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How rituals help the grieving process

06 May 2021

Grief counsellor and author Lianna Champ explains why the rituals of death are crucial to our ability to grieve healthily.

Funerals allow us to show our love and respect to the person who has died, and can reduce the weight of our grief

When we entered the first lockdown of the pandemic, not only did we lose so many of our freedoms, we also lost routines and rituals that helped us to navigate life events.

Very often we don’t address grief until we actually lose someone and consequently, we are often unprepared, plunged into the unknown along with everyone around us, all experiencing our own unique reaction. If we withdraw into our own private pain, ritual has the power to pull us out. Rituals connect us with our community, however large or small, and provide us with the hope, love and support others have to offer.

Rituals connect us with our community and provide us with the hope, love and support others have to offer.

Rituals also help us to recognise that a death has taken place and carrying out these acts bring a feeling of closeness to the person who has died. They also provide an opportunity to show our love and respect and this helps to reduce some of the weight of our grief. Rituals also remind us that something fundamental has changed in our lives and changes need to be marked so we can process how feel.

Rituals connect us with the past, the present and the future.

The Past… in all its glory as we recall the life that has been lived.

The present… the hallowed acts we carry out which provide healing, allowing us to find comfort as we share this time with others. The death of someone significant in our lives temporarily disconnects us from the world around us.

The funeral preparations and ceremony provide a focus and a framework to hold on to. On the day of the funeral our physical relationship with that person ends but our emotional relationship with them lasts until we each die. We need time and space in which to make this transition from the physical to the emotional. Funeral rituals provide coping mechanisms, handles to grasp on to through the emotional confusion. The whole process of preparing for the funeral and experiencing the actual ceremony itself is essential, however much effort this may feel at the time.

If we withdraw into our own private pain, ritual has the power to pull us out. Funeral rituals help to blow away the clouds of uncertainty by engaging our minds, bodies and spirits at the time. We need to take these steps of preparation to allow the healing magic of ritual to begin. We also have a sense of doing something for the person who has died whilst we still physically have them.

The future… rituals force us to slow down, to connect with our inner self and find a doorway to lead us out of the isolation that so often follows loss. Through sharing the funeral rituals with family and friends we can emerge with a sense of hopefulness and the knowledge that life continues to unfold, even in the face of death. We learn that life is a changeable thing, and nothing is constant.

With the absence of rituals around death, we can overlook the importance of slowing down and really connecting with what is going on inside us. We can also store up unresolved grief if we don’t give it our time, focus and attention. This can eventually drag us down as we try to return to living normal lives. Repeated loss – and there are many losses we experience in our lives beyond bereavement - can impact grief upon grief. Repeated unresolved grief can sometimes make us search for an outlet which may not be good for us – alcohol, recreational drugs or a trail of relationships that we ruin in fear of loss and pain.

Today, many of us struggle to find any meaning in the face of sickness and death, particularly during this time of pandemic where we are seeing deaths taking place all over the world. While we may long for a great faith, few of us have that. All our usual practices around death, dying and funerals have been taken away from us so it is more important than ever that we find and create new ways of preparing for death that help us to confront the truth of loss and pain in order to begin the process of healing.

Lianna Champ how to Grieve Like a Champ

Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief counselling and funeral care and is author of practical guide How to Grieve Like A Champ


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.