Posts Tagged ‘Grief’

Remembrance Rituals You’re Free to Use

November 13, 2017


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.

When Our Responses Disenfranchise Others

November 13, 2017

It was a tiny incident, really. My wife Bernie and I were walking on the curving sidewalk behind the homes in our addition. A neighbor, let’s call him Matt, noticed us from his porch and asked, “Is this an anniversary? I saw a florist deliver flowers to your house earlier today.”

I looked at Bernie, who paused and then said, “No, not an anniversary. The bouquet was from our three grown children. I had emailed them this morning to give them the news: my retinologist just told me that my eyesight has become so compromised by my macular degeneration that I must now give up driving.”

Matt nodded, solemnly. “Oh,” he said, “but at least it’s not anything life-threatening.”

I know that Matt is a kind man. He would not intentionally do anything hurtful. And yet that’s what happened that afternoon. Bernie spoke her sad, fresh truth to him and he responded in a way that did not address the depth of what she was experiencing. She was in pain and he acted as if the pain wasn’t all that serious.

He made what I call a disenfranchising response.

The Old French word enfranchir means “to make free.” Put the negative prefix dis in front of it and it means “to make unfree.” When we disenfranchise someone, we deprive them, often unintentionally, of something that is rightfully and naturally theirs—in this case, a strong feeling.

Matt probably felt awkward that he was so mistaken about the reason for the flower delivery. He probably didn’t want to compound Bernie’s sadness by talking about it. He may have felt a certain helplessness, not knowing what to say that would make much difference. So he said, in effect, “Actually, this isn’t such a big deal; it isn’t life-threatening.”

We have all made disenfranchising responses through the years, probably more than we realize. Out of our awkwardness or ignorance or unintended insensitivity, we have downplayed another’s legitimate feelings. It happens all the time. When it does, people are not reinforced in their freedom to feel their natural feelings, whether those feelings are understood or not.

Knowing how easily this happens, I have put together a series of questions we can ask to help us determine if our responses are disenfranchising to a person who’s in a fragile or sad or painful situation.

Does my response invite comparison? In the freshness of the moment, one’s feelings are one’s feelings and no one else’s. To suggest quickly a comparison to a more dire situation, or a more unfortunate one, suggests that what the other feels is less important somehow, less valid.

Does my response refer only to the facts? Learning the particulars of a person’s situation can give that person the opportunity to tell their story, which can be helpful. Yet if the emphasis is only on the matters of who, what, when, where, and how, as a newspaper might report, then the significant issue of what’s going on inside, what this experience really means, is left unaddressed.

Does my response minimize feelings? The other person deserves to have their innermost self acknowledged and supported. Whatever they’re feeling, they deserve validation. They may have conflicting or unusual or inexplicable feelings—that’s okay. Feelings should be given their full due, not downplayed.

Does my response turn the attention back to me?   If the interchange concentrates on my story, my experiences, my advice, it leaves the other person feeling unattended. We may even subtly be encouraging the other person to give care to us.

Does my response change the subject? If the interchange is led in an entirely different direction, away from the person before us, they’re likely to feel left out in the cold. This may feel like a slap in the face.

Does my response rule out shared silence? Sometimes there are no words to say, at least not immediately. Sometimes our expression can say it all, or our tears, or our touch, or our embrace. When we are heart to heart or soul to soul, silence speaks eloquently.

Does my response try to delve too deeply? It’s best when we respond honestly and give the other person the opportunity to say whatever they wish in return. They may reveal a lot, or very little, or nothing. Yet to expect them to share personal details just for our own satisfaction or our own need to know is being less than sensitive to whatever is happening within them.

So how do I make an enfranchising response, a response that affirms this other person? I first listen carefully, using my eyes and heart and soul as well as my ears. I give the other person their time, not pushing them or rushing them. I do my best to understand what is going on within them, asking myself, “What’s it like to be inside their body, their mind, their heart right now?” Then I respond in a way that is most natural, sharing an honest feeling, validating their honest thoughts and/or feelings, and giving them the opportunity to say more, if they wish, while also being ready to take their cue if they have said all they wish. Then I remember them after this time together, carrying them inside.

In a sense being with others is simple to do, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to do. But it is doable. And it can make a great deal of difference in people’s lives.

