Remembering a loved one who has died

Ceremonies, traditions, and rituals help us to express our deepest thoughts and feelings about life’s most important events. Ceremonies like graduations, weddings, and baptisms involve traditions and rituals that help us mark special occasions. When a loved one has died, rituals and traditions can also help us mark a special occasion and remember our loved one, even years after the loss. Setting aside special times for remembering a loved one who has died can bring comfort to those who mourn.

How do ceremonies and traditions help us heal after a loss?

1. Rituals Are Symbolic

First, ceremonies, rituals, and traditions are symbolic actions that point to a deeper meaning. When we lose a loved one, we can use symbolic actions such as lighting a candle for the one we love, releasing a balloon, or setting a place at the table on a birthday or anniversary. These symbolic actions allow us to take an active role in our own healing process. After the funeral, it is sometimes hard to know what to do to honor our lost loved one. Establishing traditions and habits or rituals can help us feel more connected to our loved one’s memory.

2. Rituals Help Us Express Emotion

Second, ceremonies and rituals help us express emotion. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief, is often quoted as saying, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” There are times when we need more than just words. Words can help, but emotions are not always experienced at a conscious level. When we are wounded by a loss, the wound is often felt by a much deeper part of our heart. For those parts or our hearts that need more than words, a ritual can bring comfort and healing.

3. Rituals Bring People Together

Lastly, a ritual unites people in a shared experience. We participate in funerals, memorial services, candlelight vigils, and remembrance ceremonies because they help us feel bonded to others who are experiencing the same grief and pain that we are. We draw comfort and support from others who are with us on our journey through grief. When a loss occurs, we can use rituals and traditions to help us remember and heal. Ceremonies help us express our emotions, feel connected to others, and find a way forward on the road to healing.

What Are Some Helpful Rituals for Healing after Loss?

  • Lighting a candle – Whether you light a candle every night or on special days like holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries, a lit candle can symbolize the presence of your lost loved one whose memory continues to live on in your heart.
  • Releasing a balloon or a lantern – Whether you are with a group of mourners or even by yourself, releasing a balloon or lantern can help symbolize the spirit of your loved one ascending to heaven. The act of releasing also helps us to know at a deeper level that as we “release” our lost loved one, we can begin to experience greater peace and healing.
  • Sharing memories – Some families gather together on special days to share memories and honor those who have died. This shared experience helps to bring comfort through mutual support.
  • Visiting the grave – Some mourners visit the place of rest regularly or on special occasions to leave flowers and experience a time of reflection. Leaving fresh flowers at the graveside helps to symbolize that our love for the person who has died lives on.
  • Attending remembrance events – Occasionally, churches, communities, or funeral homes will organize remembrance events or prayer vigils. Such events help us to engage in rituals with the support of others, which can bring a greater sense of peace.
  • Wearing remembrance jewelry – Wearing a daily reminder of the one we’ve lost can help us feel closer to our loved one. Remembrance jewelry may be anything that reminds you of your loved one.

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