Rituals for Dying and Death
By Stacy Mitchell
I remember as my uncle was dying he was staring us all down with an angry glare and saying with a painful spark of understanding, “you are all just waiting around for me to die”. It was a lesson for all of us, those living and the one who was dying. His anger stemmed from the fact that he had every intention of living, and did so for another year, and our shock at his statement from the recognition that he was right; as much as we wanted him to live, we were bracing ourselves for the ‘inevitable’. All of us, including my uncle, were acutely aware that his cancer had metastasized at an alarming rate and continued to do so despite all efforts, from many different disciplines, to the contrary. He spent that final year of his life living into his dying and teaching us all many lessons on how to have a good death, one that gave thanks every day for a new dawn and each new breath while simultaneously preparing for the time when there would be no more of either for him.
For the majority of deaths, this is the path that must be taken; one must embrace life in all its pain and all its glory in order to experience peace at death. As the old saying goes, “none of us gets out of here alive.” Yet, somehow, we all seem taken by surprise when that knowledge truly sinks in and we realize we, too, are included in that final processional of life known as death. Whether long or short, the path is a labyrinth with many twists and turns that takes one to the center of a lifetime of pain, anger, regrets and fears, as well as to absolute joy and an understanding that love is what life is truly about.
Each individual experiences this labyrinth walk differently. It is a personal process that needs space and quiet support from those in its attendance. Families and friends often have difficulty knowing the “right” thing to do and frequently feel inadequate to the task of supporting the process of death for their loved one.
The process of death is a continuum of what occurs leading up to death, death itself and after-death care and mourning. Each phase of the continuum can be participated in by being fully aware and present to the wonders of life as well as the difficulties and blessings that death brings.
Below are ways in which friends, family and the dying person can consciously participate in the death process and by so doing, walk the labyrinth together, shedding earthly baggage and preparing the individual to step across the threshold to whatever lay beyond this life.
- Writing will / final wishes
- Setting short term goals
- Experiencing the natural flow of life
- Storytelling / photo montages / collages
- Music / quietude
- Candle lighting / aromatherapy
- Releasing emotions / forgiveness
- Journaling / letters
- Rituals of release and reconciliation
- Candle light vigil
- Stillness / Meditation
- Music / sounds of nature / threshold choir
- Reading prose / poetry / spiritual texts
- Listening / Bearing witness
- Prayer / Last rites
- Expressing emotions
- Giving “permission” to let go
- Blessing / Anointing the body
- Sitting in silence
- Washing / dressing the body
- Decorating the coffin / container / shroud
- Holding family or community vigil for one to three days
- Speaking prayers or wishes
- Music or song
- Witnessing disposition of the body
- Planning a ceremony that honors the person’s final wishes and assists those left behind in the process of mourning
Stacy Mitchell is a Life-Cycle Celebrant® creating and officiating ceremonies from birth to earth, and a Reiki Master/Teacher, serving the Central Coast of California. She is a contributing author to the new book, Life-Cycle Ceremonies: A Handbook for Your Whole Life and a faculty member of the Celebrant Foundation & Institute. Contact Stacy at 805-208-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org For more info visit her website at www.honoryourvoice.com.