My ritual contributions
In all cultures, rituals are gestures undertaken with emotion and intention to connect us with transpersonal energies for healing and transformation. They are a direct form of knowing, an embodied process. Rituals have the potency to mend what has been torn and to heal what has been neglected, breaking us open to a vast and more enchanted world.
They are a gentle and powerful way to sustain reminiscing and maintain support, helping us do what we cannot do alone. When we are healing from grief and loss, we can breathe new life into ritual by creating new ceremonies where we enter a deeper state to strengthen ourselves. By using the basics of a ritual — the rhythmic use of physical forms (sound, light, color, music, incense, dance, chanting, words or power, and so on) we can embody abstract truths and help our minds to comprehend them.
And rituals have what Francis Weller calls a reparative function, suturing the tears in the soul that occur in the daily rounds of living, as well as supporting restoration and healing. Rituals provide sufficient intensity to help us access the emotions that are present and to “cook” them into something new by witnessing what enables us to be seen.
The more frankincense and candles, the better!
True to his Romani roots, Karl adored anything ritualistic. Anna Trapp, his guardian, read the Tarot cards and acquainted Karl with Romani spirituality. For Karl, the more frankincense and candles, the better! So, after his death, I introduce several rituals into my life and the lives of those who love him. My red candle (for courage) continues to light my path.
In 1994, Karl and I designed a very interactive wedding ceremony with several rituals that involved the participation of our wedding guests. Not surprisingly, some of those ideas translate into the ways that I remember Karl in his memorial service and in later rituals.
Designed by me and a group of community planner friends, both Karl’s burial and memorial services are highly innovative affairs. Our celebrant, Angela Hazebroek, a highly experienced facilitator and community planner (as well as a spiritual director) comments with a wry smile during the memorial, “This is one workshop where Karl will not have to type up the sticky notes.”
You can view our collection of photos of Karl shown at the memorial service here:
The 33-minute video of Karl’s memorial service is here: Karl’s memorial service
Desperate and heartbroken, I work with Angela and a small group of close friends to develop the ritual aspects of our farewells to our beloved Karl. Even with limited time and resources, we acknowledge the importance of rituals for our mourners. Outside the room where we held the memorial, we fill a huge planter pot with sand and provide candles for everyone.
Other comforting rituals at Karl’s burial include Andrea Cook hand-painting a Romani flag to drape over Karl’s recycled cardboard coffin.
Artist-facilitator, Michelle Walker, creates a gigantic paper banner depicting the milestones in Karl’s life, working collaboratively with Karl’s sister and a neighbor, aged six.
Despite our collective sadness and shock, Karl’s memorial service is a joyous community celebration in Djanbung Gardens, the Nimbin Permaculture training center.
We share stories of Karl at small tables and write blessings for him on heart-shaped sticky notes, which we post on a “Wall of Love” after the service.
A collaborative prayer ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF KARL’S DEATH
In early 2017, a few days before the first anniversary of Karl’s death, close friends gather for lunch at Kev and Lee-Anne’s Brisbane house. We create a collaborative prayer for Karl.
I tell them, “We had a bright spark in our midst – in the Romani wildness of Karl. You loved him, and he loved you.”
Each friend records three things: (1) a memory of Karl; (2) what they bless about him; and (3) their prayers for his soul.
It is clear from our remembrances that Karl had a unique quality that touched all of us. We remember “your quiet smile”, your “presence”, “your chocolate brown laugh and warm humor to match”, and “your wise conversation and quiet observation.” Clearly, Karl is a man whose still waters run deep.
There are few dry eyes in the group as we record what we bless about Karl. Nick Curthoys, who loved to play computer games with Karl, blesses “your wise words about life and teenagers that will stay with me.”
Several friends bless Karl’s devotion and the good care he took of me (which they see as continuing). Karl’s “quiet assurance” is a blessing that many of us value. One person reminds us and Karl of “the love you left in our lives.”
Our prayers for Karl’s soul into the future
By the time we reach this part of our ritual, our hearts are opened wide, and our prayers rise up on the candle smoke as we reminisce about Karl’s “legacy and words of wisdom and kindness.” Many of our prayers are whimsical guidance for a soul in heaven. We pray that:
- Your legacy and words of wisdom and kindness live on in those who knew and loved you
- You can be at peace, to fly high, to always be in our hearts
- You can sleep in any clothes you like! [Karl refused to sleep in pyjamas]
- Your soul may be free — and no more Post-its to type up
- You continue to live in our memories
- They have cold beer up there.
