Grief Rituals: Processing Life After Death

Nov 19, 2022

When someone in your life passes away, how do you move forward without feeling like you’re leaving them in the past?

“Rituals help us gain normalcy to a situation,” says Patricia Harmon, certified End of Life Doula. “We need to acknowledge what has happened. Death is a big deal.”

Rituals act as a performance so we humans can make sense of our lives; they serve as a pathway through what would be otherwise uncharted territory. Often, grief rituals in our society include wakes or funerals. But the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted our lives in nearly every way, forcing us into isolation.

“We have lost our ability to have rituals that remember, that grieve,” says Patricia. “We have to recreate them.”

Grief Rituals in the Workplace

Earlier this year, Guild partnered with Patricia to explore the benefits of rituals our staff can practice to remember and celebrate clients and community members who have died. “We’ve all learned over the past two years the importance of the rituals which connect and embrace our community,” says Beth Scheetz, Guild’s Chief Clinical Officer.

Our service teams at Guild often develop strong, life-long bonds with clients. While the basis of these relationships may have started as professional, that doesn’t make losing a client any less painful.

“The people we work with on our teams often have no family and minimal support networks, says Lily, Program Manager and Clinical Supervisor for Guild’s Delancey Services. “It is important to our staff who worked with them to honor and recognize their life.”

Lily’s team talked about taking a moment of silence during team meetings or working together to reflect on work done with that individual and their successes. “We also talked about having a balloon in our team space to indicate that a death has happened and making a memory book to track the names of clients who have died.”

Grief Rituals to Practice

There is no right or wrong way to do a grief ritual if it’s helping you process life after losing someone. Rituals are a process of moving forward and will change with you. According to Patricia, “rituals are meant to be ‘recipes’ that can adapt with you.”

Some examples of grief rituals you can practice include:

  • Creating a shrine
  • Writing a letter
  • Eating at our loved one’s favorite restaurant
  • Light a candle
  • Plant a tree or memorial garden
  • Create a piece of art
  • Create a memory book with pictures and stories

More Grief Resources

For more on death, dying, and grieving, visit Patricia Harmon’s webpage — Limina

10 Tips for Caregivers Over the Holidays – Zen Caregiving Project

About Guild’s Delancey Services

Our Delancey Services teams help individuals living with a persistent mental illness and/or are experiencing chronic homelessness find secure, stable housing and other services needed to lead a healthy life. Learn more here.