A lot of religions and cultures detail what is to happen before someone dies. This is helpful and provides some comfort during a tough time. Grief rituals also guide mourners about what is to be done at funerals or memorial services. Some faiths or belief systems even outline duties during the mourning period. But what about grief rituals between death and the funeral? After a recent death in the family, I searched for some ideas that made sense for my husband, sons and I. There weren’t many options, especially for families that aren’t religious or observant. As a result, I borrowed, adapted and made some up for my family to observe during this sad time.
Open the window
This is a simple gesture, immediately after someone dies. Many faith traditions believe that opening a window allows the person’s soul to leave the room. I think we all recognize on some level that souls, if they do exist, probably don’t need us to facilitate movement. But it feels poignant to recognize something sacred has just occurred. Opening the window, even a crack, is a real, physical action that also tells our subconscious to begin the process of letting go.
Planning the ceremony
If you’re going to hold a celebration of life, a funeral or a memorial service – now is the time to bring those plans to fruition. Hopefully, a caring and competent funeral director will handle the basics. If your recently departed loved one had pre-need arrangements somewhere, all the better. But begin to think about what you and other family members need to arrange. This might include deciding who will be the ones to speak and in what order. You’ll also decide what music to play either before or after the service. This is also the time to plan any post-funeral meal.
Indulge in favorite foods or drinks
Perhaps your loved one had a favorite type of food.. What did they enjoy cooking or eating? Maybe they loved to celebrate good times with a tall glass of rye and ginger. Set aside one of these evenings before the ceremony to either make or eat and drink these favorites.
Many funeral directors or memorial service providers will encourage you to bring photographs to the ceremony. You might also want to have photographs to display during shiva, wakes, or other gatherings to be held in honor of the deceased. Now is a good time to gather and look through old photo albums or online collections.
This can be bittersweet.
Play some of their favorite music in the background and allow yourself to laugh – and cry – while you remember wonderful times with this person.
Some families put pictures on large white posterboards. Another idea might be to take beautiful frames from around your home and temporarily replace the pictures inside with photos of the deceased to take to the ceremony.
Either way, go with less not more.
A good rule of thumb is to keep the number of photos between 10-20 so that people don’t get overwhelmed and can really get a sense of this person based on the memories you all shared.
Watch old home movies
Grief rituals between death and funeral can include watching home movies together. Any videos or clips that feature the deceased will do.
Similar to gathering pictures, this can bring on laughter and tears – often at the same time.
If you are related to an editing whiz, this can also be a great opportunity to string together a reel of greatest moments starring your loved one. Then, during the ceremony or meal afterward, play this video of clips on a loop in the background.
Go to a favorite place
Did your loved one have a favorite place they liked nearby? This could be a restaurant, park, trail, beach or other local area. This is a great time to take some family members and visit together. Talk about your cherished memories with this person, favorite vacations or life cycle events, and ways you will carry their memory forward.
Volunteer for their cause
Sometimes, when we are feeling overwhelmed with grief, it helps to lose ourselves in service to others. If you have some extra time, one of the more meaningful grief rituals between death and funeral can be volunteering for an organization that meant a lot to your loved one. Even if only for an hour or so, it might make you feel better helping a cause near and dear to the heart of someone you just lost.