Remembering Through Rituals and Traditions

Picture from

Picture from

Golden apple pie with sauce oozing through the lattice-topped crust; the cinnamon sugar  topping of pistachio nut bread crunching between my teeth; say the words Grandma Helen’s, and I become Pavlov’s dog as I recall her ritual of showing her love through food.

Whether it is a major holiday, or one of our birthdays, grandma’s ritual includes weeks of planning, days of preparation and a menu that always includes our choice of favorite recipes.  Grandma is an excellent cook, always in her kitchen preparing meals for her family, bringing things to church and being the first one to offer a meal to anyone in need. 

December 16th, she is going to a Christmas celebration at church; so of course, she bakes a few loaves of sweet bread and cookies to bring along.  Grandma Helen dies that same afternoon, after doing what she loves most.  Not surprising how she provides for us the day of her funeral with her last gift of food.

When a loved one dies, it is comforting to merge a ritual or one of their favorite traditions into your life that reflects your relationship with them; the wish to forever keep him or her in your heart and mind.

Walter, my friend’s father walked daily, tracking his miles on a world map in the family’s rec-room.  By the time he died, he had walked around the world twice in recorded miles.  In his memory, the family donated a bench with his name on it close to his everyday walking path within his favorite park.

At times, we may develop a ritual, only to find that our intentions were good, but we weren’t able to keep up with it…

My husband developed a life-long love for gardening and after our marriage his free time was spent tending the 24 x 24 foot garden in our backyard.  I worked hard the first summer after his death, continuing this tradition, maintaining the ritual of sowing seed, weeding and harvesting.

The only problem is that it became exhausting for me as a single parent and I discovered that it was Chris’ passion, not mine.  I have continued to garden, producing the vegetables I love, but the size of my garden is a fraction what it was in the past.

Bereaved people often visit the cemetery on anniversary days or holidays.  Collecting a box of treasured mementos or creating a scrapbook or picture collage that represent their loved one’s life are great ways to start a new tradition.  When I remarried, I started to merge some of my deceased husband’s favorite ornaments on our Christmas tree – another way to keep his memory alive.

Whatever your choice, it is important to create a ritual or tradition that allows you to set up a new type of relationship with the deceased, while honoring the imprint they have made on your past.

I would love to hear about some of the ways in which you have incorporated a ritual or tradition into your life after a loved one has died.  In what way(s) have you kept your loved one alive?

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6 Responses to Remembering Through Rituals and Traditions

  1. Kathy Beier says:

    Our family never opened our Christmas gifts until the youngest child, and later grandchild had put baby Jesus into the nativity set. I inherited the set, and now my youngest grandchild gets to have the honor when we gather to celebrate Christmas.

  2. Cindy Adams says:

    I loved the Christmas ornament tradition you have! I still make trips to Puerto Rico, where my first husband’s family still lives. My daughters and I used to go there every chance we could. I hadn’t been in many years since I got remarried 4 years ago. But this year we ALL went and my 2nd husband got to meet my 1st husband’s family. Check out the picture on my website if you get a chance. I really wish I could make that a ritual, but limited funds would make that impossible!!! Loved your post:-)

    • Greet Grief says:

      I am so glad to hear that you and your husband got a chance to go and to spend time with your first husband’s family. I was also blessed to remain close with my first husband’s family as well. Such a gift for your girls to maintain that connection and for your future as a new family! I understand about the limited funds that make it difficult for travel to be a ritual but I hope that you can use the internet (Skype) letter writing or sharing pictures as a continual way to weave your families together? Can’t wait to check out your website!

      • Cindy Adams says:

        They wouldn’t Skype (don’t have a computer) but I’m compiling a photo album off Snapfish from the pictures we took when we were in PR with all the family. It will be a nice Christmas gift this year!

      • Greet Grief says:

        That will be a treasured gift I am sure! The best gifts we have given our children over the years is talking about their biological parent(s) and sharing their family stories – so important in healing!

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