When your friend dies, it gets you thinking. Grief is always a jumbled bunch of thoughts and feelings dripping out with a tortuous slowness or pouring out with the force of a fire hose. Either way and anyway, they hurt. Time doesn’t heal; it numbs only because memories fade and even years later a sound or a smell can trigger a poignant picture of the departed that is overwhelming. It just happens. And maybe that’s a good thing since it’s all part of the lavish tapestry we call LIFE.
It’s not surprising that religions and cultures the world over have ritualized the mourning practice to assist their adherents to move on. One doesn’t have to be a card-carrying member to selectively choose one or another practice that may help you lighten the heaviness that comes with a personal loss.
A good friend died a few weeks back. It still hurts. She worked with my wife for years and years and we did stuff together: happy hours, meals, holiday parties, walks, and just time together. Only with her passing did I realize that all of the sharing created a new organism, if you will, a configuration or gestalt, that was us. When she passed, so did that configuration which included “us.” Perhaps that’s one of the reasons it hurts. No surprise and it probably always will.
I’m sure there will be other configurations, groups of friends sharing books and outings, that will fill in the empty holes with time. But rituals will help close the edges of emptiness so that we can heal and move forward productively.
I thought I’d share some of mine and reflect on the general process. I find that talking or writing about this has been helpful and no one should feel alone in mourning. We’re all part of that larger configuration.
Mourning rituals typically are serial, things to be done in the initial days, in the following weeks, then months, and finally on the anniversary of the passing. They help move us forward a day at a time, from one sage to the next. This is not meant to be formulaic, we’re all different with different needs. Reflect and select – or just offer your sympathy and good wishes. That will help me.
Someone dies. Hopefully, they’ve already made funeral arrangements and made some of their wishes known to family or friends. That first day is tough even if you’re not directly involved. You move forward in a daze – there are laws and procedures that need be followed. And the shell of the person, the body is moved, prepared for burial and last rites. And perhaps a garment is ripped symbolizing the loss.
There’s a reception, eulogies, wakes, reflection, and burial – a painful letting go. Perhaps a handful of dirt spilled at the graveside, a reception, or sitting together later. Visits with the family and other friends that first week or so. Often a candle is lit. There are 24-hour candles, and 7-day candles that can be lit in part reminding us of the light the departed brought to this world. And you can light them whenever you feel the need. Our own ritual will always be the best.
And then in the weeks following, perhaps a month, we remain solemn, refraining from joyous activities – concerts, films, etc. It wouldn’t feel right without our loved one with us. And then, with a sigh, we can go back to our usual activities, the weeks have rolled into months, and the months into a full year. And now it’s the anniversary of the death of the departed. We can light a candle, bring flowers to the graveside, or come together with other friends and family to offer a toast to the departed.
However, all along, day after day, there are little things we can do, keeping the departed in mind, and honoring their memory. We can put aside a small coin each day for a charity, one that the departed supported: The Humane Society, the Red Cross, Purple Heart. And then at the end of the year, time to tally up and send a check for the accumulated amount. And also daily, commit little acts of random kindness, thinking that your friend would have done this if she or he had been here. Or look at the sunset or sunrise with eyes that include theirs. Lots of ways to honor their memory. Smile and be kind knowing it all helps.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.