Grief is a very powerful emotion, one that can easily overwhelm and take us away from ourselves.
With it, can come a restless and unnerving 'I don't know what to do with myself' state of being, as articulated here by the Author CS Lewis in his book 'A Grief Observed'.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing."
A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place and according to set sequence and can be employed to neutralise or prevent anxiety.
Rituals help ground and anchor us. They can give us a sense of place and space.
Many cultures have sacred grief rituals, the function of which is to help us process our losses, yet nobody teaches us how to mourn in anticipation of our inevitable need for a repertoire.
To lean in, tend and give expression to our grief can be counter to today’s culture of hustle and grind, where productivity and busy-ness reign supreme.
Resilience is often marketed as mental toughness and there can be a lot of implicit ‘shoulds’ about how we manage our emotions so as not to let them get in the way of our busy lives.
Tears can make for uncomfortable moments for those who have been taught such displays are best kept hidden.
Vital connections to ancient traditions that help us create sacred space for expressions of loss, have been all but lost and unless we make a conscious effort to find and share ways and spaces in which to tend to the emotional impact of our losses, we’re at risk of losing our connection to the gifts inherent in emotional channelling.
Grief comes to us all and so here are routines and rituals that have helped me connect with my grief in safe, comforting and contained ways.
If you don’t have start and end of day routines, this might sound elaborate so expect some resistance if this is the case. Each of these routines rely on the other to support you, so it is important you tend to them both.
The trick here is to build your own process which takes patience and practice. These are routines you can build up to. And they will take time to become automatic but once they do, it is the most structured way to start and the most soothing way to end your day.
If you’re starting from scratch, I suggest starting with creating a morning ritual of making your bed. If you already do this, great - you already know the value of it and if you don’t, please know that this one practice alone, is transformative and the foundation for a beautiful bedtime routine.
There are some other habits that if you form them as part of your morning routine, will support you when you get to the end of your day.
For example, after you make your bed every day, do a quick tidying of your room so that at night you are arriving into a space that calms you, not one that overwhelms you.
Gather any laundry into your basket, put away any clothes, books or cups hanging around. No need to whip out the vacuum or do any dusting, just clear any clutter and put a calm shape on your space.
Get dressed before leaving your room. It simply helps you feel better, more boundaried and hence, willing to face the day. Staying in pj's all day long can be what's needed sometimes but if it becomes the norm, you will feel even more lost in the sea of days than you do already.
At night, I generally go to my room an hour to 90 minutes before bedtime. I don’t have anyone else to tend to, so I have that time to give myself. I don’t know how much time you might have to give yourself but choose a timeframe that is realistic for you.
Sometimes I get on the floor and cuddle with my dog. I get great comfort and stress relief from that.
Have clean and cosy pyjamas ready for yourself. Warm them for yourself on a heater, as you would for a child getting out of a bath.
Get yourself some fluffy socks.
I used to be a coffee fiend. I liked my coffee milky and actually considered latte a food group. I drank latte exclusively from the moment I emerged from my room until my ‘cut off’ of about 3pm.
A few months ago, I noticed the degree to which I was feeling over stimulated and so I cut it out. Cold turkey. Cue a 9 day withdrawal headache.
What I figured out was that I actually didn’t even like coffee. I’d never drink instant and I wouldn’t drink it black. It was about the ritual. So I created for myself, a ritual around tea.
If you still love your coffee, great! You can simply jig a few things to make your ritual around it more intentional. And if H2O or Kombucha is your thing, the same elements apply.
I have a small tray and on it, I keep my teapot, cup and tea warmer. In a press overhead, I keep a selection of loose tea. Rooibos Caramel and Milky Oolong are my current favourites. I also have adrenal tonics for nervous system stress support.
I have a measuring spoon and an infuser for night time when I want a mug and not a whole pot of tea.
I boil the kettle, light my warmer, choose my tea and when it’s ready, I serve myself on the tray, wherever it is I’m camping out, usually my office if I’m working or my bedroom nook if I’m relaxing or reading.
