Grief Rituals

What is a ritual? Rituals are actions done in purposeful ways that symbolize something more than the actual acts themselves. They are actions that might represent ideas, thoughts, or beliefs. Rituals also serve as ways to connect us to something or someone else. We may engage in rituals as we seek to become uplifted, grounded, or to assist us in the search for peace, or clarity of mind. Grief rituals can serve as a way to honor or connect to feelings and memories following the death of a loved one. This can help provide order in what otherwise might feel like a very chaotic time in our lives.

In our society, there are few grief rituals outside the funeral or memorial service that are specifically designed for grieving people. The few rituals that do exist (funerals, memorial services) are necessary and helpful, but often the bereaved need more than the one or two rituals that immediately follow the death of a loved one. Because of the few grief rituals that currently exist some people plan rituals of their own to help honor a loved one’s birthday or anniversary, or they might choose to express their grief through small daily or weekly rituals. There is no wrong or right way, it is completely dependent on what each feel is beneficial or meaningful for them.

Some examples of grief rituals include:

  • Light a candle at a special time of the day or week to remind you of your loved one.
  • Write a note, then burn and release the message.
  • Create a scrapbook filled with photographs, letters, postcards, notes, or other significant memorabilia from your life together.
  • Cook a loved one’s favorite meal or food.
  • Carry a remembrance item.
  • Spend time listening to your loved one’s favorite music or watching their favorite movie.
  • Find a tree in the woods, tie a yellow ribbon around it and visit it to remember (this is especially helpful when ashes have been scattered and there is no gravesite.)
  • Create a playlist of music that reminds you of your loved one.
  • Plant a tree or flowers in your loved one’s memory.
  • Offer a scholarship in your loved one’s name.
  • Donate to a charity that your loved one supported.
  • Visiting your loved one’s burial site.
  • Create an altar for your loved one.
  • Have a wedding ring made into a new setting for a necklace, etc.
  • Have a birthday party for your loved one on his/her birthday.
  • Take a trip and visit places that were special to the person (where they were born, where you met them, etc.)
  • Create a work of art that expresses your feelings towards them.
  • On birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries buy your loved one a gift and donate it to a hospital, nursing home, etc.
  • Have a family memory/memorial evening where you share pictures, and stories and reminisce about special times with the loved one.


You may feel the need to communicate something to your loved one through rituals. You may choose to speak aloud, quietly meditate or ponder your thoughts silently, or write your thoughts in a letter. Allow yourself the time and space that is needed to help you remember and connect to your loved one. As the years go by, you may let go of certain rituals, which is okay. You will probably figure out what is most meaningful for you to do. No matter how much time passes, it is helpful to hold on to a ritual or two to keep you connected to your feelings and memories of your loved one.

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