One of the most effective tools for processing grief, trauma or transition of any kind is ritual.
Ritual gives words to the unspeakable and form to the formless. It brings the non-physical into physical form so we can see it, touch it, feel it and process it. Creating this link between Heaven and Earth helps us to see the connection clearly, and to establish a bond between the realms, which gives us great comfort. It brings the spirit of the dead person into the body of the grieving person, and closes the perceived gap between them.
Some of the rituals described here involve the participation of the person who is dying, and some are exclusively for those who remain on earth. These rituals presume that an honest dialog about death has already begun.
Create a Journey Blanket
If you have a loved one who is dying, consider creating a memorial quilt or “journey blanket” for him or her. About two years before my son Danny died (he'd been diagnosed with a life threatening illness three years earlier), I gathered a group of friends in my living room for a potluck dinner and a quilting bee. Each person brought a piece of fabric that had special meaning to them, and these -- along with pieces of fabric from my son's own life -- were cobbled into a beautiful patchwork quilt, filled with love, prayers and blessings. It was far from technically perfect, with sloppy stitching and uneven squares, but the energy it held was magical. The quilt was very warm and Danny slept with it for the next two winters. The following summer he died lying on top of that quilt, and now I sleep and meditate with it, and it has become my journey blanket also.
Get a Tattoo
Many of the firefighters who battled the blaze at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 felt unbearable grief and guilt about the partners who’d fought beside them and perished. Some of them processed and ritualized their grief by having images of their fallen friends tattooed on their backs. The firefighters said, “This way I will have my partner’s spirit with me every day of my life.” When I heard about this, I asked Danny (11 years old at the time) what animal he would be if he could choose to be one. He chose a swan, and the following week I had a tattoo of a swan on my left shoulder.
Locks of Love
In the days leading up to Danny’s death, while he was in and out of consciousness, I often sat beside him stroking his beautiful, thick hair. One day I realized that locks of his hair would make extraordinary gifts for the people who loved him, so with his permission, I snipped small pieces and tied each with a delicate red ribbon. I’ve given them all away except for the one I kept for myself.
Put it in a Locket
I keep a tiny snippet of that hair in a heart-shaped locket that I wear almost every day.
Open the Treasure Chest and Give the Riches Away
When you’re ready to start going through your departed loved one’s possessions, think of it as a sacred rite of passage. Invite friends to help, and light candles, say prayers, open a bottle of champagne (or several bottles) and share memories, stories, laughter and tears as you look through the precious objects. Set aside selected items to give to friends as remembrance tokens, or make something wonderful and creative out of them. One of my friends had a quilt made from her husband’s favorite shirts, and another made pillowcases from her mother’s antique tablecloths.
If the dying person is open to it and is physically capable, he can choose which belongings he’d like to give to friends and family members. When my friend Betty was dying, she asked her sons to display her special possessions around the house. She was a collector of healing crystals, and the dining room table was covered with magnificent geodes, quartz obelisks, rare stones and other sacred objects. Her friends were invited to take whatever pieces called out to them, with Betty’s full participation and blessing. She even chose to have her memorial service while she was still alive. Friends gathered at her house to tell heartwarming stories about their experiences with Betty, light candles, sing songs and recite beautiful prayers and readings while Betty sat up in her bed, beaming with happiness.
Plant a Tree or a Memorial Garden
If you can’t plant a tree or shrub in a public place in honor of your loved one, create a special corner of your yard as a memorial garden. Plant special trees and flowers there, and decorate the space with pictures, sacred objects, religious icons or anything that inspires you. If your loved one was cremated, this is an excellent place to sprinkle some of the ashes. The students at Danny'’s high school raised money to purchase a magnolia tree, which was planted in his honor in front of the special education building where he’d spent the last year of his academic life.
Send your Loved One on a World Tour
There are many creative and meaningful ways to use cremation ashes (also known as “cremains”) in ceremony, and the ceremonies do not have to be formal or somber. Because Danny loved to travel, I divided some of his ashes into tiny, decorated bottles and gave one to each of our closest friends to carry with them on their vacations and business trips. His ashes have now been sprinkled in at least a dozen countries. We’re aiming for all seven continents eventually.
Keep Your Loved One’s Name Alive
Four months after Danny died I had my last name legally changed to his first name… Daniel. You may not want to go so far as to legally change your name, but you can find dozens of imaginative ways to keep your loved one’s name alive. Use her nickname as one of your computer passwords, or start a business, charitable group or website using a variation of it. Engrave his name on a paving stone for your memorial garden, or hire a graphic artist to design a logo or icon for the name.
When faced with trauma or loss, we find ourselves at a crossroads where instead of paralyzing grief, bitter rejection of spirituality or a lifetime or mourning, there are also unlimited options for expansion. If we allow the life-altering event to integrate with our personalities, alter our perspectives and help us to focus less on what happened and more on why it happened, there will be immeasurably valuable lessons learned and the ability to find joy again.
ABOUT TERRI DANIEL
Terri Daniel is an author, hospice worker and afterlife awareness educator who teaches a metaphysical perspective on birth, death and the afterlife. She be a workshop presenter at the First Annual Afterlife Awareness Conference in Phoenix, AZ. April 29 - May 1, 2011. More about Terri can be found at www.AfterlifeAwareness.com
 Excerpted from "Embracing Death: A New Look at Grief, Gratitude and God" by Terri Daniel