For water ritual, the same applies. Get yourself the tray and a glass or container you love. If you don’t buy water or drink from the tap, get yourself a filter.
I lived beside Glencar waterfall for a while and used to buy water straight from the source. Such a luxury!
Get yourself lemons, limes, cucumber, mint or ginger. Buy a small paring knife. Go all out and create for yourself an elixir of comfort and kindness.
This is such a simple practice but so effective. Try it! I’d love to know how you get on with it.
Ooh I love this one. Aromatherapy as Medicine. One of the places grief lodges itself is in the respiratory system and so essential oils and incense can play a powerful role in emotional healing.
A few years ago, while grieving pregnancy loss, I experienced for myself a very real emotional comfort from a particular oil blended specifically to support grief. I would sit in the bath, inhaling it on a washcloth as well as diffusing it around the house. I also used it in roll on form.
I’ve been using essential oils for emotional support ever since.
My current favourite is the Goddess essential oil perfume, made by Anú. I apply it every day and it gives me a sense of calm, comforting confidence. To me, it smells of worthiness and self care.
I also use incense throughout the day and like my teas, I have a variety to choose from. I burn incense sticks generally any time of day, but usually in the morning when I’m getting dressed and at night before I go to bed.
For special occasions, such as new or full moons and my da's monthly anniversary, I tend to burn incense in the form of smudge. My favourite is a locally harvested Cedar Smudging wand from Sídhe Sound Healing.
This one is my ultimate life saver. I started this bathing ritual in 2016 following pregnancy loss. The reason why it is so effective is because grief lodges in the body and repressed grief impacts not only the respiratory system but also the largest of all bodily organs, which is the skin.
Our skin is essential to our experience of connection and so to immerse ourselves in a warm bath, is to bring us into connection with ourselves. That’s my experience anyway.
Bathing is a practice that requires some planning and foresight. You want to give yourself time and space so that your soak is relaxing and not stressful. Have what you need to hand so that you can run a bath spontaneously in the moment you need it. Essential Oils. Epsom Salts. Whatever your tonic.
Keep a small box or basket by the bath with your supplies in there. Have a container for salts, scrubs, body creams, candles, incense and a lighter.
While the bath is running, set the mood. Candles, incense, music. Sometimes I listen to a podcast or audiobook in the bath but it’s never as relaxing and is more of a distraction to be honest but if that’s what gets you into the habit, then use this time to listen to what you like.
I generally do this bath time ritual in the lead up to bedtime. You want to make sure your bathroom and bedroom are cosy and warm. Get a small blow heater if your rooms need it.
Pour 2 cups of Epsom Salts and 4-5 drops of your chosen essential oil into the bath. Make sure you have a glass of water by the bath or a cup of herbal tea. I make myself a valerian tea or my adrenal tonic before I get into the bath and leave it on my warmer until I’m finished. Those are the nights I’m out for the count.
On getting out of the bath, take your time to massage yourself from head to toe with a relaxing body cream, oil or lotion. I keep my yoga mat & bolster in the bathroom, some nights I just lie on the floor, naked, listening to my music in the candlelight. Sometimes that involves crying.
Learn to mourn and lament through the art of keening. Keening is a traditional form of vocal lament for the dead. It is an art form with a rich history, being restored and reimagined in community to accommodate the needs of our modern times.
I recently attended a weekend gathering in which I experienced and participated in a ritual of Keening and it was profoundly cathartic for me. I had never experienced anything like it.
Be warned that although the container is held professionally and beautifully and that the space created is a safe and very well facilitated one, the experience itself is quite intense and it would serve you best to have some idea of what to expect before committing.
I hope this insight into how I structure my day with ritual and routine inspires you to create some of your own, that work for you and your life and which bring you a much needed sense of grounding, comfort and care.
I intend sharing more self caring through grief resources as time goes on.
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P.s. Interested in ritual as a form of self care? Watch this short video for more insight on how you can support yourself through ritual. Watch it here.