Our mothers and mother figures are an essential part of who we are. Our relationship with them is not a simple one to describe. As Mother’s Day approaches each year, for some of us who are grieving, it can be a challenging reminder that our mother is not here to celebrate. The day seems less than a holiday. So consider this, what if we find a way to remember our moms just as we need to do for us through a ritual we create? Maybe we can find support for ourselves and even those around us who are grieving by creating a way to remember and find some healing at the same time.

Rituals for Healing

Rituals provide us with acts to engage in for meaning-making. Dr. Kenneth Doka discusses ritual as giving special meaning to the commonplace in his book Transforming Loss. Ritual offers a symbolic connection to the lost persons. For example, a woman makes her deceased mother’s recipe for cranberry relish on Thanksgiving. Only a few people in the family enjoy this dish. Still, she continues to prepare it because, during the preparation, she feels connected to her mother and feels her mother is within her and, thus, present on holiday.

Dr. Kenneth Doka has identified four functions of ritual that may help in a variety of situations: 

  • Rituals of Continuity – This type of ritual implies that the person is still part of my life and a continuing bond exists. The Thanksgiving ritual described above is an example of this.
  • Rituals of Transition – This marks that a change has taken place in the grief response. For example, parents who have lost a child marked a transition in their mourning by cleaning out their deceased child’s room after a while acceptable to them.
  • Rituals of Affirmation – This is an act whereby one writes a letter or poem to the deceased, thanking the person for the caring, love, help, and support. This is especially useful for those who never said “thank you.”
  • Rituals of Intensification – This type of ritual intensifies connection among group members and reinforces their shared identity—for example, the AIDS Quilt, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the Oklahoma City Memorial Park. Even our annual Faith & Grief Memorial in Dallas each year gives a place to remember and can become an annual ritual.

Rituals must fit the story. They must be planned ahead and thoroughly processed after completion. Specific dates are particularly troubling and anxiety-producing for the bereaved. These include birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, religious celebrations, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries of death, and other specific family markers. The goal is to plan a remembrance ritual to acknowledge the day cognitively and symbolically. 

Utilizing any of the abovementioned rituals will help acknowledge in some personal way the shared relationship and life. The day is best confronted and dealt with through ritual rather than avoided. Following is a list of rituals. The following suggestions might be altered and enhanced to accommodate the relationship involved appropriately. 

Adapted from Transforming Loss: Finding Potential for Growth (Living with Grief) by Dr. Kenneth Doka.

Ways to Create Rituals of Healing

  • Prepare a favorite meal enjoyed by your loved one.
  • Prepare a favorite dessert – share with family or friends. 
  • Watch a movie(s) enjoyed by your loved one. 
  • Plant flowers, a tree, or a flowering bush in memory of your loved one. 
  • Light a candle and recall the comfort or guiding light they were for you. 
  • Read a book(s) or article(s) on a favorite topic(s) they enjoyed. 
  • Play music your loved one appreciates and see if you can enjoy it now. 
  • Attend a concert/performance that would be pleasurable to you both. 
  • Wear a piece of jewelry that was a favorite of the person. 
  • Wear cologne or perfume they liked. 
  • Wear an item of clothing given to you by them. 
  • Buy something for yourself they would like you to have. 

What other ways have you or do you want to remember your loved one?