Healing Rites of Passage

During a discovery call recently the person on the other end of the phone gasped and suddenly asked, “Is that what this is? Is this a healing rite of passage?”

Yes. Yes, my love, that’s what this is.

Life is filled with rites of passage; expected and unexpected; wanted and unwanted; celebratory and grievous. Some, like graduating high school and college, turning 18, turning 21, getting married, and having your first child, are celebratory, wanted and expected. Intrinsically there are culturally recognized rituals that offer you the space and direction to navigate the passage into these uncharted waters, launching you into the new chapter of your life this rite of passage is marking.

But there are others, often grievous, unwanted and unexpected that have few to no built in rituals, leaving you standing at a threshold unable to move forward, with no option to move back. This is the place where healing rites of passage become necessary to shed trauma and build a bridge to the new pathway that lay before you.

Death is often one of the most grievous, unwanted and often unexpected events that challenges us to find our way through to the other side. Death is as much a part of life as birth and yet there is very limited time allotted for this rite of passage.

One is seen as a ‘new mother’ for a year, sometimes longer, after the birth of the first child. Those first few months people are calling, sending gifts, offering assistance and celebrating with the new parents. Forgetfulness, lack of focus, tardiness, and disheveled appearance are all understandable during the adjustment to having a newborn child in the house. You are given tips like ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ to ensure you are taking care of yourself.

How long do we reference a ‘new widow’? Those first few days up until the funeral are filled with calls and supporters, but that quickly subsides after. Just weeks after a loss and the phone no longer rings, leaving a grey silence. Each day takes you further from the last day your loved one was alive. Further away from the last touch, the last kiss, and the last words. Deeper into the forest of grief you go. Is it not just as important to have support when you are in the middle of the forest of grief, and not just the first day you step across the threshold as a mourner.

Wouldn’t it makes sense that it takes at least as long to adjust to the death of someone, as it does to the birth of someone? In the US it is customary to have six weeks of maternity/paternity leave, but only three days of bereavement leave. That’s not even long enough for the shock to wear off! The only rituals we have to help us through the bereavement rite of passage is the funeral.

In the past it has been customary to wear mourning dress for as long as two and half years after the death of a spouse. Wearing mourning dress offered a buffer for the bereaved. Signifying to others in the community that this person is grieving and should be handled with care. Other people understood at a glance that a widow was in grief. Expectations and demands were lowered, even if nothing was ever said there was quiet sympathy extended. Even strangers could find empathy when a person was not at their best, having suffered a terrible loss. This is a ritual with great healing qualities. To be allowed time to mourn and be given extra support, comfort and understanding by complete strangers facilitates healing. Grief carried in invisible silence, brought out only in the privacy of one’s home, becomes heavy and overwhelming. Healing rites of passage lessen the load that grief can become when required to carry on with ‘business as usual’.

There are rituals one can do specifically for the loved one who has transitioned as well as for oneself, when grief seems to be relenting. Sometimes, a death can be so sudden, unexpected and tragic that the griever does not even start grieving until months after the funeral or memorial because they are still in shock. I, myself, cried for the first time after my mother’s death, about 2 months later while folding laundry on a Saturday afternoon. A rite of passage ceremony done at this time creates the opportunity for healing, that the bereaved couldn’t do at the funeral.

Grieving a tragic death has more challenges than an expected death, but navigating the grief of a loss through suicide is a totally different challenge. People are often left with so many questions but no answers. Constructing a specialized healing rite of passage can be just the needed self-care to begin to heal that grief.

There are other occasions when healing rites of passage would serve to facilitate harmony, as well. Occasions that are celebratory, wanted and also unexpected. When expecting, parents find themselves first wishing for a healthy child, and then having some sort of preference for a gender. Pink or blue things are bought, expectations and dreams are created, but what of a child who later shows signs of being transgender? What rite of passage can there be to honor the old identify and celebrate the birth of the new one? What rite of passage might help the parents say good-bye to their daughter and welcome their son? What rite of passage might help create new expectations and dreams while at the same time allowing the grief of the death of the old ones?

In our culture, as we age, there are fewer intrinsic rites of passage. Oh sure, there are ‘over the hill’ jokes when the front number of their age changes, but nothing much else. Yet, there are plenty of milestones and life-changing events that might better be facilitated if they had supporting rites of passage rituals.

Divorce, for example.

Divorce is the marking of the death of a living breathing relationship. A union that is being dissolved. An ‘uncoupling’ ceremony, can help start this new chapter with a clean slate. It can incorporate both parties or just one, but in cases where there are children, even adult children, a collaborative uncoupling ceremony can go a long way to heal, mend and transform the family into its new beingness. It is a healthy way to pay homage to the good times of the marriage and mend the scars the bad times left. I find it helpful, even when there are no children involved, because people find closure and can release the feelings of hurt they may be harboring.

Sobriety is another opportunity for a healing rites of passage.

12 step programs are filled with rites of passage. Chips and birthday cakes are just two examples. But what about conducting a rite that might acknowledge the shedding of the old behaviors/identity and make a commitment to the new life the addict is choosing? Something that has him or her make vows to themselves and their sobriety?

Somewhere around 1999 the idea of marrying oneself was first introduced. Initially it was scoffed as new age self help shenanigans, but quickly the wisdom of committing to oneself, vowing to ‘love, honor and cherish’ one own’s self before committing to another, became obvious. This, too, is a healing rite of passage.

This is why Healing Rites of Passage exists…to build bridges across divides.

What are some other opportunities for healing rites of passage that you can think of? Have you created your own healing rites of passage? Let us know!

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