Traditions and rituals help us to express our deepest thoughts about life’s most significant events. Special ceremonies like graduations, weddings, and baby dedications involve traditions and rituals that help us…
Traditions and rituals help us to express our deepest thoughts about life’s most significant events. Special ceremonies like graduations, weddings, and baby dedications involve traditions and rituals that help us mark important milestones in life. When a loved one dies, rituals and traditions can also help us mark a significant event and spend time remembering and finding healing.
What makes a ritual so effective? First, rituals are symbolic. When we lose a loved one, we can use symbolic acts such as lighting a candle for the one we love, releasing a balloon or a lantern, or setting a place at the table on a birthday or anniversary. These symbols help us to remember that our loved one is always with us in our hearts.
Second, rituals help us express emotion. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, renowned grief counselor and educator, is often quoted as saying, “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” Sometimes, we need an outlet for expressing our deepest emotions, and words are not enough. When a loss occurs, the wound is often so deep that the pain goes beyond our ability to process with language. In times of great distress, a ritual can be more comforting and healing than 1000 eloquent words.
Finally, rituals unite people in a common, shared experience. Funerals, visitations, candlelight services, memorial events, and celebration of life ceremonies help us feel a certain solidarity with others who are sharing our grief and loss. We have a unique sense of comfort from knowing that we are not alone and that others are supporting us on our journey through grief.
We know that rituals and traditions can bring healing to the wounded heart. We know that ceremonies and gatherings help us feel connected to others and supported by the presence of loved ones. We know that rituals help us express our deepest emotions as we search for healing and reconciliation with grief. Below are a few examples of how you can incorporate the power of rituals into your healing journey.
Light a candle – Set a place at the table or set up a memorial display area at home and light a candle when you want to honor the memory of a loved one. You can light a candle every day or on special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. Lighting a candle symbolizes the light that your loved one brought to you and the memory of the person who lives on in your heart.
Release balloons, doves, butterflies, or paper lanterns – Releasing a balloon or lantern is a ritual that symbolizes releasing a lost loved one or sending loving thoughts to their spirit. Some people write notes and attach them to balloons or lanterns. Some people release doves or butterflies to symbolize a loved one’s ascension to heaven or transition into a new spiritual form.
Recall memories – Family and friends may choose to gather on special occasions to share memories and honor a loved one. This may occur on the first anniversary of the death, at family reunions, or on significant days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
Go to the graveside – Some people who grieve find comfort in visiting the grave of their loved one, leaving fresh flowers, or simply spending time reflecting on the loss. Mourners often visit the grave on special days or on any day that they want to feel close to their loved one.
Attend a support group or special memorial event– Certain community events such as support groups, grief workshops, or remembrance events such as candlelight vigils can also bring comfort and healing. Such events help us connect with others who are also feeling the pain of a loss, which can bring a greater sense of peace.
Carry a remembrance item – Sometimes a small keepsake, like a handkerchief, a watch, a piece of jewelry, or a small heirloom can serve as a reminder of a lost loved one. If you don't have a keepsake, you can choose memorial jewelry that is designed to carry cremation ashes or a lock of hair or that is imprinted with the fingerprint of a person who has died. You can even have a diamond made from the ashes of a loved one! Heirlooms and keepsakes also serve as a daily reminder that often brings comfort to those who mourn.
Mother opened her eyes and stared, unblinking, at the vase of daffodils on the table beside her hospital bed. “Who sent these beautiful flowers?” she asked in a barely audible voice.
“No one sent them, Mother.” I squeezed her hand. “I picked them from your yard. It’s March—Daffodil Month.”
She gave me a weak smile. “Promise me something?”
I nodded. I’d promised a lot since we’d come to accept that the cancer in Mother’s pancreas would soon take her life.
“Promise that before you sell my house, you’ll dig up my daffodil bulbs to plant in your yard.”
I tried without success to hold back my tears. “I’ll do that, Mother. I promise.” She smiled and closed her eyes, lapsing again into the twilight fog that characterized the last days of her life.
Before Daffodil Month ended, Mother was gone. And in the weeks that followed, weeks so grief-filled that my siblings and I resembled nothing so much as walking zombies, we emptied her house, painted, washed windows, cleaned carpets, and listed the home we’d grown up in with a real estate agency. We hired a neighborhood boy to take care of the yard.
