Saturday, August 21, 2010

The power of Ritual

A friend of mine recently had a death of someone near to them. Then last night I watched the movie "What Dreams May Come", for the third time. It stars Robin Williams in a serious role in which his wife dies. It is a beautful story of Life, Death, the Hereafter and raises some questions as to where our souls go when we die. I always love to explore the topic of death, having faced it a few times myself in various ways.

From the movie I was reminded of how painful the loss of a loved one can be. I remember years ago when I worked at a Jewish Retreat for Seniors in the Laurentiannes in Quebec one summer. There was a beautiful older couple who had lost their daughter years ago. She had fallen over the falls at Niagra Falls. No one knows if it was suicide or an accident. She was alone when it happened. She was 18 years old when she died. There was no indication that she was depressed or suicidal, she had a promising future. 

Part of the grief of the parents was that they blamed themselves. The wife had done a lot of her grieving and the husband had tried to be strong for her, just like in the movie I watched last night.

I felt their grief everytime they came in the room. So one day I asked them if they wanted help to let go of the grief. They looked at each other and nodded. I told them to come to the art room, (where I worked) the next morning. 

Meanwhile, I was thinking to myself,  "What the heck are you doing? What makes you think you can help these poor greiving people?" But something was working through me and I trusted.

The next day when they arrived, I got them to write a letter to their daughter, saying all the things they wanted to say to her. I got the couple to sit on opposite sides of the room so they could each be in their grief alone, not to feel one had to carry the other. They wrote and cried as  I held the space for them.

Then we took the letters outside to a creek in the woods. I smudged and drummed, asking for them to be free of the pain and guilt they carried. The wind came and I felt the acknowledgment of my request. Then I gave them matches to burn the letters, releasing the pain with it. There were signs from nature that showed me that this was working. 

When we got back to the art room, I gave them a blank sheet of paper and colored crayons, and asked them to draw a healing image for themselves. The results were incredible. We talked and they said they felt a great burden lifted from them. I was amazed at the transformation. They went away to prepare for lunch. When I saw them in the dining room, the woman had changed her clothes and done her hair differently. She was glowing, and smiling for the first time since I saw her. The man also looked lighter, but I told her that now she needed to be strong for him, as he had done for her. He still had some grieving to do, having put it on hold. 

They were so grateful, they wanted to pay me and told me to come visit them, that I was like a daughter to them. I never saw them again after that summer, but I was left with the impression of how magic, mystery and ritual can have a powerful impact on our lives.

I am grateful to have been able to be of service to such a lovely couple who suffered such an incredible loss. 

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