Every year at our bereavement day camp, we end with a flower release. After three days of camp, the children are ready. Campers write a message to their special person that died on rice paper and attach it with hemp to a carnation that is then released into a moving body of water. This is all done with great ceremony.  It is a time of great meaning and purpose for all in attendance.

Rituals are vehicles for transformation of meaning. Any act done with intention that transforms meaning can be a ritual. Rituals often have secular and/or spiritual dimensions. They punctuate and mark significant events in our lives such as weddings, births, confirmations, graduations and deaths.

In grief, rituals are an important part of the healing process. Rituals provide order to the chaos of grief. They usually involve distinctive ingredients such as candles, food, a special space or place. Rituals have a beginning, a middle and an end. They speak to our hearts and legitimize our emotions while forcing us to focus on the present.

Rituals create bridges for moving from one psychosocial status to another. From spouse to widow or from child to orphan, rituals can help with the transition.  Anything that has special meaning to us may be part of our mourning ritual, from displaying photographs to bringing flowers to the grave. Again, any act done with intention can be a ritual. It’s about the intention — not just going through the motions.

Here are grief ritual ideas:

  • Release ceremony: butterflies, balloons, flowers
  • Create a memory book of pictures, photos and stories
  • Plant a tree or memorial garden
  • Eat at your loved one’s favorite restaurant
  • Design a shrine
  • Wear something that belonged to your loved one
  • Create a memory quilt or teddy bear
  • Keep a journal
  • Visit the cemetery or other special place
  • Light a candle
  • Write a letter
  • Help Others
One camper who comes to mind is a young boy who returned to camp for three years running. The first year, he was unable to let go of any part of his flower and walked away from the water very weepy. The second year he released the flower, but kept several petals and stuffed them into his pockets. Year three, he was one of the first campers to proudly toss his entire flower into the water. Each time he participated on his own terms and he was a bit transformed. Each time, the ritual took on new meaning. It was a simple act done with intention.