On the anniversary of A’s passing, I found myself sitting on a blanket facing the beautiful white cross that marks the sacred ground that now holds his body. He is buried on a mountain, in a quiet and peaceful space surrounded by tall trees about an hour away from the city I live in.
On that morning, the sun was warm and the leaves were swaying softly in the wind around me and I felt profoundly grateful for the physical proximity I felt to A’s earthly body.
Over the last 18 months, I have been reflecting on how challenging honouring our loved ones and our own grieving hearts has been in the midst of this pandemic.
I was lucky to be able to access A’s grave on that summer morning. If the anniversary of his passing had been in the fall, winter or spring, lockdowns or travel restrictions in between regions might have prevented me from being able to go and engage in my own little ritual.
For many grievers, there is a new reality surrounding grief during a pandemic.
I’ve heard countless stories of loss where mourning together now means connecting on the screens of our phones or computers, where loved ones die and one is simply not able to physically get to the funeral, that is when a funeral is even held.
For many, coming together to mourn and enacting the grief rituals common to funerals and memorials marks the beginning of the grieving process. Not being able to gather to pay tribute to someone we love that has died is adding grief on top of grief and is profoundly unnatural for us, relational beings.
This pandemic is forcing us to rethink how we grieve. Although much can feel out of our control, the message I want you to take from these words today is that there ARE things that you can do to honour your loved one no matter what the restrictions look like where you are.
First, it is never too late to honour a loved one through a funeral or memorial service. In the context of the pandemic, this might have to be delayed but no matter how much time has passed since your loved one’s passing, planning a service is a meaningful way to celebrate your person’s life with those who love and mourn them too. For more information on planning a service during the pandemic, Remembering A Life is an amazing resource.
Even when a funeral or memorial cannot be held at the time of your loved one’s passing, there are other beautiful ways that you can remember a loved one, honour their life and legacy with others, or on your own.
When the pandemic began and I could not physically travel to A’s gravesite, I had to find other ways to ritualize my grief. I have always loved to write and when I met A, we spent long hours writing to one another. It was through his writing that I got to know both his brilliant mind and enormously kind heart. We would write short witty notes to make one another laugh during our work day and long elaborate letters where we would contemplate the depth of the love and devotion we both felt. We never stopped writing even as A was slowly dying, he continued to write to me in a notebook that now feels like a sacred gift.
After he died, and especially once the pandemic started, I began writing to him again. I write with the purpose of safekeeping the memories that only I am the keeper of in his absence. I write the memories I never want to forget, the memories with A that have shaped the woman I am today. And in a memory jar, I write the words he used to say to me about the qualities he saw in me before I ever saw them in myself. I write his words of encouragement, the words he used to express his love and the words he used to say to express his certainty that no matter what, I would be OK.
When I need a reminder, all I have to do is pick one of his little notes and remember to see myself through his eyes.
This is one of my grief rituals. It helps me honour both A and myself.
There are countless ways to remember a life.
If you need inspiration, Remembering A Life is a tremendous resource that offers advice and guidance to help families understand the way funeral options have changed and to help them navigate their grief during these challenging times.
On their website, you can find a free printable of 30 meaningful ways to remember your person’s life. Even if the pandemic has prevented you from attending the funeral and maybe especially if the pandemic has robbed you of this opportunity for mourning, these can assist you in the grieving process. Some of these activities you can do on your own. Like me, you can write to your person, start a memory jar or even tell the story of their life in whatever artistic way feels meaningful to you. There are also rituals and activities that you can do with friends, family or children like cooking their favourite meal or hosting a candlelight vigil.
It is never too late to honour your person and your grieving heart. We may have to get creative and find ways to create our own rituals but there can be so much healing in finding ways to remember our loved ones and to weave those little moments of remembrance into our daily life.