Remembrance Rituals You’re Free to Use

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The origin of these litanies goes back some twenty-five years when a few professionals decided to offer a community-wide event for bereaved individuals and families. Much more went into that four-hour event and the ritual of remembrance we created. Offered here are two different responsive litanies that I wrote for that day.

These have always been intended to be shared with others. Use them however you wish, including adapting the wording to your specific purpose if that seems right.

Here’s one litany:

Leader: Let us make today’s remembering more than just a remembering. Let us make it a hope and a pledge, carried on these words:

In the summer sun and fields of brightness, we will remember.

People: In the autumn haze and blazes of colors, we will remember.

Leader: In the winter chill and blankets of whiteness, we will remember.

People: And in the warmth of spring and bursts of new life, we will remember.

Leader: With everything that is permanent, and with all that is passing,

People: With everything that is majestic, and with all that is common,

Leader: With everything that carries us in concern, and with all that lifts us in joy,

People: We will remember again and again and again.

Leader: As long as we have life, we will remember.

People: And in the remembering, we can discover new life, new hope, and new courage, and if not today, then tomorrow.

Another ritual is built around a time of candle lighting. It can be used in addition to, or instead of, the litany above.

Leader: A century and a half ago Henry Ward Beecher spoke for all of us when he said, “What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose.” Today we pay homage to those whom our hearts have owned and had, and whom we know we shall never lose.

People: We recall those who have been the very life of life to us, those whom we shall never forget.

Leader: We come together today to remember those who have touched our lives in such a way that we will never be the same. We are changed by having known them.

People: We shall always be indebted for what they have given us, and thankful for what they have shown us, for how they have blessed our lives.

Leader: Let us remember those who have been as light of light to us, memorializing our relationships in this ceremony of candlelight and love.

First Candlelighter: We light a candle in memory of those who have handed us the gift of life itself. We honor those who gave us birth and nurtured us, those who endowed us with heritage and raised us, those who offered us love and cherished us.

People: We remember mothers and fathers, grandparents and great-grandparents, and our ancestors through the ages. We remember also those who were as mother or father to us, loving us by choice rather than by chance.

Second Candlelighter: We light a candle in memory of those who have been linked with us in the ongoing chain of family life. We honor those who have shared our heredity and who have experienced our common bonds.

People: We remember sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, relatives near and distant throughout time.

Third Candlelighter: We light a candle in memory of those to whom we ourselves have passed on the precious gift of life. We hold dear to our hearts those we have held dear in our arms and in our dreams.

People: We remember children who have gone before us, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We remember both those who lived within the womb and those who danced upon the earth.

Fourth Candlelighter: We light a candle in memory of those whom we discovered through the eyes of love in our journey through life. We hold sacred the remembrances of those who brightened our days with affection and who lit up our lives with devotion.

People: We remember wives and husbands, dearest lovers and closest friends, those who opened us to ourselves and to life, even as we opened ourselves to them and now to eternity.

Fifth Candlelighter: We light a candle in memory of those who have walked beside us in so many ways. We remember ones who have worked with us and played with us, ones who have made our time on earth more enjoyable and our experiences in this world more memorable.

People: We remember friends and associates, those who neighbored us and lifted us and expanded our horizons.

Leader: We leave the final candle unlit, aware of the fact that others will join our ranks in days to come, that they are doing so even now. They will stand where we now stand, and feel what we now feel. Our hearts reach to them.

People: We remember also that the time will come when we ourselves will pass through the barrier separating one form of life from another. We know that as we remember today, we will be remembered tomorrow.

If you choose to use or to adapt either of these litanies, you might keep the following ideas in mind:

If attendees light candles in remembrance of their own loved one, be sure to allow plenty of time for those candles to burn. It can be difficult for the bereaved to snuff out those lights when the ceremony is over.

Allow people to participate, and not participate, however they wish. Don’t force them to do anything or say anything that doesn’t feel comfortable to them.

If your ceremony calls for any time of silence, consider having quiet music playing in the background, such as a soft piano, a gentle guitar, or a harp. Complete silence can be uncomfortable to some.

Consider providing a tangible remembrance for attendees to take with them as they leave. A candle? An ornament? A stone? A card?

Just create a loving space that allows the bereaved in your midst to grieve and to remember during this special time of the year. They will be grateful for your thoughtfulness.

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