All the platitudes are true. It does get easier over time. You do move forward (not on). New life offsets old losses and love does help the heart to heal. I’ve also discovered that rituals and safe places connect people, allow us to express what words fail to do, and help us to heal.
Over the years, I’ve listened to stories of releasing helium balloons, some with messages to the departed, some in special places and some simply let go in the company of others. I’ve heard the healing and heartbreaking stories of families who hold private birthday parties with their living children for the child they’ve lost: a powerful reminder of the impact that child’s life had on those who loved them. There are also stories of trees and gardens that are planted and memorial benches overlooking seascapes. And of course, there are the annual fundraising events (bike rides, golf tournaments and chilli cook-offs) that bring together those directly impacted by the loss of someone, those who support them and those who are simply interested in helping to raise funds for a good cause. All of these, moments of remembrance and healing. All of them forms of ritual.
My family has always come together around tables laden with good food, laughter and a finger or two of scotch. So, it is natural that our ritual for healing and remembrance would include some if not all of these.
As the mom, creating the space to come together initially fell to me. It was also me who needed to make sure everyone was as okay as possible and that the kids, in particular, remain connected. That too was the mom in me. Loss tears some families apart. I wanted to make sure this didn’t happen to mine.
First Safe Spaces
We began with monthly Sunday breakfasts at the local mom & pop breakfast place: structured and easy. Someone else cooked and did the dishes and there was no expectation of anything other than spending a few hours in each other’s company. These breaks helped us all when we still moved through our days often feeling a little raw.
As everyone grew stronger and lives moved forward, I was amazed to see how old patterns re-established themselves and we once more became a special occasion gathering type of family. Of course, we’ve added a new date to the usual list.
It’s been 8 years since my late husband died. Instinctively we have always stayed in touch on that date and, when possible, we come together. In other words, being together physically doesn’t always happen and that part doesn’t matter. What matters is that, regardless of whether we are breaking bread together or simply exchanging texts with emoticons of wine, beer, scotch, cigars, smoked meat, hearts and hugs, we always let each other know that we are remembering someone who touched our lives, that we are and always will be connected, and that we are here for one another. Remembering this man is both a reminder to live well and to continue loving one another deeply. These touchstone moments are about healing, about family and about love.
This year two of my late husband’s children and I were able to come together. A boyfriend and grandchild not born 8 years ago have been added to the mix. A toast with twelve year old single malt scotch started the meal and stories of days gone by are still shared; the next generation learning about their ancestor and the craziness that sometimes (like always!!) exists in family life.
As I sat back and watched the banter, good natured teasing and laughter that filled the socially distanced patio I felt joy. The bulk of the conversation now revolves around life today, the sometimes, hilarious things that happen to us and of course the latest greatest meal cooked on the smoker. The last a gentle reminder that if I lived closer, I would be sharing in the bounty. However, it was witnessing how these get togethers have shifted from being safe spaces filled with brokenness to a place filled with gentleness and much silliness that brought me peace. It was remarkable to sit back and see how far we’ve come, how much we’ve healed and that our lives, though different, are again fulfilling and happy. And that somehow because we have moved through those years together, we have remained intact and have possibly even grown closer.
Rituals and safe spaces aren’t for everyone and remembering lost loved makes some uncomfortable. It’s worked for me and my family and I know it’s worked for others. Through the stories others have shared with me I’ve learned that it doesn’t matters how we choose to heal but that we find a way to do so. We are more than our losses, but our losses, like our joys, are also part of who we are and also honoured.
My family and I stumbled upon creating rituals quite by accident. However, it turns out there is research that supports its value. Here are a couple of links for anyone who is interested.
“The Power of a Made-up Ritual”., Santos, Laura., Podcast: The Happiness Lab- Pushkin (May 11, 2020) https://www.happinesslab.fm/season-2-episodes/episode-3-the-power-of-a-made-up-ritual
“Resolving child and adolescent traumatic grief: Creative techniques and interventions.”, Edgar-Bailey, Meredith & Kress, Victoria E., in The Journal of Creativity in Mental Health (June 16, 2010)., p.170-172