A Personal Grief Ritual of Remembrance and Release

DSC00565When the lupines pop, the bluebird eggs hatch, and lettuce seed germinates, I remember my husband Vic. His death is part of this season, part of the earth and the cycles of my life. Images of Vic’s last days float through my mind as I enjoy nature’s enthusiasm. I remember the moment he did not inhale, just after midnight on June 3, 2008.

Usually grief is my quiet familiar rather than a bleeding wound, but as the anniversary approaches, I feel alone and preoccupied, tense and unsettled. To honor my love and comfort myself, I create a personal ritual. By creating an intentional ritual, we consciously recognize the time of transition and ground ourselves in our new life. I use images meaningful to me and my ritual changes in time as I change, so create anything that feels right for you.

bluebird nestlings

bluebird nestlings

I’ll begin with flowers. Flowers remind us of life’s beauty and brevity. I choose lupines because I returned home to fields of lupines on the day of Vic’s death. After we first planted them, purple lupines seeded themselves and thrived in the most depleted soil with persistent enthusiasm.

My ritual will be outside, even if it’s raining. Your ritual might be in your home or a church or another meaningful place. I’ll walk to the stone cairn in my forest where Vic’s ashes are buried. I’ll lay a lupine bouquet on the flat shale base of the cairn.


I’ll read poetry to myself and the trees. Perhaps you also love poetry or spiritual passages from a sacred text. A few years ago, a friend sent me “The Window” by Rumi.

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.


My ritual will include a photograph of Vic, a candle, and a period of silence. Perhaps yours will include singing or music or dance. I’ll light a candle to mark the beginning of the ritual and extinguish it to mark the end.


lupine offering at cairn, 2012

My ritual will provide tender support to the grieving me. It will give me a sense of purpose and place. I’ll likely be alone this year. Last year, I marked the fifth anniversary with my family, but grief is often solitary now. Unlike most other cultures, ours doesn’t value remembering the ancestors. Few of us wear black and visit the cemetery frequently. We’re modern. We’re supposed to get over it. But ask those who’ve lost their beloved spouse, their child, a close parent, a sibling, a friend, or their pet. “Are you over it?” We’ll laugh. We don’t want to get over loving and remembering.

Ritual helps me remember, release, and connect to something beyond my daily life. We create a new life even if we don’t expect it. It happens day by day. We might fall in love or find a new vocation. Maybe we moved far away and found new friends. We still find ourselves remembering these anniversaries.

DSC03694Ritual brings gratitude and peace. I’ll let the rose-breasted grosbeak and wood thrush provide sacred music for my ritual. Who can be sad when hearing those songs? I’ll be thankful and remember that although love always ends in loss, it’s worth the price.

I’ll leave something behind and take something home. I’ll leave flowers and poems in the forest. I’ll leave behind my tears and a little of my grief. I’ll exhale and take all the love and gratitude with me to help me begin a new cycle.DSC03699

What do you imagine leaving behind? What will you bring home?


I hope you enjoy another piece I’ve written called Creating a Grief Ritual. I also recommend The Power of Creating Rituals after the Loss of a Loved One by Dr. Gail Gross and Creating Rituals to Move through Grief by Karla Helbert. Marty Tousley’s Grief Rituals Can Help on Valentine’s Day has excellent ideas for creating a grief ritual any time.

  1. Wonderful ways to honor your love and take care of yourself, Elaine. Tears, too.

  2. That Rumi poem – I live by that window. Sweet wishes to you on Vic’s Deathday. You have a beautiful and inspiring ritual.
    I’m still singing in the driveway most nights as I walk my daughter’s dog. Nightly ritual. I say I’m singing to the stars but – you know. I leave a song or two. And take home peace and the feeling I’ve been heard.

    • That’s a perfect personal ritual if you ask me, Robin. It works. That proves the point. I went out to the woods this evening. I thought I’d hang out for a while, but I had omitted mosquitoes from my ritual plan. I had to keep moving, so the ritual was a walking meditation. Lupines cooperated as usual.

  3. Your words resonate in my soul, “Usually grief is my quiet familiar rather than a bleeding wound, but as the anniversary approaches, I feel alone and preoccupied, tense and unsettled.” Thank you for sharing these meaningful and powerful rituals of remembrance. I too stop and create a ritual at each anniversary of my husband’s death, birthday, and a couple of other significant days in our life together. It is my experience that our culture would do well to go beyond the current fad of “moving on,” — not to be stuck, but to enter a new place of “and” where there is space held for grace, compassion, and love — for what was and is and is to come. Thank you, Elaine. -Kathleen

    • Thank you for your encouraging words and for telling a little of what you know, Kathleen. I’m glad to know you have rituals and pauses, too. I think so many of us do. I am wiser when I remember mortality and love.

  4. Elaine, my friend, you have a unique way of sharing yourself with great honesty and vulnerability as you also reach out and assist your readers. This is a lovely post on a day that is truly sacred in remembrance of your Vic. I know the tears and the memories….
    Thank you, Mary

    • Thank you, dear Mary. Vic loved the lupines, and they cooperated as usual this year. I was glad to have Willow as a companion on the trail.

  5. I appreciate how you weave suggestions for others as you observe your own rituals – lovely. In a few weeks I’ll be doing a post with a similar title: Remembrance of Things Past in which I recall two loses, but I do so by making snips of paper digital. I like the way you connect with nature in all of your rituals. So healing and restorative.

    I’m guessing you also keep up your own fitness as well having been a personal trainer. I love my pilates and weight-training classes twice a week. Bless you, Elaine!

