Death of a Loved One, Part 2: How Ritual Can Help

My last post was about how my family and I weathered the dying of my father (Fatherless Child). In that post, I described some of the ways we memorialized him, including my gathering pictures and creating an altar to memorialize him. In this post, I’ll talk about how such rituals can help you experience your grief and memorialize your loved one in a way that soothes you, supports effective self-care, and strengthens you.

A Day of the Dead

I was raised Catholic. Although I no longer practice Catholicism, I attend memorial Masses when it feels appropriate. I’ve attended the Masses following the deaths of my grandparents and of my father, and found them comforting. There is something to be said for gathering with loved ones to remember someone who has died. Knowing you’re not alone in your grief can be powerfully soothing. Sharing memories, pictures, and emotions, making and eating foods your loved one enjoyed, and listening to their music can help you experience your grief in a loving way that soothes the heartache of loss. You may find that although you dreaded any group ritual and only went because you felt you “had to,” afterward you feel better. You may, most likely will, be tired afterward, which is not a bad thing; it means you spent some energy in a challenging way that will make you stronger-you just had an emotional workout. I’ve been to many memorials, and as welcome as the sense of community was in those rituals, I did feel exhausted afterward; I’m pretty sure we all did. In Mexican culture, El Dia De Los Muertoson November 2 is a festival devoted to celebrating with the beloved dead (as any fan of the movie Cocoknows). People build special altars, known as ofrendas, that honor their dead, decorating them with pictures, mementoes, candles, flowers, and even food and drink their loved ones enjoyed in life. I was introduced to this festival when I worked in a primarily Latino town in California, was invited to help create ofrendas, and fell in love with the tradition because it was so helpful in dealing with my own losses. Many other cultures, if not most, have similar customs.

If you find joining in a group to remember and celebrate your loved one overwhelming, can’t get to the funeral, or there isn’t one scheduled, consider creating your own ritual. For me, it was essential to do something right away. I was raised lighting candles for intentions, and it stuck with me. My rituals helped me feel closer to my beloved dead, express my grief, and begin the transition to my new normal.

Take a Breather-Literally

The loss of a loved one, no matter how anticipated and prepared for, is a shock to the system. Although it’s common to feel some relief when death ended a long period of suffering for your loved one, this is often still mixed with a need to stop, take a breath, and absorb what has just happened. It’s hard to do that at work, although people do still go to work for various reasons. Many of us have little to no time we can take off, or we can’t afford to lose the income. But if there’s any way to do it, I encourage finding a way to give yourself some time off. Take long slow breaths, cry, journal, watch sad movies, eat nourishing food, and just generally take care of yourself. This is hard, and you deserve the time off to take care of yourself; more than that, you may find you need it. United States culture pushes us to “get over” grief, to “get closure,” “move on,” and in general, not take care of ourselves. United States culture is wrong. You might not be able to take the time off that you need from work; if that’s the case, carve some time out in your day that’s just for you and your grief. It might only be 15 minutes once or twice a day, but make it sacred for yourself. You are not just honoring your loss by doing this; you are being authentic and true to yourself. And don’t be afraid to ask for support. Hospitals and hospice organizations have grief support groups and programs, or find a therapist experienced in working with loss and grief (not all are). Personally, I loved my practicum working as a grief counselor for a hospice organization, and it’s still a big part of my practice, because I know grief not only changes us forever-it will, if we let it, make us stronger.

Time Heals-or, How Do you Mend a Broken Heart?

Grief has a way of highlighting our vulnerability with breathtaking precision, holding up a mirror showing us our truest selves. It’s a great teacher. It’s also heartbreaking. People often report feeling pain around their heart, or as if they’ve had the wind knocked out of them. Grief forces us to feel our real pain, and that isn’t necessarily fun. To make it even more challenging, grief over a fresh loss can restimulate grief over old ones we think we’re “over.” This is especially devastating when we’ve done our best to shove our feelings down. Grief isn’t just sadness; it can be rage, terror, or other strong emotions. When we’re alone with it, we might wonder if we’ll survive. Most often, the answer is yes. Grief is definitely survivable. Broken hearts do mend, and once they do, the funny thing is, they’re stronger. We do get stronger when we let ourselves go through the process.

But there’s no timeline. There’s no structure with stages that fits everyone’s grief. Eventually, it gets smaller, less immediate, easier to carry. Eventually, under the guidance of our grief, we realize we have the strength and wisdom to heal. The right support is crucial for this, whether that’s from a partner, friends, family members, fellow sufferers, or a professional. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and alone with your grief, reach out to someone, even if it’s only online. And if you’ve been grieving for a while and are starting to feel hopeless, find professional support. Keep reading for some great resources.


My Grief Angels has a grief support directory at They list a plethora of services in this directory, but you don’t have to stop there. My Grief Angels also has many other resources on their site, such as daily affirmations, important information about grief, and more, including their Grief Attacks page, where they invite user stories and comments and display them. Just reading through may give anyone grieving comfort. Check out

The Crisis Text Line has a website at You can text a crisis counselor at sms:741741in the United States, or Canada. Yes, grief can be a crisis.

Your local hospital or hospice organization is a great place to start. Here in Corvallis, Oregon, Lumina is the local hospice-check out call 541-757-9616.

This is just a start; there are many, many other resources out there, as you can see with a quick Google search. Some people find great support in their faith communities, so if you’re a member of one, you may want to talk to your worship leader. If you’re part of an affinity group, let people know you’re struggling. And if you’d like to talk about ways a trained grief counselor and licensed therapist can support you, contact me at 541-262-0080 or

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311 SW 2nd Street
Corvallis, OR 97333
(541) 262-0080

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