An Old Ritual for a New Tomorrow

By: Sandra L. Graves, Ph.D., A.T.R.
Monday, November 9, 2015

In her article, Dr. Sandra Graves explains the importance of honoring your feelings gives you permission to embrace whatever ritual you may choose to express your mourning, acknowledge your right to grieve and accept the normalcy of your feelings. Respect that the depth of your love and the depth and duration of your grief. Do not worry when your grief subsides. This does not mean that your love is gone! It is simply an indication that you have made the journey from physical love to the spiritual love that is in your memories forever.

by Sandra L. Graves, Ph.D., A.T.R.

"I'm feeling so tired. Do you think it can have anything to do with my husband's death? It's been four months."

"Doctor, my 'nerves' are getting worse. I know it's been a year since my daughter died, but do you think that could have anything to do with it?"

"What's the matter with you? You really need to get up and get out more. Mom passed away months ago. Do you think she would want you to go on like this?"

Do any of these statements sound familiar? I am certain you have heard something similar since your loved one died. The fact is that the American public, no matter how much or how little education they have, is terribly ignorant regarding grief. In this country, the average American who has NOT experienced the death of a loved one truly believes that if such a death should occur the grief would be "over with" in three weeks! Imagine what kinds of expectations are set up by this single misconception! The comments I hear most often in my private grief counseling practice are "I must be going crazy" or "Is this normal?"

A beautiful lady in her early fifties sat in the chair across from me. Her husband had died suddenly three months earlier. "Will this ever end? How long will I feel this way? I have never felt this way before!"

A mother whose grown daughter died in childbirth raged, "I will never believe this, I will never understand this, and I will never get over this!"

A father of three who was in counseling for family problems began to talk about the death of his son thirteen years previous. As tears fell down his cheeks he said, "I'm sorry; I know it's been too long to talk about this."

Statements like this that reflect the thoughts and feelings of too many of us today are heartbreaking. They are so unnecessary, because if we human beings would acknowledge that we are only human and not technologically driven robots, we would all understand what we KNOW INTUITIVELY - that emotional pain is real, it is necessary, it is healing, it is part of life itself.

Looking back only one hundred years ago, there was recognition of grief. It was known to be a natural part of death and dying and death was an accepted part of life. During this time of enlightenment, there were specific guidelines for mourning, the outward signs of grieving. Men and women wore black and restrained from certain social activities. They were treated with a kind of respect and dignity that was very supportive. They were not expected to do the same things they had always done for at least a year. In fact, during Victorian times, the etiquette of grief outlined manners and behaviors that were to be followed for a four period of time following the death of a spouse or a child.

Contrast these expectations with your own and those of your family and friends today. The most comfort comes from a fellow bereaved person who has traveled your path. The least comfort comes from those whom we expect to give the most. There are still great many professionals (physicians, nurses, ministers and even counselors) who fall prey to societal ignorance regarding grief. Course work in these areas is scant in medical schools and seminaries. Most healers want you to feel better, which translates into don't be sad, don't cry, don't feel afraid–go on and get over it. In fact, after a while they may not even recognize that there is something to "get over" and completely overlook the fact that a loved one has died.

What is your message here? TRUST YOURSELF! Trust that your feelings are real, normal and healthy. You know yourself. Don't let someone else tell you that you don't. You are probably having difficulty perceiving and understanding situations, but if you feel anger, you FEEL anger. If you feel sadness, you FEEL sadness! If you swallow enough anger and sadness, you will probably get a stomachache.  If you are continually trying to hold yourself "together" and be in control of your emotions, you may get lots of headaches. After a while, you just feel "sick". It is difficult to realize at these times that grieving does feel like a sickness, and it is equally disconcerting to hear that the "sickness" is a part of a normal process.

What's the answer? If I could change the world to be the way I want it, I would go back to some of the old rituals of mourning. Now, why can't we do that? It is difficult, at a difficult time, to go against the socially acceptable way things are done. Since wearing black for a year is out of style, you may have to answer a lot of questions if you choose to wear black. Nevertheless, you might think about doing just that. A black arm band, or a black flower or a black ribbon on a lapel may serve as a reminder to you that you are grieving and that you have every right to do so. Many movements and remembrances today are commemorated by the wearing of a ribbon. The AIDS prevention movement as well as grieving those who have died by aids is symbolized by the red ribbon. A pink ribbon denotes women dying of breast cancer. A blue ribbon is now being worn to by victims of violence and also denotes a fallen officer. And now there is a black lapel ribbon that can be worn to denote that you have had a death in the family. This universal symbol now gives you a new meaning to the old ritual of wearing black.

It is important to remember that there are numerous thoughts and feelings that go along with grief. The more you can read about these and understand them, the more you will be able to say with a steadier voice, "I am grieving the death of my loved one." Look the uninformed in the eye and tell them about your sadness. Ask them to respect your feelings and wishes.

If you are so inclined, you may wish to wear the gold guardian angel pin that is also very popular today. You can even purchase the angel pins in the birthstone of your loved one. This pin once again, gives you an outward way to express an inner experience.

You may choose to light a candle or have a battery powered candle that serves as an eternal frame and place it near to a photo of your loved one. This symbol of eternal love is one that was started with the death of President Kennedy and many people have found that it is very comforting for them.

Whatever ritual you may choose to express your mourning, acknowledge your right to grieve, and the normalcy of your feelings. Respect that the depth of your love and the depth and duration of your grief. Do not worry when your grief subsides. This does not mean that your love is gone! It is simply an indication that you have made the journey from physical love to the spiritual love that is in your memories forever.

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