Using Holiday Ritual to Manage Grief

During the holidays, many people’s past losses surface with a resurgence of sadness, anxiety, isolation and feelings of regret. If 2012 has been a year of loss or change for you, these feelings may be even more overwhelming or intense.

As difficult as the holiday season can be for some it is also a powerfully meaningful time to harness by creating personal ritual to help heal and make meaning of those painful transitions and losses.

Creating personal ritual can mark the milestones and life transitions that spiritual communities don’t often address.

A personal ritual could be creating a meaningful candle lighting ritual to honor a deceased loved one, for example. People naturally create ritual in their life, from routines to how we celebrate achievements; we do it pretty naturally really. This season, it may be helpful if you are managing a difficult life transition or personal loss to give thought to intentionally creating personal rituals.

Here are some examples of personal ritual one might use at the holiday time.

Candle Lighting

Candles and their lighting are often used in creating personal ritual and they are a also often a part of many meaningful spiritual traditions. One could begin by lighting a candle the evening of Thanksgiving Day, for example, and continue to light it nightly until New Years Eve. The first night the candle is lit perhaps one would read a prayer, a reading, or poem of significance. The final day of the lighting may include a different reading along with prayerful intention for healing and hope in the New Year. There is also meaning in finding or even making the candle. I have known clients who made their candle at the beginning of November to create the perfect representation of the meaning of the ritual, just to make it more personal.

I find that many people concentrate on the holidays of Chanukah, Kwanza, Christmas and Thanksgiving only to minimize the affect of New Year’s Eve or Day. The significance of New Year’s is not in whether or not you celebrated it in a significant way in past years. New Year’s has significance because it is stepping into a new year; a new year without your loved one, or a new year that seems filled with uncertainty. This next example of using journaling to gain emotional balance may be particularly helpful in paying attention to moving into the new year.

New Year’s Reflection Journal (particularly helpful after the first year of bereavement)

To use your journal you could review aspects of the past year and reflect upon goals for the coming year. If you are participating in a candle lighting ceremony, like the one mentioned above, you may proceed with journaling after you light the candle. Here are some suggestions of questions to ask yourself to stimulate the journaling process. Let these be a spring board for your planning, understanding that some of these questions won’t resonate with you. Use what you can and think of others that fit your unique circumstances.

1. What was the most important thing I learned in this past year?

2. What new things or experiences did I try for the first time this year?

3. What was I able to do this year that I thought I couldn’t do?

4. What was the most difficult thing I achieved/what did I learn about myself from it?

5. Where/from whom did I find blessing, grace and support when I needed it?

6. What do I wish I’d done differently this year/what will I change moving forward?

7. What new things or experiences do I want for myself in the coming year?

8. What new knowledge or skill do I want to develop next year?

9. What is my most important personal goal for 2013?

The benefit of combining journaling and ritual is that it provides a written medium for reflection where you identify and define a focus meant to build on strengths. Building upon the things that inspire hope brings balance and resiliency, rather than focusing solely on the sadness, anxiety and the unknown that lies ahead. The most important thing is that it has meaning for you.