And I gave the daffodils, which had long since quit blooming, not a single thought until a day in late autumn when the house was finally to be sold. My brother and sister and I were to meet the buyers to sign papers early on a morning that I knew would be filled with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, it was good to be out from the burden of owning an empty house. On the other, we would soon be turning over the keys to our family home to strangers.
Strangers who, I was certain, could never love it as much as we did.
Would this new family cook Fourth-of-July hamburgers on the brick patio grill my dad had built so many summers ago? Would their children spend fall afternoons raking the leaves under the giant maple tree into a mile-high pile to jump in? Would they figure out that one corner of the family room was the perfect spot for a Christmas tree? And would they be amazed at what pushed its way out of the ground in Mother’s yard every spring?
Crocuses. Flowering onions. Hyacinths. And hundreds and hundreds of daffodils.
Daffodils! Eight months later, I suddenly remembered the promise I had made my mother as she lay dying. I tossed a shovel and a cardboard box into the trunk of my car and headed for the house and yard that would, in just a couple of hours, belong to someone not related to me.
There was no sign of daffodils anywhere, of course. They had long since been mowed down and were now covered with leaves. But I knew where they were. Ignoring the fact that I was overdressed for gardening, I plunged the shovel’s point into the dirt, lifting out a clump of bulbs, and tossed them into the box. Working my way down the fence line, I harvested dozens of daffodil bulbs.
But I left more than I took, certain that the family who’d bought my mother’s house would take delight in her lovely harbingers of spring.
As do I. It’s been more than five years now since my mother passed away. But every March, I gather armloads of the bright yellow blossoms from my own yard and put them into vases. Some I use to decorate my house. Others I take to the cancer wing at a nearby hospital.
“Who sent these beautiful flowers?” a dying patient might ask.
And I will squeeze his or her hand and look into eyes clouded by that all-too-familiar twilight fog and speak words that I believe with all my heart to be true. “My mother sent them, especially for you,” I’ll reply. “It’s Daffodil Month, you know.”
From the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Amy Newmark. Copyright 2011 by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Published by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Chicken Soup for the Soul is a registered trademark of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Why do we have emergency contacts? Ultimately, it’s because we will all need—at one point or another—a trustworthy person to represent us if we are incapable of doing so ourselves. In most cases, emergency contacts are a loved one such as a parent, spouse, adult child, or trusted friend.
If possible, it’s best to have at least TWO emergency contacts. This way, they will be able to work together or, if one is unavailable, the other can take charge. It’s best to select a person(s) who will follow through with your wishes, even if they don’t personally agree with what you’ve decided. Once you have selected your emergency contacts, it’s time to have a conversation about your wishes. Too often, emergency contacts are unprepared for the tasks they face, or they are left with a mess to unravel. You can take a little time now to make things easier in the future.
Set up a time to sit down with each emergency contact individually or bring them together at the same time.
Select a quiet, private place so that you can share freely.
Share your reasons for getting your affairs in order.
Tell them where you keep your important documents, and if you’ve completed a funeral plan, give them a copy.
Listen to any concerns they may have and answer questions.
The Six Things That Your Emergency Contacts Need to Know
1. The Location of Your Legal Documents and Insurance Policies
Your emergency contacts need to know where to find important documents like your legal will, birth and marriage certificates, deeds, titles, insurance policies, powers of attorney documents, health care directives, funeral planning documents, and records of creditors as well as assets, including digital assets and passwords. If you don’t have a legal will, consider creating one, and be sure to regularly review your insurance policies and update your beneficiary information. Also, if needed, consider whether it is appropriate to give your emergency contacts power of attorney (medical and/or financial). This way they can handle your financial matters in case you are unable to do so. If you have questions, make an appointment with an attorney to review these legal matters.
2. The Terms of Your Will and Trusts
Be sure to go over your will with your emergency contacts. This includes your wishes for the distribution of your assets, heirlooms, furniture, and keepsakes. To ensure that your wishes are honored, include as many of your assets in the will as possible. It is possible that you will appoint one of your emergency contacts as the executor of your will. Be sure to let your executor know the contents of your will so there are no surprises. If there are any belongings or assets that are not directly addressed in the will, be sure to cover your wishes with at least two of your emergency contacts, and put your wishes in writing. Additionally, you may also wish to set up trusts for your children or grandchildren with certain terms. Consider appointing one of your emergency contacts as trustee and discuss the terms of those trusts.
