The holidays can be a challenging time for those dealing with the loss of a loved one, but studies show that more people may actually come face-to-face with the full difficulties of the grieving process in January, post-holiday season. It is during this time, after friends and family have gone back to their daily routines and we are left to go back to ours, when we find ourselves with more time to pause, reflect, and engage in the process of grieving that we may not have allowed ourselves during the holidays.
But how can you go back to your "normal" routine when, in fact, all is not normal at all? You have lost a loved one, and this is where creating a new normal, new routine, new ritual can help you through the process.
Creating Rituals to Help Process Death
In almost all cultures, there is some ritual, whether conscious or unconscious, that signals the end of a transition such as death. These passage rituals give us a formal structure in which we have permission to experience what it is to be alone, in some form of contemplation -- whether that means meditation, a morning walk, a second cup of coffee alone in your kitchen, listening to music, prayer, or, for those more inclined, the journey to the top of the mountain.
For those who have religion, there is almost a built-in sanctity that can give us emotional reprieve, such as the daily recitation of Kadish, the prayer for the dead. And, for those without any religious inclination, contemplation or recitation of the Serenity Prayer or John Whittier's "Forgiveness" poem in a daily practice will do.
The idea of a contemplative practice compels us each day to remember that our loved one has died. Along with that knowledge ultimately comes acceptance. Furthermore, there is this sense that we can still do something for the soul of a loved one even after death by supporting their soul's journey into the new stage of their life.
Journaling the Journey
The second ritual that allows us to return to our womb for rest, resuscitation, regeneration, and healing is to keep a journal or diary of our deepest thoughts, wounds, and experiences. This keeps us in touch with what is happening within. How do we feel? How are we doing, and what should we do about it?
It is important in the grieving process to record your history. If we see our history and the patterns of behavior we've used in past transitions, we can become aware and then we can redeem and heal those patterns. This opens us to an unfettered and natural self, and also reveals to us the old life we've lived up until now and gives us a chance to say goodbye to it. Part of the pain of loss is the fear of this goodbye.
The Valley of Despair
Now, the hard work in what I call the Valley of Despair is to discover what is meaningful to you in your life and to reclaim it. More primitive people called this stage the retrieval of the soul. This process takes time, contemplative time, and quiet time; time just to be and do nothing. This is central to the second phase of grieving: allowing yourself the time to grieve.
No one can help you here, not even your mate. You must depend upon your own resource for, in reality, it is that resource that will bring you back to life. The essential self, given time, can reconnect and guide you back up out of the descent. All of us have this resource, but it can only be reached through contemplation, meditation, and prayer.
The Power of Meditation and My Own Personal Journey
I understand the process you are going through, as I have lived through it myself, and I have experienced the power that rituals hold and the benefit of including a meditation practice in such ritual can bring to those who are grieving. It is meditation that I believe helped me survive the death of my daughter, Dawn, who died at the age of 24 from a heart virus.
On the exact day of the one-year anniversary of my daughter's death, the Dalai Lama and 12 monks arrived to stay with me in Houston, Texas. The Dalai Lama walked with me in my garden and talked with me about death. He told me the story of his loss when his brother died from hepatitis.
We meditated together. When people meditate, they connect in a space a lot of people never allow themselves to enter. You are open to another's heart, pain, and grief. That's where the Dalai Lama met me.
I am sharing my personal journey in meditation because I believe that you will benefit from trying it as part of your grieving process. It can open you up so dramatically, that you will walk through life differently. Your appreciation of everything, even the colors and the light around you, will seem different. Meditation teaches self-discipline, even though you never think of something contemplative as self-discipline. The act of sitting there, not letting your mind wander, requires discipline. The process is also pleasurable: Your body is filled with endorphins, unlocking your potential. You get smarter, calmer, and are transformed into a place where you are better able to deal with the loss of your loved one.
It is never too late or too early to learn meditation, or to start your own ritual to help you through the grieving process. Through these contemplative rituals such as meditation, yoga, prayer, or daily walks, you allow yourself time to simply be, to grieve. These rituals can allow you to, in a sense, begin anew -- to reconnect and guide you back up out of the descent after a loved one has died.
Throughout the month of January, I am offering all of my audio meditation downloads for free in my online store. I hope you find these as helpful as I have, as you journey through your own process of grieving.
Note: Post has been updated since its original publication.