“Ritual” Isn’t a Dirty Word

For many people, rituals and ceremonies are deeply comforting, but if you’re like me, the idea of performing a ritual doesn’t really sound all that soothing. Perhaps you picture a congregation of people flatly intoning a series of words. At worst, you conjure up visions of fictionalized Satan worshipers. (Obviously, I’m exaggerating for effect!) This isn’t what rituals are meant to be, so why this aversion?

My face when someone asks, “Hey! Wanna do a ritual?”

What is a Ritual?

My friend and colleague Anne Murphy provides a great example: If you light a candle, that’s nice, right? The flame has a warm glow and we can look at and appreciate it. But if you say you’re lighting a candle in honor and remembrance of the lives lost to COVID-19, the action of lighting that candle takes on a deeper meaning and changes the way we experience the candle itself.

Merriam-Webster defines a ritual as a ceremonial act or action. And Wikipedia says, “There are hardly any limits to the kind of actions that may be incorporated into a ritual.” The smallest and simplest acts, when married with emotions and intentions, can become powerful rituals.

Consider these examples:

  • Washing the face of a dying person
  • Anointing the head, hands, and feet of a person who has died
  • Singing a song for a person who has died
  • Continuing a movie night tradition after a person dies
  • Sharing a deceased person’s favorite drink with friends or family

These all count as rituals. You don’t have to be religious or even spiritual to be moved by a ritual; you just have to love the person or people honored by the ritual. You can ask a celebrant for help creating rituals, or you can make them up yourself. Rituals can be completed by yourself or with others. There are no rules or limitations; what’s important is that a ritual provides a sense of comfort, healing, or relief for you.

A Simple Grief Ritual You Can Try

My friend Julie Domogalla and I created this ritual to mark the end of a grief group we facilitated together. Recently, we decided to record it as a video to share with anyone who might benefit from a simple ritual. You can watch it and see if it might work for your grief, and you can participate with us as you watch, if you like.

This video shares a simple grief ritual you can complete using 3 candles and an object that reminds you of the deceased person or people you are grieving.

If this ritual doesn’t work for you, try another! Make up your own. But please: honor your grief. Listen to it and mark moments before they are gone. Doing so keeps the people we have loved and lost with us in our hearts and in our memories.