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making space and time for grief rituals

Part two in a six-part blog series by Refuge Center Executive Director and Co-Founder Amy Alexander, LMFT

Storms and trials are bound to bring grief into our life.

Their mere presence means something is likely to change or be lost.

When someone we love passes away, we are accustomed to the ritual of holding a funeral service. This gives family and friends a chance to honor the life of their loved one, to share memories and stories, to cry and grieve together in community, and to provide tangible comfort (meals, flowers, cards, etc.)

However, we face so many other types of losses in our lifetime, and we often do not slow down enough to honor them in such intentional ways.

Did you know there are over 40 forms of loss?

These can include the death of a loved one, divorce, injury, dismissal from work, retirement, foreclosure, moving, changes in relationships, separation from a pet, children leaving home, etc. All of these things can create internal and external storms in our lives.

Without any form of acknowledgment, the energy of these losses compounds in our bodies.

We need ways to honor our losses and to express our grief energy.

A ritual can be any action done purposefully. In this case, the purpose of the ritual is to keep us connected to the meaning of what we have loved but has been lost in the storm.

Some examples of rituals can include:

  • Lighting a candle and taking slow breaths while watching the flame, as you pause to honor what has changed or died, while also expressing gratitude for how much (it, they) meant to you.
  • Writing a letter to or about your loss
  • Creating a play list of music that connects you to special memories and emotions of that person or experience
  • Engaging in dance or creating a piece of art that tells the story of your loss.
  • Looking through old photos and allowing yourself to feel the joy, sadness, and any other emotion that comes up as you reminisce.
  • Identifying a charity whose mission aligns with things you value and making meaningful contributions, as well as encouraging others to do the same, in the name or honor of the loved one.
  • Choosing a place to plant a tree, flowers, or foods as a reminder of the beauty and nourishment this love brought to your life.
  • Making a space in your home that holds special items (photos, letters, personal items from loved one etc.) and decorating it with candles, greenery, stones or flowers from nature, colorful cloths or other objects and taking a moment for silence when passing or standing in front of this space.
  • Writing down on paper or river stones what you feel ready to “release” or let go. If on paper, lay it gently onto a fire and notice its transformation as it melts and becomes ash. If on river stones, lay them gently into a moving water source, like a creek or stream and note that over time, nature will scrub them clean.
  • Meditation or guided imagery exercise can also be helpful.



In closing, practice this beautiful meditation from Elizabeth Lesser’s book “Broken Open.”

Bring your awareness to focus on something in your life that is changing or ending or dying right now.

Breathe gently as you consider whatever transition is most significant right now in your life.

Note any feelings that arise-trepidation, excitement, resistance, anger, annoyance, or grief.

Every time your feelings get the better of you, become aware of your breathing.

Meet your troubled and contracted feelings with your calm and expansive breath.

Breathe, sigh, and stretch out on the river of change.

Remember times when you have resisted change in the past.

Regard how things turned out in the end-maybe not how you thought they would, or you wanted them to, but in the end, there you were.

Wiser, stronger, still alive.

Tip your hat to the poignancy of death or loss and the promise of rebirth and renewal.



Allow yourself to break open.

Sit tall, with dignity and patience, watching your breath rise and fall, rise and fall.

Pray for the courage to welcome this new change with openness and wisdom.

Then open your eyes, go back into your life, and do what you have to do, but do it with grace, with hope, and with a lighter touch. (Lesser, 2010, p. 233).