Grief is a sacred journey

Twelve Rituals That Marked My Way: 2014

January 2014 at Vic's cairn

January 2014 at Vic’s cairn

Rituals focus my attention and bring a sacred sense to life. Personal rituals help me honor the things for which I’m grateful–friendship, family, the earth, and bereavement and grief work. In this spirit, I look back at rituals that marked my way through 2014.

February 2014 at Seneca Lake

February 2014 at Seneca Lake

In January, I left flowers and pine cones where my husband Vic’s ashes are buried, a ritual that began after his death over six years ago and continues still.

In February, I took part in a monthly ritual to bless Seneca Lake, resist storage of methane and LPG in underground salt mines, and thank our sacred lake for supporting life and providing clean water.  Trips to Albany to protest against fracking had a ritual feel, too. Our governor heard our message and banned fracking in New York State in December.

March: Vic's birthday ritual

March: Vic’s birthday ritual

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April ritual of remembrance

On Vic’s birthday in March, I took purple iris to his cairn and read a poem of love.

In April, I took part in a ritual of remembrance led by Jayne Demakos at Wisdom’s Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies.

In May, tulips were part of a ritual I created at a bereavement support group at Hospicare in Ithaca, NY. A few flowers came home for my altar.

May tulips for my altar

May tulips for altars

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June Qigong by Cayuga Lake

In June, I watched the repeated, dream-like ritual movements of two friends who did Qigong by Cayuga Lake.

The annual Hector Fair Fireman’s parade in Hector, NY is a beloved community ritual. In recent years, those who oppose fracking and work to protect our clean water showed up in full force.

July: local parade

July: Hector Fireman’s parade

Women Swimmin’ is an annual August fundraiser for Hospicare in Ithaca. Watching hundreds of swimmers stroke toward shore in early morning light was a ritual to remember.

August: Women Swimin' for Hospicare

August: Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare

In September, I led a workshop called “Leaning into Love: Rituals for Healing” at Soaring Spirits International Camp Widow in Toronto. We created an altar as part of our ritual of remembrance.

September at Camp Widow

September at Camp Widow

In October, Leaning into Love: A Personal Journey through Grief was released with plenty of private and public rituals. A galley copy of the book was part of an equinox altar created with friends.

October release of Leaning into Love

October release of Leaning into Love

November Thanksgiving ritual of remembrance

November Thanksgiving ritual of remembrance

On Thanksgiving, friends and I lit candles for those we miss. I can’t think of November without remembering my TEDx talk, a creative adventure focusing on the power of ritual during grief.

Most of us take part in December rituals with music, decorations, and feasts. This year, I’m building a late December New Year’s altar with seeds for new possibilities and feathers for spirit. I added a Buddha for serenity and plenty of Light. I’ll keep adding things until Dec. 31, but I send it to you as it is with wishes for a blessed and peaceful New Year. What rituals did you create or take part in this year? Weddings, funerals, baptisms, graduations, family gatherings, visits to a cemetery, or small personal rituals meaningful only to you. I’d love to hear about your year in ritual.

December 31, 2014

December 31, 2014

14 Comments
  1. Many of your rituals make use of light, which reminds me of the home-going of Mother this year.

    She lighted the way for me by her example through all the milestones of my life. Her funeral service, also called a celebration of life, was lighted by a small lantern in front of the pulpit at Bossler Mennonite Church. Many gave eulogies full of life and light, particularly spoken by other “daughters” who followed my sisters and me in my parents’ ministry via New Life for Girls.

    Today I am wearing her wristwatch, the crystal from which light glances out in all directions, a reminder to keep spreading that light.

    You chose a lovely way to memorialize your year, a keepsake in itself. Happy 2015, Elaine and family!

    • Thank you, Marian. I love the strong images and ideas of light left behind by your mother and the lessons you take from them. Six years later, I find new reminders of Vic’s light. Yesterday, it was a yellow pad covered with neatly written physics equations. I paused to let in sadness and love and remember his dedication to teaching and to me. Yes, let’s keep that light moving in every direction. Blessed New Year.

  2. Love this blog. I hear in the news that even though religions in general are having a down turn in attendance, the rituals are not. More and more people are going to them. As the world gets crazier in terms of materialism it seems the need for ritual is increasing proportionally!
    Knowing that you can do them on your own is important. So often people think they need a priest or a lama to partake. Creating small meaningful ones for yourself ( and maybe family and friends) is a beautiful act and ‘payment’ to/for the life you have been given.
    We have been ritualizing the fires we have in the backyard. The fire itself is the altar. And everything we do around it is part of the ritual. It is different that simply sitting around the fire ( which certainly is a glorious thing to do) in that we are conscious of making the whole environment a sacred space. It has become one of my favorite events in the week.

