The Importance of Rituals

An article about grief and rituals by Jean Smart, LCSW, Grief Support Specialist

In J. William Worden’s hallmark book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, he provides four tasks to help mourners. His final task is “to find an enduring connection with your loved one while moving forward with life.”

We can’t change the fact that our loved one is gone, but we do have a choice in how we respond. We can choose to heal.

Rituals are an important way to help you keep your loved one alive. A ritual is a specific behavior or activity that gives symbolic expression to your feelings. Rituals can be a one-time occurrence or repeated annually at a time of your choosing. They can help you interact with the memory of a loved one in a healthy way.

Rituals help us create continuing bonds with our deceased loved ones. There is no need to sever all connections with the person who has been a part of your life. Contemplate and determine which parts of your life and relationship with your loved one can be retained.

Rituals may be as simple as watching a movie you both liked or playing “your song”. They can be religious in nature, or collecting photographs, mementos and personal belongings to place in a memory box.

This can also be an important tool to help children grieve, as once they have placed articles in the box they can add to it, or use it to reminisce. It can be something shared with the whole family too.

  • Other more tangible ways to create rituals could be:
  • Give a donation in your loved one’s name
  • Light a candle
  • Create a memory table
  • Make their favorite recipe or meal, and then make a toast in their memory
  • Share memories of your loved one, read a poem or say a prayer
  • Plant a tree
  • Bake cookies for a nursing home or others who may be isolated
  • If visiting a cemetery, consider including children in planning decorations to give them a sense of involvement

The Circle of Lights by Kansas City Hospice was created to help you celebrate your loved one in community. Research has shown that even when a loss is not our own, we ache. Grief expressed in community connects us to the core of being human. Grief shared is grief diminished.