Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Grief Project: The Importance of the Ritual

"The reality is that we don't forget, move on, and have closure, but rather we honor, we remember, and incorporate our deceased children and siblings into our lives in a new way. In fact, keeping memories of your loved one alive in your mind and heart is an important part of your healing journey." 
~ Harriet Schiff, author of The Bereaved Parent

When I first set out to do a ritual for the month of July to honor Nora, I thought of lighting a candle every day and meditating on it.  This plan seemed to fit with how I viewed the idea of a ritual as something you do every day and how I now imagined Nora, as spark of light forever flickering in my soul.  I was also familiar with meditation and its power to help heal so many facets of our lives.  However, whenever I would set out to do this, I lost interest and realized it didn’t fit into my day.

So I took a step back from finding a ritual and did research about it instead.  What I found is that I have been doing different rituals since the day she died that have been allowing me to integrate my loss of her into my life. 

Rituals have long been used throughout history by mankind to mourn their dead.  There is evidence that even Neolithic human cultures had extensive burial rituals for their deceased.  Moving forward many thousands of years, research shows that rituals have been used universally for coping with death throughout time.  An interesting fact mentioned in Dr. Joanna Cacciatore and Dr. Melissa Flint’s article, Mediating Grief: Postmortem Ritualization After Child Death, “In Ancient Finland, babies born dead would be buried under or near the house” presumably to keep the deceased baby close to the living family members. 

But some years down the road, with the invention of funeral homes and taking death outside of the family home, death became scary and the death rituals used for so many years were taken away.  Now if I were to speak of ritualization of the deceased to someone outside of the loss community they might view continued rituals as a sign of stunted mourning.  But, in all actuality and according to Kenneth Doka in his article Therapeutic Ritual in Techniques of Grief Therapy, he writes that “rituals can affirm a continuing bond, mark a transition in the client’s grief journey, validate a relationship or legacy of the deceased or promote symbolic recognition of the deceased.” All healthy things.   

Rituals help us maintain the precious connections to our children and assist us in integrating our loss into our lives while moving forward in our grief process.  And according to research done Dr. Melisssa Flint and Michele Newton presented at the 2012 MISS Conference, ritualization helps the bereaved parent in three specific ways:

1. Maintaining continuing bonds with child.  
2. Helping cope with the loss.
3. By providing a means towards growth from post-traumatic loss through honoring and memorializing their child.

Newton and Flint find that all of this is important because ritualization acts as a continued connection for the grieving parent to their child and “mediates grief through meaning construction after a child’s life and death.” 

And LOTS of activities count as ritualization and they don’t have to be a daily thing! For instance, holding and caressing sweet Nora after she was born dead.  That was an act of ritualization.  Holding a funeral for our family and friends to honor our grief over the death of our daughter was a ritual recognized by society.  Then there are the other acts, writing her name when we go on trips, creating gardens to build a place to remember her, and wearing a pendant of her actual footprint are all ways of ritualization that help me as a bereaved parent keep a connection to Nora and integrate her life and death into my life in a HEALTHY way.  

Oh, and once I thought about it longer, I found my true ritual to honor Nora and integrate her story into mine.  Did you guess it?  Yup!  It’s writing!  Writing and blogging was my true daily ritual.  So the long and short of it, if you are pulled to complete rituals in your child’s name and are able to go on living a productive healthy life, don’t worry what society might think of your ritual.  History and research show the importance of the ritual.  


If you are looking for a ritual celebrate your child with then check out my older post from last month, Grief Project: 11 Ways to Remember Your Child

There are also ways to remember your child just online.  Check out Still Standing Magazine's article
13 Ways to Honor Your Child's Memory Online.

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