The experience of grief is as unpredictable as it is universal. Let yourself explore the many rituals grievers can practice and create a meaningful closure that’s just right for you.
By Andra Brosh, Ph.D., BCHN
Grief is an integral part of healing from divorce. It’s the one inescapable response to divorce every partner has to confront. Even though feelings of grief are natural after the loss of a marriage and a way of life, the process of grieving can feel unnatural. Grief cannot be rushed, so letting yourself have space and time so you can mourn your losses is one of the most effective ways to honor your pain and ensure your long-term recovery. As with many issues for which we seek guidance and advice, there are many opinions, strategies, and methods for healing. Grief is no different, and the choices of how to move through this delicate process can be overwhelming. Grief cannot be conquered, and there is no rhyme or reason to the journey. Taking small action steps toward releasing the past and saying goodbye is both doable and wise. You’ll learn the steps of one type of grief ritual in this blog to support you in moving through your grief.
How a Grief Ritual Can Support You During Your Divorce
What Is Grief?
By definition, grief is the conflicting emotions caused by an end or a change in a familiar pattern of behavior. This definition explains why the grief from divorce feels so confusing. There is no body, but the change is painful. While grieving is a natural human experience, it’s also learned. We develop our beliefs about grief through the modeling we experience growing up. It might seem there’s a right or wrong way to grieve, but it’s not that simple. In most other cultures, people scream, dance, cry, ritualize, and even celebrate loss. Yet, in modern day American culture, we tend to delay or wallow in our grief. Brushing the feelings of grief aside and trying to power through just extends the time of suffering. Many of us were taught to maintain control over emotions, but with grief this is impossible. Here are some common mistaken beliefs one can learn about grief from the environment or other people:
- Do it in private.
- Keep busy and distracted.
- Hold back tears.
- Don’t isolate.
- Ride out the stages.
- Time will heal.
- Look strong from the outside.
Theories About Grief
I first started to learn about the developmental process of grief in graduate school, where I was introduced to Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief. They include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This linear model of grief provides structure to an uncontrollable emotional process. As human beings, we like predictability and certainty. Ross’s stages offer an understanding and timeframe for something very uncomfortable. Grief is both universal and unique because each person has his or her own particular story and experience of loss. The stages of grief listed above offer an excellent framework, but they should never be considered more than a theory. Clinging to Ross’s stages as the right way to grieve can make things worse by invoking shame or worry if the experience is different.
Why Time Doesn’t Heal
In my pursuit of a more flexible grief ritual or model, I came across the Grief Recovery Institute. There were so many enlightening things to learn from this organization, but the most valuable was that time doesn’t heal. One of the most common comments grievers receive from the outside world is that the pain will pass with time. There is a lessening of hurt that naturally occurs over time, but this has more to do with memory than the heart. Memory indeed fades with time, but time alone doesn’t heal. It’s what you do within that time that makes the difference. Consider the analogy of a flat tire. When you get a flat tire, do you just sit on the side of the road and wait for the air to magically refill the tire? Or do you pull the spare from your trunk or call AAA?
Grief As a Ritual
Properly grieving requires action and effort. It’s something you want to recover from; it isn’t something you want to linger in forever. An excellent way to grieve from divorce is through the use of a grief ritual. Rituals are ceremonial acts that bring intention and integrity to grief. When we ritualize something, we are giving it our full attention and effort. It’s time to release the platitudes and begin to take a more proactive stance toward grieving. Here are four steps to completing a grief ritual around releasing the past as a way of moving forward:
Step One: Make a Let-Go List
Who doesn’t love a great list? We make them all of the time for what we need to do or for groceries, but lists are also helpful for clarity. Create a quiet space of reflection for yourself. Have a notebook and pen handy, and when you’re ready, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Open the notebook and make a list of all the thoughts, feelings, memories, and attachments you want to let go of in the service of moving forward. Once you have your list, go back through and pick the top three to five losses you want to create a ritual around releasing.
Step Two: Concretize Your Release
Now that you have your specific losses, it’s time to bring them into a more concrete form, off of the paper. You will be choosing something that represents what you’re releasing in a material form. Items from nature are lovely for this practice. Pick up some rocks, branches, flowers, or pinecones and assign a loss to each one. You can even paint a word representing what you’re releasing onto the rocks. The only specific instruction here is that the item is welcomed back into the earth, so it must be biodegradable and earth-friendly.
Step Three: Write a Eulogy
This sounds morbid, but it’s a way of honoring your marriage and releasing what you no longer want to carry with you. This is not a eulogy about your ex, although you can mention him or her. Think of your eulogy as a tribute. What is the legacy? What did you learn? What was valuable? Writing a eulogy can offer insight into the more positive aspects of the marriage.
Step Four: Perform the Burial
Mother earth is an excellent container for our pain, and divorce is often called death without a body, so this step is gratifying. Find a nice spot where you can dig a small hole for your natural items to be buried. Before you put your concretized items into the earth, say the following phrase: “Thank you, mother earth, for holding my pain and helping me release my suffering. I’m ready to let go of what I’m giving you today. I’m forever grateful for your support.” Cover up your burial site with dirt and then read your eulogy out loud. The experience of grief is as unpredictable as it is universal. Let yourself explore the many rituals grievers can practice and create a meaningful closure that’s just right for you.