Rituals for Grief (The First Birthday)

July 5, 2022 – Anglesey

Today would have been opa’s 85th birthday. He almost made it.

After a lovely dinner with the whole family, my parents, partner, and I retreat to the huge backyard.

The sky is a dark ink blue – a lifetime of words quietly bleeding through the clouds, into the sky – the grass beneath our feet is almost completely dark, and the end of the garden feels much further away than it did in the daytime. My partner’s wonderful dad has given us a blanket and a torch (implicitly saying “of course you can host nighttime witchy rituals in my garden”) and I hold up the light to show the way.

Follow me into the forest

The fields and mountains around us are nearly invisible as they seem to blend into the rapidly darkening skies. We find a space in our tiny private forest at the edge of the luscious garden (nature is really thriving here), and settle on a blanket of brown pine needles, under a few big trees. Through the branches, we can see the last bit of light reflected in the night sky.

We gather in a circle and light a candle. We set up our ritual space. Blanket. Candles. Dragon stone. Photo of opa. A torch that creates beautiful patterns on the ground beneath us.

I play music; we listen and we talk.

Together, we sit in ritual, in remembrance.

It is a sad day, but it is also a day of celebration. He looked forward to this day, made plans. 85. A big birthday. He was going to rent a boat, he’d said, when he got better. If he got better. He never did.

So today it is up to us. To celebrate his life. To keep his spirit alive. To be the Keepers of Memories.

We speak life into the earth, into the sky. Birthday wishes. A wish for love, for being free of burdens and pain. A wish for mischief and joy, and for being reunited. We join hands and send all our wishes up, amplifying the love that he sparked in us. We promise we’ll take our time, but this is not goodbye.

We share stories about how he impacted our lives. What we learnt from him. How he lives on in us. The power of family (blood or chosen).

There are lots of tears and lots of laughter.

He would’ve liked that. Opa always knew how to make us laugh.

Grief can’t be rushed, and can’t be avoided. The only way out is through. But we can choose to find love in the heartache.

Together, we remember.

And for a moment, it is as if he is right here.

Happy birthday, opa.

Setting up the space

The Ritual

If you need a simple but powerful ritual to celebrate and grieve on the (first) birthday of a loved one who has passed on, here is what we did:

Step 1. Set the Space

If you are religious or spiritual, you could choose to open with a prayer, a chant, drawing a circle, invoking deities, calling the quarters, inviting ancestors, or anything else that feels right. Get the physical space ready too. (Candles, pictures, objects that belonged to your loved one, anything to make you feel comfortable and safe, maybe even celebratory.)

Today, I opened with music to set the tone and create a container separate from the day-to-day, to shift from happy dinner energy into sacred connection.

We held lots of space for silence, for grief to come through. This ritual might be very emotional, so don’t rush yourself (or others) through it. Take your time.

Step 2. Birthday Celebration

Now, it might be nice to share some context (about the person, the moment, what it means to you, etc.) and then invite everybody to share birthday wishes for your loved one.

For us, some of these included a safe journey to whatever is next, being reunited with oma (his late wife and love of his life), and other things specific to his life and personality.

We held hands and visualised bundling our wishes together in the flames in the middle of the circle, and sending them up with lots of love. (I led us through the visualisation and invoked everybody’s main wish to co-create this part.)

Step 3. Web of Memories

For this part, you could invite everybody to share something they have learnt from your loved one; how they impacted your lives.

This is a beautiful way to show how they live on in us, how their presence changed the world around them for the better, how parts of them are still alive in the world. Their time on earth had meaning, and you are walking proof.

Afterwards, you can take some time to share happy memories. For me, it felt really right to remember together. (Remembering alone is more painful sometimes.)

Step 4. Closing

You can close the space in whatever way feels right to you. Maybe the sharing gets to a natural place where it feels good to move on, and maybe you want to take a moment to summarise some of the wishes, memories, or impact.

Give everybody time to share their feelings if they’d like, and be gentle with each other. Take your time to transition into the next activity for the day. Make sure everybody is ready.

For us, it was around midnight, so we all got ready for bed afterwards, giving us plenty of time to process. If you do this earlier in the day, you might want to schedule some buffer time afterwards, so you don’t have to go straight back into work/socialising mode.

I am so sorry for your loss, and I hope this ritual might give you some relief on the (first) birthday without them.

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