Grief Cycle

Bereavement Ritualsfrom "The Psychosocial Aspects of Death and Dying" by Dr. John D. Canine

Bereavement rituals, which are practiced by all societies in a variety of ways, have one common theme. They have tremendous therapeutic value in areas of transition, that is, moving on with one's life. Rituals provide healing, continuity, and balance if the griever believes there is a meaning in them (Van Der Hart 1983)

Moreover, Theresa Rando (1984) offers, "A ritual is a specific behavior or activity that gives symbolic expression to certain feelings and thoughts of the actor or actors, individually, or as a group. It may be habitually repeated or a one-time occurrence" (p. 104). An example of ritual is the committal service (see figure below) in which we take the deceased from the land of the living to the land of the dead (cemetery). We, the living, commit the deceased to another state. We have a processional or parade acknowledging our commitment, then get back in our cars and journey back to the land of the living to live without the one who has died. This is the outward symbol of what we do during the grieving process. In our grief, we let the loved one go to the life hereafter, then we journey back to the land of the living to form new relationships. The committal service happens in the first two or three days after the loss, when the mourners are deep in grief, so it is not easy. Even so, we leave the land of the dead to start our life again. The journey back is what we must strive to complete.
Rituals are an essential element in our journey through the grief process. They provide various means of expressing emotions and talking through our feelings. Rituals give us permission to discharge our distress over the loss. More specifically, rituals permit the following:

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  • A well-defined acting out - For instance, sending flowers for the funeral, contributing to a memorial fund, delivering special, home-cooked dishes to the home of the bereaved, and helping with the funeral arrangements are all actions we might take to demonstrate support, comfort and caring. Through these actions, we try to beautify death to make it more palatable. Rituals allow us to experience the closeness we had with the deceased one more time. We celebrate passing into life after death, sensing that our loved one is moving to a better life. "Better is the day of man's death than the day of man's birth" (Ecclesiastics 7:1). Rituals bring us comfort. They initiate the acceptance of our loss.
  • Expression of feeling - During the ritual, we can express feelings that we might otherwise withhold. Rituals provide an environment in which grieving and crying are acceptable.
  • A rehearsal of the entire grief process - Every ritual is a miniature grief process. It channels grief into a defined activity with a beginning, an ending, and a well-defined purpose.