Rituals and routines have a powerful effect on how we feel when mourning the death of a loved one. In fact, daily informal rituals and routines are at the very core of the quality of life one experiences. And you don’t need a lot of them to brighten any given day. Are you aware of what you do each day that is a repeat of the day before, how it shapes your attitude, and what initiates that specific routine response? After several days or even weeks, depending on individual circumstances and beliefs, the time comes when accepting the new circumstances of life has to be faced. New rituals and routines is the answer.
A routine is considered to be a regular course or procedure that is followed. Rituals are commonly considered to be spiritual or religious rites of various types and can be of a formal or informal nature. Whether spiritual or secular, daily activities can be planned and carried out by any mourner with a particular intention in mind. Here are several that have helped many mourners in adapting to life without the physical presence of their loved ones.
1. Begin by assessing your current daily routines and how they are affecting you physically or emotionally or both. For example, are you eating more mood foods (which are usually processed foods that are pro inflammatory) or drinking more coffee or alcohol than usual? Are you repeating behaviors as though your loved one is still physically present and its painful? Bottom line: are your routines and rituals hurting or helping your ability to adapt to a new normal.
2. Outdoor routines. Excessive isolation is a major cause of unnecessary suffering, especially if you are saddled with large amounts of unscheduled time. Be sure to leave your home each day to go where you will be around other people and converse with them. They don’t always have to be good friends. Here is a possibility to consider. Instead of having coffee at home each morning, start going to a local coffee shop, gasoline station, chain grocery store or restaurant. Become a regular. Speak to the person behind the counter. Or your stop could be at the library. Perhaps your trip out could include window shopping. Consider finding a productive group to join, one that is right for you.
3. Nature routines. Nature can have a soothing or relaxing effect physically. Find a place that you like to visit that is filled with natural beauty. Put yourself in that environment and focus on the trees, birds, and natural sounds. Smell the salty air or feel the breeze. If there is a park near your home consider it one of your destinations in creating a new routine. If you live near a body of water go to the shore as part of your nature exploration.
4. Exercise routines. Mourners especially need physical outlets for all of the anxiety that builds each day when thinking of the loved one. Your body pays close attention to every word you say to yourself and every though you entertain. The sadness and loneliness builds anxiety that increases tension in muscle. The need for physical outlets for emotional stimuli is critical. Start a walking routine. It can include prayer walking. It has been said that prayer is exercise for the soul. Some mourners I have worked with have joined the YMCA or a local exercise facility. Stretch your muscles regularly through Yoga or progressive relaxation.
5. Gratitude rituals. Focusing on gratitude can have a major impact on your inner life. Some people keep a gratitude list and at the close of each day jot down what they are grateful for on that particular day. Others get on their knees at night or the first thing in the morning and give thanks for what they still have. Still others begin the ritual of talking to the deceased loved one. Be especially grateful to those who listen to you and are willing to be around your pain. As Paul Tillich reminds us, “The first duty of love is to listen.” Consider his observation as you remember those who listen and do not try to steer you to their agenda for grieving.
6. Kindness rituals. Reaching out to others is easier than you think. There are multiple times during the day when we see friends or strangers where a kind gesture can be offered. A simple “thank you” is in itself an act of love. The power and impact of giving and receiving love is commonly forgotten. Holding a door open for someone, taking a shopping cart back to the store for an elderly person, letting someone know you are thinking about them (and love them) even as you grieve, or making a donation to someone in great need are examples of simple expressions of kindness. Think about your present level of kindness and what you can do to increase your kindness quotient.
7. Morning rituals or routines. How do you start your day? Do you have something planned or are you a reactive mourner who simply takes whatever shows up in your thoughts? Get a jump on your day by having a routine or ritual mapped out ahead of time. It can be a major step forward. Think about what you can do to immediately start your day off in a way that enhances self-esteem. Look for something you might accomplish first thing in the morning either by calling someone, doing a household task, or reading an uplifting paragraph or inspirational quote.
In conclusion, keep in mind that one of the tasks of grieving is the creation of new routines. Everything we used to do with our loved one is now quite different without him/her. Grief is transformative. Use the changes it demands as a stimulus to creating useful routines. There are numerous rituals and routines to choose from depending on your interests and belief systems that can help you ease into your new life. Be open to the new and choose to strengthen useful existing routines and rituals or start new ones.