3. Your Wishes for Medical Care
Have you made your medical wishes known through an advance care directive? Have you given your emergency contacts medical power of attorney? These documents will protect you in case you are incapacitated and/or unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Be sure to talk to whomever you’ve appointed as your medical power of attorney about your wishes for medical treatment and life-saving measures.
4. Allergies and Blood Type
If you have allergies to foods or medications, your emergency contacts should know so that they can alert medical professionals if you are unable to do so. It is also a good idea to provide your emergency contacts with a record of your blood type in case of emergency.
5. The Care of Your Dependents and Pets
Be sure that you have made provision for the care of your dependents should anything happen to you as the primary caregiver. The same is true for your pets. Let your emergency contacts know who you name as guardian and how you would like any insurance policy benefits, 401(k) funds, or other assets to be set up after your death to provide financially for your children. If you have a family member or friend who is willing to care for your pets, be sure to contact that person to let them know your wishes.
6. Your Funeral Wishes and Plans
One way we can love and protect those we will leave behind is to put together a healing and meaningful funeral plan. The best way to do this is with a licensed funeral director at the funeral home of your choice. The funeral director can educate you about your options so you can make decisions that are good for you and your loved ones. Your local funeral director or advance planning specialist will ensure that your plan is practical, legal, within your budget, and ultimately, healthy for your grieving family. Be sure to give your emergency contacts a copy of your funeral plans and keep a copy on file at the funeral home of your choice.IMPORTANT: After prearranging your funeral, it is very important to share your plans with your emergency contacts. If you don’t, you run the risk that your family will never learn about your plans and may do something you didn’t request. Not knowing your wishes, they may spend more money than you would have preferred. On top of that, if you’ve purchased burial insurance to pay for your funeral in advance and your emergency contacts don’t know about it, they may pay for the funeral out of their own pocket (when you have already paid for the funeral in full). If this happens, the amount you’ve already paid toward your funeral may go unclaimed. If the insurance company is unable to reach your family, the funds will go to the state’s unclaimed property office. While the state will continue to try to contact your family, this may take years and is subject to state laws. To avoid this possibility, it’s best to share your plans.
Address Your Loved Ones’ Concerns
Depending on who your emergency contacts are, they may express some concern when you discuss your funeral plans. Some of the most common reactions include:
Alarm. Any discussion about funerals can lead to feelings of alarm because the other person may wonder if you are okay, if something is wrong. Prepare to discuss your health situation with them. The most important thing is to be truthful.
Denial. Funerals are a subject most people would rather avoid. So, children may say, “Don’t worry about it. We will take care of this later. Let’s not talk about it now.” Listen to their concerns, but keep in mind that denial is not an effective strategy. The fact is, we are all going to die someday. The most loving thing we can do is take care of as much as possible in advance.
Disagreement. You may encounter some opposition to your plans if your emergency contacts are people who are very close to you. They may have ideas of their own on the topic. You will need to review your plans and determine if anything is up for debate or not.
Confusion. Some of your loved ones may not understand or trust a prepaid funeral plan. Many of their fears can be addressed with a basic understanding of consumer protection laws, cost guarantees you may have received from the funeral home, and Medicaid asset protection. If they still are unsure about your plans, feel free to contact your local funeral director or an estate planning attorney who can answer their questions.
Keep Your Documents Safe and Accessible
Lastly, put all of your important documents in a safe place. Make sure that your emergency contacts know where to find them. If you decide to keep your documents in a safe, share the combination with your emergency contacts. Some people may choose to use a safety deposit box. If you do so, coordinate with the bank to ensure that your emergency contacts have access to it, if needed. As an alternative, you might consider purchasing a watertight, fire-proof, easily transportable container. This way, your documents are safe and transportable if an unexpected event occurs.
For a complete list of information your emergency contacts need to know, download this helpful checklist: What Your Emergency Contacts Should Know. By gathering all these documents, you are taking the first steps to getting your affairs in order. Depending on how far along you are in this process, it may take some time to get all of this information organized. Be sure to consult trusted professionals, such as an estate planning attorney and your local funeral director, as needed. In the end, you will be glad you did!