. More joy,” I prayed.

We repeated our Solstice Ritual of Remembrance in 2011. This year, I’ll add a Rumi poem that helps me feel connected with my beloved who is far away.

Your body is away from me
 But there is a window open
 From my heart to yours.
 From this window, like the moon
 I keep sending news secretly. 

 ***

I’d love to hear how you remember those you miss. For other posts about creating personal rituals of remembrance, see Flowers for the Living, Flowers for the Dead and Creating a Grief Ritual.

28 Comments
  1. “Vic’s eyes gazed out at the three of us, the fourth member of our family circle watching from the other side.”

    Powerful, beautiful, evocative. I’m not going to say the writer has mastered the grief, but there is the emergence of some kind of mastery here.

    • Thank you, Fred. Sometimes it seems that Grief is the master while my job is to sing the Lament. Orpheus lost his Beloved to death but his mourning became beautiful music. Perhaps I can do the same with words.

  2. The imagery, symbolism, and your own personal style are conveyed in this touching tribute to celebrating the solstice and grieving the dead to which I can certainly relate. The Green Man photo of Vic amidst fresh evergreens, behind red maple leaves, cast in the shadows of candlelight makes this a cinematic memory that lightens and opens the heart of so many of us who share a story of losing the love of their life. Thank you for giving voice to ways in which we can learn the continuing bonds of love.

    • Thank you for your beautiful response, Jill. Anthony, David, Liz (David’s love) and I will have our solstice ritual in just a few days. And after that long night, light will slowly return in inner and outer worlds. When the nights are long and the days are dark, I’m aware of the thin veil between life and death. It’s a place of mourning, but also a place of love and gratitude. I know you understand.

  3. I shared this on FBk and my site ~ Thanks for sharing this(!) and being a model for how to mourn someone precious.

    • Thank you, Lynne. Personal ritual helps me find that place of loss and love where I miss Vic, but also can celebrate our love. Gratitude and love come along with heartache. I’m glad to be back in touch with your site and the wisdom you share. Blessed Solstice to you.

  4. What an exquisite liturgy! One I’ll remember for a lng time.

    • Thank you so much, David. This means a great deal coming from you. It’s lovely to have Liz be part of our solstice ritual. I love the Rumi poem, don’t you? Looking forward to June.
      Your body is away from me
      But there is a window open
      From my heart to yours.
      From this window, like the moon
      I keep sending news secretly.

  5. you such a master at going directly towards the heart. I am so appreciate to learn this art and practice from you. Thank you thank you for your courage for putting one foot in front of the other on this and for your persistence in finding your footing. Such a deep bow for leaving bread crumbs on this path for me.

    • Thank you, Eve, for the honor you give me. We learn so much from each other about navigating the world of life and death. I love your image of finding footing. May it be so.

  6. Thank you for sharing this, Elaine. It’s simply beautiful, and so meaningful. I’ve occasionally asked my family to participate in rituals with me, especially over the holidays. I, too, feel shy about it, but have been thrilled at their loving responses that always bring a return of meaning. Jeanie

    • Thank you, Jeanie. My son Anthony said after reading the blog, “We’ll have a cosmic solstice ritual this year.” I’m the shy one and afraid of being too pushy. My family is more than willing and glad to make deep connections that bring meaning to the gift fest. We’ll have our ritual on Friday evening and leave excessive feasting and opening gifts for Christmas. Sending you Solstice Blessings, Elaine

  7. I love the image of Vic peering through, with such a humorous smile, into your ritual and your life…

  8. Wonderful Elaine–love the photo of Vic–he was such a nature lover and he shows it here. Your alter idea is so touching,and I’m sure healing for your family.

    Plan to get up early friday for the Solstice(few minutes after 6am) and meditate–very special time!

    • Thanks for your comment, Louie. That’s my favorite photo of Vic, because he looks like a Green Man, the early European god of cycling nature. The Green Men were usually surrounded by foliage, but sometimes it was growing out of their mouths. Vic could be awfully talkative–just like me. Good to know exactly when the Solstice is so I can honor the pause.

  9. Thank you, Elaine, for this beautiful account of a touching ritual. I have been going through old photos and pulled together the ones I love of Adrian–a way to remember him. You chose a wonderful photo of Vic for your remembrance.

    The Rumi poem is just right for this time, too.

    • Lynne, I hope to see some of those photos of Adrian sometime. I love remembering Vic as the Green Man who presided over this land. And the more I read the Rumi poem, the more powerful it becomes. Thanks for staying connected and sharing your experiences at your blog.

  10. Loving others’ comments, it’s hard to craft another beautiful response to your piece. I will say, as a mother of a son with a terminal degenerative illness, your ability to not cower from the grief you experience, day to day, moment to moment humbles me. I cower and hide, fill my life with important causes, run to the hills. How to be in the pain and not consumed by it. How to let the grief be your guide, the sentiment that grounds you in this life, and still feel the lightness of being, sense the colors, hear sound. Write a book Elaine that shows me the way.

    • Wow, Marcie. Just hearing from you is plenty wonderful. I think of you and your son and wonder how I could live in your shoes. I am alone and can grieve all I want without it bothering anyone. It must be essential for you to stay upbeat, but I hope you have a place to completely unload. I hope my book will do what you ask, Marcie. It’s a big order, but I’m copying your words and will read them each day as I finish my rewrite. I may not get all that far along this steep path, but I will try.

  11. What a web of feeling connection your post has created. I’m glad you’re not shy to put your love and your grief out in this forum. It’s good to be reminded to remember. More light!!!
    Love,
    Janet

    • Janet, thanks for taking the time to respond and encourage. Thanks for remembering with me and being willing to feel that mix of grief and love. Blessed Solstice and More Light!

  12. I was remembering the surprise birthday party
    Vic planned for you. He had talked with everyone separately when you were busy doing something He wanted this to be total surprise for you. Elaine, he was so excited about it – he wanted it perfect for you. As I remember Dottie and Fred were in on the surprise and I remember seeing your face and Vic’s face – and the love that was there between you. It was a beautiful evening.

    • That was a beautiful party, Cindy. I was 45 years old, so it’s 22 years ago. There were so many loving friends and I didn’t have a clue. Delicious surprise. Thanks for remind me.

  13. What a wonderful piece. Truly beautiful – both you and your way of expressing emotion through words in a manner that is pure magic.

  14. I’m glad you find the quote beautiful and helpful, Patti. It’s one of my favorites.

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