    • I look forward to your post, Marian. I’m a nature woman, for sure. I love this land and feel deep roots here. I know where to find Trout Lilies, the earliest flowers in the spring. I know who usually comes to the bird feeders or lives in the nesting boxes. My roots are deep here.

      I’m decently fit, but nothing like I was before Vic died. I walk every day, often with high intensity. I do a little stretching, emphasis on little. I haven’t lifted weights consistently for a year because of inner ear problems, but my health is improving and I hope to get back to weights. I love feeling strong and vital. I’m glad you know that pleasure, too.

  6. elaine,
    thank you so much for this beautiful remembrance…
    it means alot to many at this poignant moment.
    you provide the portal of the heart wisdom

  7. “Although love always ends in loss, it is worth the price”… what a statement. I don’t often think about the price of love. I think of its boundlessness, its depth, its fulfillment, its glory. This is a sobering non romantic view that places love into the hands of the person involved. Here it is not something bigger than us all, it is something that we must make an exchange for. Thanks Elaine for jostling my thinking and reminding me we must ‘pay’ for everything in one way or another.
    Your offerings are a beautiful ‘payment’ for the love you have experienced.

    • Universal love must be the all embracing force behind any love, but love is permeated with attachment for most of us. We/I love an object and want it to remain stable. I first got this in Wagner’s romantic operas, believe it or not. Anthony Damiani pointed it out to me when I was a young woman, and I remembered.

  8. I found your blog when I was doing a search for Mexico, MO. I really enjoy reading your writing. I lost a teenage son by drowning. Every year at Christmas I buy a new ornament for the tree, in his honor. I always find one that reminds me somehow of him. It will be 20 year this coming Sept. since his death.

    • Marcia, I’m so sorry about your son. I love how you keep your relationship with him strong through this meaningful ritual. I wonder how many of us quietly do something private to mark these losses. I love what you do and can only imagine the process you go through each year in choosing the right ornament.

      Mexico, MO? Do you have a relationship with Mexico? I lived there until I was 12, but it felt like home base until I moved to where I am now. Thanks for saying a little about your son and a little about how you found my blog. I’m glad you did.

  9. Had you and this hard day on my mind today. I spent about three hours photographing wild plants and flowers.
    Thank you for such a gentle, caring and helpful post.
    Sending warm hugs,

    • It wasn’t such a hard day, Patti. It just required attention. Vic died about 12:30 am. This morning, I woke up around midnight and stayed awake a few hours. Maybe that’s the best time for remembrance.
      Yesterday was harder because I hit a deer when driving my cousin to the airport. It looked me right in the eye over the top of the hood the second before impact. Fear and vulnerability in both our eyes. The deer died and the car is in the shop.
      I send warm hugs back to you. Sounds like you’re reunited with your camera.

  10. Beautiful entry, Elaine. Thinking of you and Vic at this time.

  11. Elaine,

    I’ve been thinking of you for days. Here’s my favorite lines from this essay:

    “Unlike most other cultures, ours doesn’t value remembering the ancestors. Few of us wear black and visit the cemetery frequently. We’re modern. We’re supposed to get over it.”

    You hit the nail on the head. Thanks for giving voice to this truth.


    • Thank you, Kathleen. I think of you, too, with your son’s departure and your husband’s health issues. I hope all is well with your family. With the new book, you have an overflowing plate. I look forward to reading your new book.

  12. Oh Elaine, I do love your great detail you share with your ritual. The photos and your words are always uplifting and the poem by Rumi is so aptly appropriate. I wish you peace in your rememberance. 🙂

    • In imagining my ritual before it happened, I did not include mosquitoes. Despite them, Willow and I walked out to the woods, picked a bouquet of lupines on the way, and laid them at the cairn. I paused to say the Rumi poem and express gratitude as the mosquitoes landed. So it seemed wise to loosen up and do a walking meditation rather than be a target. That worked well, but I laughed at life’s roadblocks and imperfections. Thank you, Debby.

  13. Another beautiful piece, dear Elaine, and one I’m sharing with our online Discussion Groups members. Thank you for sharing your wisdom ~ and that includes your lovely responses to readers’ comments. I especially love this one: “It wasn’t such a hard day, Patti. It just required attention.” That is what ritual is all about: remembering and paying attention. Blessings to you, my friend! ♥

    • Thanks, Marty. I love connecting with readers in comments. Three or four years ago, the anniversaries of Vic’s death were wrenching. I’m grateful to feel less raw pain and as much love as ever. Thanks for sharing my piece and thanks for all the help you offer me and others. Your definition of ritual feels just right.

  14. Elaine, thank you for sharing your rituals for remembering Vic. On the anniversary of Adrian’s death this year, the third, I finally made the photo journal I’d been planning to do for that three years. And now in sharing it with family members, it is connecting me with them, too.

    I, too, enjoy the conversations you have with those who comment–beautiful.

    • I love hearing about your ritual and reading the blog you wrote about it. What a great way to connect with Adrian and those who loved him. Thanks for your comment about comment conversations and thanks for adding your insight.

  15. Elaine I had not read this exquisite piece until today. The swaying lupines remind me of life’s cycles. Your tears, poems and gratitude for love birds show me your connection to nature.
    missing you

    • You’re back, Lourdes. Welcome. Thanks for commenting about the post. I look forward to hearing about your conference presentation about ritual.

  16. Great article post.Really thank you! Fantastic. aefdcaabcddb

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