Ceremony for First Year Milestones: Do Not Hurry

Ceremony for First Year Milestones: Do Not Hurry

In the Presence of Death: Using ceremony to explore mindfulness in the journey of dying, death, and the years following, in this 9-part series


When someone significant to us has died, there’s a continuation of the grieving process that can be softened by using simple ritual.

A friend once told me that she was having trouble healing from the death of her mother. “It should be like a broken bone,” she said. “It’s critical, but then it heals and you’re better. But every year, it feels like it just gets worse.”

I asked her what she had done to acknowledge her mother’s death, especially when the calendar was moving towards an important milestone date.

“Nothing,” she said.

I asked her how that was working for her.

“It’s not. But I don’t know what to do about it,” she said.

I wondered what the most significant days were to her. Her birthday? The anniversary of her death? A holiday?

“Christmas,” she said. We really weren’t that close, but the day before Christmas, we always got together and baked a pecan pie.”

I suggested she might bake a pie with her mom, this upcoming holiday. She was, understandably, confused. How do you bake a pie with a person who is no longer present?

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So we brainstormed about that. Firstly, I offered, tell her you’d like to bake a pie together this year, in her memory.

“Tell her? Out loud? Can she hear that?” she asked.

“I don’t know if that matters, really. But it will matter to you, to have her in your heart, and mind, and hands, as you bake together,” I said.

So she put a photo of her mother on her kitchen counter, lit a candle, and made a pie ‘together.’ Pecans, brown sugar, butter. She said she felt uncomfortable, but got into it. By the time it was in the oven, she did feel that she was closer with her mother (and her own heart) than before.

She wondered what to do with the pie, once it was baked.

She decided to take it to the little Alzheimer’s home where her mom had spent the last eight years of her life. She said that her mom had been so happy there, because of the warm, loving caretaker who ran it. Although she felt shy, she went up and knocked on the door, to a place she hadn’t been in almost three years. Holding the pecan pie, covered in foil.

The caretaker answered the door, with a newborn baby in her arms. She was delighted to see this daughter whom she had known for years, and to remember her mom together, whom she had sincerely loved, and missed.

Over pie, while my friend held the baby, they shared memories.

We may forget that we could benefit from, over the coming years, taking intentional action with the loss we feel around the absence of someone who has been special to us. Heading into these milestone dates is fraught with emotion and possibly, even, a feeling of disempowerment.

Yet, these charged calendar dates can be transformed by a simple ritual that brings in and includes the dead person.

A photo, a special memento, and a candle…plus a little awkward out loud loving intent, go a long way.

“Dad, let’s take a box of food to the food bank, together. I know you’re not ‘really’ here, but I’m not doing this in your memory…something we used to do together every year at Thanksgiving. I’m doing this with the feeling that you are by my side.”

“Grandma, I miss you. I’m going to talk with you throughout this day, as I attempt, for the 20th time, to knit the slippers you gave to us every Christmas.”

“Aiko, my beloved dog, I can barely imagine how to get through this first anniversary of your death. I miss you to the core of my being. Let’s take our favorite walk on the beach together, and I ask you to help guide me to a piece of driftwood or a stone to take home and put on your grave.”

The point is to acknowledge this day. Birthday. Fourth of July. Death anniversary. Know that heading into it is usually way more difficult than the actual day itself, especially if you’ve made some simple plans and intentions to honor your Dead One, and bring them into your heart, your hands, and this day.

Do Not Hurry
Do not hurry
As you walk with grief;
It does not help the journey.
Walk slowly,
Pausing often;
Do not hurry
As you walk with grief.
--Eli Jenkins

Find First Year Milestone readings, prayers and blessings on the, a resource co-edited by Funeral Director Amy Cunningham and Funeral Celebrant Kateyanne Unullisi.

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