The Treasure of a Mustard Seed

December 18, 2012

A Timely Tale of Beginning the Journey Through Grief


The story is told of a woman whose child had died. Her grief was strong and would not let up. It felt unbearable.

She went to the wise old man in the village and asked, “How can I come to bear this? How can I be healed?”

“It’s really rather simple,” the old man replied. “All you have to do is find a mustard seed and bring it back to me.”

“One tiny mustard seed?” she asked. “Something with no real value? That’s all I need?”

He said, “Yes, that’s all. Now here’s what you do: go to your neighbor’s house, explain your situation, and tell them I’ve sent you to collect a mustard seed from them if they have never known grief. If you cannot get the mustard seed there, then move on to the next place until you come to the first house where someone can put in your hand what you seek.

Today there is a sense in which we are like the woman seeking that mustard seed. The tragedy of what happened that Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut leaves us grieving. It is a grief that does not go easily away.

For some the grief seems unendurable—those parents and siblings, those spouses and children, those grandparents and other relatives of the ones who died. Grief strikes many others too—the neighbors, the close friends, indeed, everyone in the community. In varying degrees the grief spreads across that whole state, the entire nation, and into other spots around the world.

“How can we bear this?” we ask. “How can we begin to heal?”

The grieving woman went from house to house to house and each time she came away empty-handed. Each time she found that others either were in grief or had known grief. And most times something else happened: after the woman received the response to her question, she became the recipient of their questions, their interest, their concern. “What happened? What’s happening now? What’s going on inside?” Sometimes these others shared a bit of their own experience in return, their own perspective.

Eventually the grieving woman returned to the wise man and said, “I don’t have that mustard seed.”

He said, “I know.” And he said it with an understanding smile as he looked into her eyes, for standing before him was a woman who had begun her journey toward being able to endure what had seemed unendurable. She had started on her way toward healing.

Today all of us are a part of this story. Some of us identify closely with the bereft woman. Grief settles over us, whether it relates to death in Newtown or in our own town, to death that happened days ago or death that occurred years ago.

Others of us are like the people in the houses the grieving woman visited. We’ve known death but our grief isn’t quite as fresh nor nearly as heavy.

All of us are connected. All of us are, in some way, at some time, shaken by loss and touched by grief. And right now what happened in an idyllic town in Connecticut touches us all.

How can we bear this? How can we be healed?

We cannot ignore the tragedy and the urgency of this critical event. We must look honestly at who we are as an American culture today—at what we accept and what we expect, at what we stand for and what we hope for. We must look carefully at how we deal with mental illness, at the popularity of violence-prone entertainment, and at the increasing proliferation of guns, including assault weapons.

These are huge tasks. They will take years to be addressed. Yet without letting up on our commitment to make far-reaching changes, we must also ask, “What can we do immediately in the face of our grief?”

I believe there are many things we can do. We can visit in the homes of our neighbors, our friends, our families and we can talk to one another. We can speak with each other in those places where we work, where we play, where we worship. We can ask our questions and listen carefully to one another’s answers in beauty salons and barber shops, in coffeehouses and restaurants, on street corners and sidewalks everywhere.

I believe we can seek out the wise people who are among us and listen carefully to what they say. We can voice any questions we may have, including the very difficult ones, even if we’re somehow aware that our questions may be without answers. We can tell our story every chance we get, if that’s what feels right. We can take to heart what others around us have learned and will freely share. We can let ourselves be cared for, if caring is what we need. We can let ourselves simply be, wherever we are, trusting that the time will come when we’re to move on.

For those who have the energy and the compassion to put grief in perspective, I believe we can reach out, gently and yet firmly. We can stay with others in the pain of their grief and not hide from it. We can listen, time and again, with our eyes as well as our ears, with our souls as well as our hearts. We can do whatever we can to place ourselves in the other’s shoes—indeed, in theirs hearts and souls—so we can know their reality as surely as we can. We can stand in the truth and the genuineness of our own lives too, for that is what provides a sense of security when times seem insecure. We can continue to believe, not blithely but maturely.

I believe that together we can experience that healing is possible. It begins within us, and continues between us, and includes a source beyond us. And then our grief will not limit us but help transform us—as individuals, as families, as communities, and as a world.

You’re invited to view a short Willowgreen video related to this understanding of grief by clicking on the image above.