A few weeks ago when I was talking to my best friend on the phone a subject came up that I think all of us struggle with, how to deal with the grief that comes from the loss of a loved one and especially how to help our other loved ones get through it.
This past winter her family unexpectedly lost her husband’s father. It was very hard on the whole family, especially since the week before they had all planned a long awaited family trip to Israel with him and his wife.
They decided to continue with their plans to go to Israel, and as the trip was approaching a few weeks ago, her eldest daughter, who is 9 had been crying a lot, grieving and talking a lot about how much she missed her grandfather and my friend asked me: “how do I handle this?”
This is not an easy question to answer, but the more we talked, the more I got the sense that her daughter was afraid that he would fade from her life without his physical presence and she really didn’t want that to happen. So I gave her some ideas that I had implemented over the years to help me deal with the death of loved ones, a way to keep them in the forefront and an active part of our lives. I asked her permission to share this story on my blog; along with the suggestions I gave her because it is one of life’s greatest challenges to deal with the ending of life, especially for children. I do hope this serves you.
I had a very close relationship to my grandfather and his death was powerful for me. He was a rock for me in my sometimes tumultuous life when I was young and it was the first time I had lost someone that was such a profound part of my life, who I loved so dearly and who I now had to live without. No more balancing a spoon on his coffee cup at the breakfast table, no more walks to the Dairy Queen, no more playing of the record “Peppino The Little Mouse”, no more hugs or words of encouragement.
He was never far from my mind and I really didn’t believe for one minute that he was gone, in the true sense of the word. For years, when I needed help, I would look up in a state of anxiety or sadness and there would always just happen to be an older man there, maybe in a crowd, on a crowded bus, or walking down the street but he would be looking out at me from behind my grandfather’s eyes. There were never any words exchanged, but I knew that my grandfather was still looking out for me.
Since those times, I have developed a regular ancestor devotional practice. I have an altar where I meditate and part of it is devoted to my ancestors. It is full of pictures of grandparents and other relatives and ancestors who have since left this earth. On Fridays I light a candle and burn incense to honor those who have gone before me. Many of my recent ancestors were Catholics and so I burn frankincense and myrrh, a scent that they would recognize and symbolize something sacred. Then I say various prayers and I take a special moment to remember a specific ancestor if it is around their birthday, death day or another special anniversary.
I also make sure that my yoga practice on Fridays include a tree pose practice, grounding me in the now, grounding me in my many roots and branches and reminding me that I am as a leaf, dangling on my familial branch on the great tree of life. I also often make offerings, olive oil or wine for my Italian ancestors, oatmeal for the Scottish and beer for the German. I pour these offerings into a small garden I made for my ancestors, where I have planted snap dragons (one of my favorite flowers that grew at my grandparents house and always remind me of them – which also look like little skulls when the flowers dry), carnations (known in Italy as funeral or grave flowers) and bleeding hearts.
Another activity that is great to do with kids in mind is making a relative’s favorite dish together one day out of the week. While they are making the dish, a candle could be lit and perhaps a picture of the relative could sit nearby. This way, the child will never forget the favorite foods of their loved one, and every time they eat it, even as an adult, they will remember.
And don’t forget about pictures. If you don’t have room for an ancestor altar, or don’t want to use one, be sure to have lots of pictures up all over your house. Images are powerful and by having pictures up, you are sending the message to your children that their loved ones who have left this plane will always remain an important part of their lives.
These are just some practices that allow our loved ones who have passed through the veil to continue on and remain an integral part of our lives, never to fade into the background, never to be forgotten.