Over the last nine months, my husband and I have been to four funerals. The most recent one was last week. That got me thinking about how our current culture doesn’t make room for the grieving process, and it should.
We should all create space to grieve.
Nine years ago, when my husband’s father was dying of lung cancer, he vowed to stay by his father’s side until the very end.
He kept his vow.
At the graveside ceremony, he requested that the funeral director lower his father’s casket into the pre-dug hole in the ground while the funeral attendees gathered around. He then picked up a shovel and started covering the coffin with dirt. He intended to see his father to the end as far as he could go.
With his suit jacket carefully placed over a folding chair on the cemetery lawn, he shoveled dirt from the pile by the hole in the ground.
He wasn’t covering up his emotions by piling the dirt of everyday life on them. Instead, he was taking charge of his feelings, and physically doing something with them: burying his father.
A soft gasp was heard through the crowd.
We live in the South, and shoveling dirt at your father’s funeral is just not done.
What usually happens is the crowd, while the coffin remains above ground, slowly walks to their cars while hugging the family of the departed and promising visits with casseroles.
“Can he do that?” I heard one attendee whisper while she watched my husband bury his father.
The answer is, “Yes! Yes, he can.”
Anytime people can participate in a ritualistic ceremony, as my husband did for his father’s funeral, they should because this helps the grieving process.
A study by Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino found that when faced with loss, people who use ritualistic ceremonies over their loss experienced less grief (“Rituals Alleviate Grieving for Loved Ones, Lovers, and Lotteries.”).
In today’s world, people are expected to attend a funeral during a lunch break, and then get back to work.
Here’s the thing though, people who experience loss need to grieve, and grieving is a process.
To help travel through the process, someone suffering from loss should not feign stoicism.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard friends and acquaintances proudly state that they held it together when their parent died and didn’t cry.
All I can think to say in reply is, “Why?”
The loss of a loved one is a very challenging part of life. Some would say, it is one of the most challenging and sad parts of life.
Our tears are for sadness.
Don’t hold back tears. If you need to cry, then cry. Make no apologies. Cry and get it out, giving space for those happy life moments to come.
Embrace whatever ritualistic ceremony you want to use to work through your grief.
Some people wear black clothing; some wear hats and sunglasses to hide their eyes from the public. Jewish men will not shave, while Hindu men are required to shave (“Can Rituals Help Us Deal with Grief?” ). In Ethiopia, when someone dies, the funeral includes the whole community (“Death and Mourning Practices in Rural Ethiopia” ). In the Celtic culture, bagpipes are played at funerals (“The Significance of Bagpipes at Funerals”).
If you don’t have any ritualistic or sacred grief ceremonies, create your own to help you move through the grieving process.
It should go without saying, ritualistic ceremonies of grief should not hurt anyone, including yourself. Causing physical harm will not help you heal.
Whatever you do, give yourself time to heal.
There is no magic number of days that it takes to mourn completely. It might take weeks, or months, or years. It’s a process, and it requires time.
Have patience with yourself.
If you find that grief has placed you in a position where you are unable to function in the world around you, reach out to a grief counselor to help you work through the stages of grief. (Grief Support Hotline National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (800) 658-8898 www.nhpco.org)
My husband’s mother died of Ovarian cancer several years after his father died. Once again, he was right by his mother’s side and did all he could for her. At her funeral, he motioned for the funeral director to lower her coffin into the ground while everyone stood around wide-eyed. After removing his suit jacket, he picked up a shovel and began covering his Mom’s casket with dirt. This time, my teenage daughters kicked off their shoes and joined in. My brother-in-law soon removed his jacket and picked up a shovel to share in the ritualistic ceremony of grief.
If you have recently lost a loved one, participate in your sacred grief ceremony without apology.
Grow your beard, shave your beard, wear black, light candles, cry, wail…
Do what you need to do to move through your time of grieving.
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Laurie, I couldn’t agree more with you. We all process grief in our way but process it we must. My family suffered a tragic loss in August and I am still processing as the rituals were not inclusive and foreign to me. I am using my own. This was beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing your family’s journey.
Thanks for your comment, Beverly! I am sorry to hear about your tragic loss in August. Tragic loss is never easy. I’m glad to hear you are creating your own rituals, and I hope they are giving you strength as you travel through the mourning process.