    • Lauren, as you well know, something powerful happens when we bring attention and intention to anything we’re doing–firebuilding, gardening, cooking, walking… Tending the woodstove has that quality if I remember to slow down and be aware. As I load wood into the stove in the center of my house, it changes everything if I think of the fire as an sacred. Then all aspects of fire-keeping, including stepping out on the porch on a frigid night to grab an armload of wood and look up at the night sky, become ritual acts. Sending love to you in the land of winter vegetables.

  3. Elaine, wonderful post on rituals! How neat to be aware of rituals you’ve done every month and the power and presence they bring to our everyday lives!

    • There were many more, Mark. Sometimes it was inappropriate to take photos in group rituals. Sometimes I didn’t have a photo as in the case of the TEDx talk where I made the whole presentation into a ritual. I must have visited Vic’s cairn a few hundred times. This hill of tall trees in our woods was a place of solace for forty years and still is. I created this blog by looking through photos from the year. I thought I’d be inspired by flowers or butterflies or sunsets, but instead rituals popped out at me, so I began with images and then added words.

  4. This is lovely, Elaine. Rituals are such important ways to acknowledge the sacred elements of life – and death. I am moved as well to see you working them in and around the places I grew up. Can’t now recall if I have asked you if you know my friend Regina Carpenter, an Ithaca-based storyteller who founded Stories with Spirit, a creative initiative dedicated to bringing songs of joy and stories of hope to palliative care patients, families and caregivers in homes, hospices, and hospitals. I think you might enjoy each other’s work; would be happy to give you a Facebook introduction if you like. http://soaringstories.com/

    • Thank you, Paula. On top of readings, I’m creating workshops about ritual where I’m asked. Furthest I’ve been from home is Toronto, but two workshops coming up in Florida–a good place to visit in February. I’ve known Regi for many years. A few years ago, we were in the same writing group. More recently she generously offered a coaching session for my TEDx talk “Good Grief! What I’ve Learned from Loss.” She’s given me lots of encouragement about my book and my work–and I’ve tried to do the same for her. Regi is an Ithaca treasure. Thanks for letting me know about your connection.

  5. What a busy, blessed year you had. Wishing you peace, love, health and happiness in the years to come. Happy New Year. 🙂

  6. I read this post while sitting in my red leather chair (a ritual place) and looking out the window to the long view — meadow and farms in the foreground, hills and mountains about 15 miles away.

    I am not as intentional about ritual as you are, Elaine, but I do know the wisdom of slowing down and becoming aware. Anything we do, from rising in the morning, to making and pouring coffee and eating, to walking can become a ritual when done mindfully.

    I have the luxury, now, of fewer appointments. I still love to-do lists with their delicious check marks. But I also love the slow motion of my heart when I feel it inside my rib cage, expanding.

    May you experience even more moments of awareness and may your practices sustain you in 2015. Grateful that we met in 2014!

    • I’ve become more intentional about ritual since Vic died, Shirley, because it helped more than I imagined it could. Then I noticed how we humans value the small sacred and secular rituals of life from the fireman’s parade to the matching blue t-shirts in support of Seneca Lake to the elaborate Christmas service at a country church.

      Unfortunately, I’m as much into those to-do lists as ever, even though part of me knows it’s silly. But I like what I’m doing and need to create this new life–as long as I stay inwardly slow and calm. I’m still practicing.

      Blessed New Year to you and your sweet family. I’ve learned so much from your book and your blog.

  7. I’d been a hiker for many years. Then, shortly after my daughter died, I made hiking with the dog I inherited from her a special part of my week. Every Sunday morning the dog and I hiked with friends all over Ithaca and beyond. It started out as being a walking-tribute to my daughter and I’d imagine her keeping watch over us in the woods, on hills, in the gorges. In greeting the other hikers, in stopping the rush of my regular routine,and simply enjoying walking together in beautiful places, the Sunday hikes became an important part of our lives. Now we hike 3 times a week. Maybe it isn’t a ritual anymore. But over the past almost 4 years, it’s become a bond between us and the earth and the beautiful place we live in and love.

    • Sounds like a ritual to me, Robin–repeated and repeatable, brings a sense of meaning and sacredness to life, setting aside time to honor your daughter, the earth, your own life. What a gift Suki has been for you. And your new community of hikers, too. Thanks for sharing your ritual.

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