Our messages to Karl
In the message I read later at Karl’s graveside, I say simply, “Oh, Beloved, I bless the day I met you.”
Nick, our youngest mourner, has this to say: “I hope you are well. I recently purchased an Xbox, and it reminded me of you. I’ll continue to think of you well into the future. Your calm demeanour has struck me and will continue to do so. Your influence will be ongoing.”
Again, our friends celebrate Karl’s support for me: “Thank you for always helping and supporting Wendy — not only in the past but throughout all your lives together.”
Kev Cracknell says this: “We were blessed to spend your last day with you. We were honored to break bread with you and share your last meal with you at Mavis’s Kitchen.”
Simple, powerful rituals
Reading our heartfelt comments, I am struck by their authenticity. These were the simplest of rituals, requiring almost no preparation and very little in the way of “props”. And yet we pour our hearts into them, we are cleansed by these simple practices of conscious mourning and remembering and emerge from our celebratory lunch with open hearts and smiles on our faces. More than that, our sense of community deepens and, for me, my sense of “companioning” is nourished.
Kenneth Doha emphasizes what we discovered: “When survivors participate in rituals, not only are they helped by others, but they are also provided with an opportunity to help themselves mourn” (Living With Grief after Loss, 1996: 134).
Further, participatory tasks provide survivors with comfort. As we participate in rituals, we can become more in control of those rituals and, as we take our first steps, we can begin to regain control of our lives. In my case, as I openly acknowledge my own exposure to the threat of death, I yearn for rescue. These simple rituals help me address my own feelings of anxiety, helplessness, abandonment, and vulnerability. I long for relief and rescue. To some extent, our mounting rituals gave me that comfort.
Karl’s response to this anniversary ritual warms my heart when I record it the next morning:
Dearest Wadie, this is our special anniversary. We have been married for 22 years. In that time, I learned almost all I know about love. We are very good for each other, my Wadie. Please do not cry. We did a really good job of ‘The Love’.
On the actual anniversary of Karl’s death, Rose Gardener and I drive to the Nimbin cemetery. We kneel at Karl’s graveside, overseen by the dramatic silhouette of Blue Knob. As we read our collaborative prayer to Karl, Rose and I celebrate his continued meaning in our lives and his unconditional love.
the Benefits of gratitude rituals
These gratitude rituals have wide-ranging and long-standing benefits, which support us and can apply to a wide circle of those who loved the person who has died. For me, rituals are ways of including others and strengthening my gratitude muscles. I am also making Karl’s death real and final and courageously keeping our memories alive.
A RITUAL FROM A FAMILY WITH TWO SMALL CHILDREN
Importantly, our rituals had an intergenerational quality. Yolllana’s two children created a special ritual in Karl’s honour, as she reported to me the day after Karl’s death:
After I told Erin about Karl’s passing, she set to work with Ashwin to create this altar, with symbols for earth, air, fire and water… crystals, rose quartz, the Buddha and candles.
Then Ashwin and Erin drew “soul maps” for Karl, to help him find his way onwards, which they folded with prayers of Love and Freedom and offered them to the fire so he could read them.
My husband, Will sang a song for Karl by the fire and we all spoke of our happy memories of him. Ashwin remembered that Karl was always encouraging and comforting, Erin appreciated that he was always interested in what she had to say, and Will appreciated that he was always friendly. I spoke of the mischievous twinkle in his eye and all the love and support he gave to you.
I am sure there will be many celebrations of his life in the days and weeks to come, and I wanted to share with you this one…
That message meant the world to me! Here is a photo of these precious friends taken in September 2018.
And I will light a candle for you…
As fire has always been the element of transformation and alchemy, I am eager to tap into its primordial and transformative power. Thus, red candles feature in all our memorial rituals for Karl, as well as our successful visualizations for the sale of the Nimbin property, and later my finding the rental suite in Vancouver.
A blessing provided by Angela Hazebroek, our celebrant, before I light the candle at Karl’s burial, now accompanies all candles burning in my home: