The Power of Grief Rituals: How to Make Your Own to Help You Heal

Bring some light to your heart with this guide to grief rituals.

Published January 5, 2024

Until last year, I had never even heard of a grief ritual, so I certainly didn’t know what one was. But I was tossed into the ocean of grief when my father passed away after a long illness.

I was lost, and the first thing I did was leave my old therapist and find a new one, one who focused on grief. And one of the greatest things she brought to my proverbial grief table? Grief rituals. Here's how they may be able to help you too. 

Grief Rituals Explained 

At its core, a grief ritual, also known as a mourning ritual or healing ritual, is a way to cope with loss and to process your grief in a way that’s tangible, constructive, and valuable to you. Grief is a mountain of emotions, and grief rituals are a way to navigate those feelings that arise as well as let go, or not, as you see fit. There is no timeline when it comes to grief. 

Rather than focusing on the five stages of grief and wondering when, how, or if your grief will get smaller, a grief ritual can help to pull focus to the tasks of mourning, which are a framework about handling grief from psychologist J. William Worden. 

Need to Know

Where acceptance is the last phase in the five stages of grief; in the tasks of mourning, accepting the loss is the first step, then processing the grief, followed by adjusting to that new world without them, and then remembering the lost one while you move forward in life.    

Related: 15 Ways Grief Counseling Can Help You Heal 

Traditional Grief Rituals

Grief rituals really aren't new, although the term certainly was new to me, and it might be new to you, too. Cultures and societies have been putting grief rituals into practice for millenniums. 

There is a world of traditional grief rituals that you may not have considered, including calling hours, funerals, visiting the grave of the loved one, and even sharing memories of your loved ones with those who knew them. All things people have been doing since the dawn of time. 

Quick Tip

Other common grief rituals include a release ceremony with balloons, flowers, and flower petals, or butterflies, planting a tree, or dedicating a bench to someone's memory. Even creating an altar at your home in someone's memory is a grief ritual that can help to cope and process the loss of someone dear. 

How to Create a Simple Grief Ritual to Help You Heal 

In crafting your own grief ritual, the idea is to follow the suggested steps as loosely or as closely as you desire; it's all about what helps you.

1. Choose Your Object

The first is to choose an object with meaning to you, and this can be something that belonged to the individual you lost, such as a ring or a shirt, or something symbolic that represents them. 

2. Make the Item Sacred 

When you think of making it sacred, this doesn’t need to involve prayer or candles, although it can. It just needs a marker to make this different. Playing a specific song, thinking of a meaningful phrase, or heading to a specific place all meet that need. As for movement, you can add as much or as little of that as you wish. 

@choosingtherapy_anxiety A grief ritual often involves a meaningful symbolic object. These objects can be physical, like a photo of the person who died, or nonphysical like music or prayers. Engaging in rituals of grief validates the loss while still helping the bereaved acknowledge that their relationship with the deceased can continue on symbolically. Article: Grief Rituals: Definition, Examples, & Ideas to Try Written by: Adam Koenig MA, RP, CCC, CT Medically Reviewed by: Rajy Abulhosn MD Published: 03/29/2023 #grief #griefjourney #griefritual #grieveinpeace #griefandloss #grieftock #grieving  anchor - -

3. Interact With Your Chosen Object 

As for interacting with the symbolic or physical object, the synergy or meaning of the practice should be one that helps you to cope and heal with your grief as you navigate the feelings and transform them. For some, this could look like tossing a coin into a fountain, working with plants in the garden, or sitting with the object, while listening to music or allowing yourself to be lost in memories. 

4. Closure

Closure follows as the final step in the ritual, although the hope is to move closer to closure with your grief and emotions. Full closure may never come, but grief is tricky that way and it's totally normal if it does or doesn't. But you don’t want to carry the weight of the ritual with you through your day. Blow out the candle, allow the music to end, or close with a mantra, intention, or meditation specific to the ritual. 

Related: 10 Healing Grief Activities to Help You Cope

Personalize Grief Rituals in the Ways That Feel Right to You 

The steps involved may sound like a lot of homework, but for me, a brief grief ritual when I’m really missing Dad looks like holding his college class ring in hand, making it sacred by thinking over all our times together, turning the ring over in my hand, giving it a twirl, and sitting quietly. To end, I put the ring away with a gentle touch. Sometimes I find myself with a soft smile, as though saying good night to Dad in another lifetime. 

It Can Be Different Depending on the Person 

There's no one right or wrong way to make a grief ritual work for you. What works best for me (wearing my dad's flannel when I'm missing him or even grabbing his urn to hang out and watch Jeopardy with me) isn't necessarily what others would find comfort in.

It's also looked like me visiting the grave of my grandparents, saying hello by touching my hands to the stone, telling them about how things are going, how I wish they were still here, and to look out for us. I say goodbye and close the ritual by kissing my fingers then touching them to the gravestone. 

Use Things That Brought Your Loved One Joy as Inspiration 

You could spend the time listening to music someone loved, writing out your thoughts, painting or doodling, or sitting still and allowing your mind to wander memories. If your lost one was a fan of gardening or spending time in the yard, spending time there is a simple grief ritual while getting some time in nature. 

Embracing Grief With Simple, Meaningful Practices 

When you've lost someone important to you, there's no magic wand to wave to fill that void or empty space in your heart or life. That empty space, that sore tooth, the paper cut, is just something thatll be part of you for some time. Even when it starts to heal, totally heals, or is somewhere in the middle, grief rituals can add a touch of comfort. You’re not alone, you’re going to be okay. Hang in there, friend.

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The Power of Grief Rituals: How to Make Your Own to Help You Heal