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Today, I light a candle for you… remembering those served by hospice

By Terre Mirsch

I had the honor of attending Holy Redeemer Hospice’s Memorial Service this weekend, privileged to be among more than 260 family members and caregivers who gathered to pay tribute to loved ones who died while under our hospice care. Each time I attend one of our memorial services, I am humbled by the fact that the attendees allowed us to be part of their lives and shared their journey as they faced a most difficult period in their life- the care and loss of a loved one.  I am overcome by the sense of community that is experienced, and I am struck by the comfort received through readings, prayers, and rituals that give us permission to grieve, heal our hurts, and maintain hope during our time of sorrow. As I gazed at the hundreds of candles lit by family members in honor of their loved ones, I was reminded that, although we often feel isolated as caregivers or as grievers, we are not alone.

After my father died on hospice care, I recall being overwhelmed with the planning of his funeral service. Despite the preplanning that he did to ensure that we would not be burdened with decision making, we were called upon to choose readings and music that would be a reflection of his life and legacy. With little time to think or prepare we did, indeed, do so but the experience is little more than a blur in my memory. And while the funeral provided an opportunity to say our good-byes and achieve a sense of closure, exhaustion and raw emotions made it difficult to derive meaning beyond the formality and finality of the event.

Hospice memorial services and other similar community or church events, provide time for prayer, reflection, and celebration of those that have gone before us in a different and, sometimes, more significant way. The rituals that are integrated throughout these events provide time for personal remembrance in ways that we may have been unable to experience when our loss was fresh. These rituals can help us to find shared meaning in our experience. Those that do not have access to hospice or other community events can create their own rituals for healing in the privacy of their own homes.

The following rituals may help you in honoring positive memories of your loved one:

  • Light a candle. The lighting of candles can be a sacred ritual for healing in many traditions and religions. Candle lighting provides a forum for healing the past, while bringing hope for the future.
  • Share pictures. Every picture tells a story. Create a memory book of photos or stories of your loved ones life and legacy.
  • Invite friends and family for an evening of storytelling and shared memories. Ask everyone to share a story or a memory of how that person was important to them.
  • Create a memory pillow, quilt, or teddy bear. Use your loved ones favorite colors, fabric, or material from their belongings to create a unique memorabilia.
  • Share your memories through food. Food is an important way that we demonstrate love. Bake your loved one’s favorite dessert as part of a special dinner. Or dine at their favorite restaurant.
  • Keep a journal or write a letter. For more about the power of writing to process the emotions experienced in grief, read Leanne’s post Writing about grief during hospice… and after .
  • Reflect on a favorite prayer, reading, or musical selection. Others have sometimes put our emotions into words in ways that we have not been able, or have written words that can bring is hope or help us to heal.

Rituals don’t have to be big or ceremonious. It is often the smaller or more private moments that bring us peace and healing.

Please share with us any rituals that you have found meaningful during your caregiving or grief journey.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lynn Piccoli #

    A perfect day to read this, This time last year our family roller coaster began and finding healthy ways to handle our grief, is just what was neded…thank you so much!

    October 8, 2012
    • You are welcome, Lynn. I know that this is a difficult time for you and your family and I hope that you are able to find some comfort in some of these rituals. Please know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers.

      October 8, 2012
  2. that is so emotional and precious. it is wonderful how after the fact that you are finished with the JOB, you are still thought of and interacting. this is wonderful!

    October 8, 2012
    • Thank you, Terry. Yes, support of family members following loss of a loved one is an important part of hospice services. We provide support in a variety of ways including mailings, telephone calls, individual counseling, and support groups in addition to our memorial services. Our bereavement services are individualized according to the needs of each family member. Having the opportunity to be with family members as they honor their loved ones at our memorial service is a privilege and I am so grateful that they allow us to share in their grief journey.

      October 8, 2012
  3. Thanks again for a wonderful post Terri. I am not really a person of ritual, but since Kris passed away it’s been different. I light a candle illuminating the photos I have of her in our living room almost every evening (and mornings when it is dark). I don’t know why I do this, but it’s something that I have kept up religiously and brings me a lot of satisfaction. I suppose it’s a way for me to feel like I am connecting through an action but it also reminds me of the light that was her life and that left her body. That is the real Kris; the one that never dies and remains in my heart.

    Another ritual has been to keep a journal since the day she passed. Although I have read some bits here and there, I have never read the passages from the first month. I started the journal right after her body was removed from the house.

    This Thursday will be exactly a year since her passing. I plan to hike alone to the spot where I scattered her ashes, and, in another ritual I’ve been performing this year, sprinkle some rose petals where her ashes are mixed with the earth. I will also use that time to read the entire journal. Reading those early passages may be more than I am ready for, but I think it’s time to try.

    October 8, 2012
    • Ira,
      Thank you for sharing with us your personal experiences in using rituals and the ways in which you connect with and remember Kris. Finding ways to honor our loved ones life and legacy can bring much needed comfort during difficult times. My thoughts and prayers are with you this week- and always.

      October 8, 2012

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