“Healing ceremonies matter—they matter because they serve to empower and bring us through to a different and better place—and to release what no longer serves us.”
“Imagine taking your 12-year-old son to the hospital for what you thought was a stubborn flu and finding out he had Type 1 diabetes, a lifelong and life-threatening disease that would require daily injections and diet management for the rest of his life. Imagine if this diagnosis came on top of a developmental disability as well as mental health and behavioral issues.” These are the poignant words said to me from a mother whose son’s “hero ceremony” I co-created and presided over as their family Celebrant a year after his diagnosis.
We all know that when a child gets diagnosed with a life-threatening, lifelong disease, it can be a parent’s and family’s worst nightmare. Anxiety levels skyrocket amid feelings of worry, guilt, frustration and helplessness. One such parent experienced the shock and fear that accompanied her young son’s diabetes diagnosis. It was particularly devastating as an addition to a previous diagnosis of ADHD, and what was later dubbed Asperger’s syndrome. The family, and especially their son, didn’t need this added physical complication to several mental health issues, which was also known to increase behavioral issues, especially within male gender youth.
For this family there was much to learn to ensure the best treatment and a team of health professionals was assigned to teach, to listen and to care. Everything had to be monitored by a concerned mother who worked full time. Extra help was sought to help with the practicality of low and high blood sugar readings and to manage the difficulties that arose. Family members, teachers and other caregivers all had to be trained to support him and handle any emergencies that could arise. It was hard for the son to cooperate with what he had been taught to do to ensure his well-being. The stress levels for all concerned were high indeed and every day had its struggles.
The boy felt like he was living a nightmare and he was so fearful. There was much to adjust to and the overwhelming pervasive impact involving his every activity was profoundly felt and impacted his childhood greatly. He had to monitor his blood glucose, establish an injection routine, learn how to count carbohydrates and cope with all the fluctuations of glucose levels. These were challenges he had to bravely deal with, and he had no choice in the matter.
Fast forward one year he became a teenager and in a relatively short time had become accustomed to giving himself four insulin shots per day. The family began to breathe a little easier, progress was made and though the diabetes beast was still front and center, their son had come a long way.
The family decided to mark the one-year healing milestone with a ceremony as a rite-of-passage hero’s journey for their dear son. In this case, the goal was to acknowledge their son’s many accomplishments and their desire was to have this ceremony reduce his fears and boost his confidence as it pertained to the frightening disease. With bravado, their son had risen to the occasion to accept the burdensome responsibility of being the one who measured and treated issues with his blood, in spite of his confusion, anger and the all prevailing questions of “why me?”
In my extensive experience as a certified Life-cycle Celebrant®, I was engaged by the family to co-create (with them and their son) a ceremony to help bridge this period of transition and assist their son to realizing how far he had come.
His mother believed that “by celebrating the aspects of the disease their son had gained control over (fear of needles, counting carbs, taking blood sugars) acknowledged his inherent resilience and boosted his self-esteem. As Chinese poet and philosopher, Lau Tsu said, ‘A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step’.” She also felt that “successfully navigating the first phase of the journey” brought hope and “that momentum would help carry him forward, teaching him that if he could manage this, he could manage other challenges life was sure to throw at him.”
North American myth has portrayed dragons as monsters to be overcome or tamed and, with that thought in mind, we named diabetes as “the Dragon” for our ceremony. The tools or weapons to rule the dragon were “the Needles,” which were incorporated into the ritual part of the ceremony. The words woven into the story painted the picture of the young boy on the verge of adulthood riding in the saddle on his steed expertly handling that ferocious “Diabetes Dragon” waving his sharp weapons with “the Needles” in both hands! The Dragon had been forced out of its scary cave of the unknown dangers and into the daylight of understanding far from harmless but subdued—and “the Needles” had become a powerful ally and symbol in the battle for him to stay strong and healthy. The symbolism and imagery connected with the young boy (our honoree) and the close-knit group of family and friends, including the Child Life Specialist from the hospital who attended.
The ceremony was designed to help this young boy on the verge of adulthood make some sense and connect with his story, his path and to help him regain a feeling of control and security. He had come to know what to expect and how to handle things like “the hero” in the story that he embodied. He discovered that it wasn’t the “Diabetes Dragon” he had to kill—instead it was the “Fear Dragon” that he had to vanquish. In the process, he uncovered precious treasures along the way, exhibiting throughout great persistence and bravery. The words of poet, Rainer Maria Rilke rings true: “our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures.” The hope was that this cherished boy could now feel comfort and pride to acknowledge that he had successfully confronted his fears and had arrived safely on the other side, transforming him into “Brave, Wise and Strong hero” that was acknowledged by the circle of his supporters who witnessed his ceremony.
Healing ceremonies matter—they matter because they serve to empower and bring us through to a different and better place—and to release what no longer serves us. If you or your loved one needs to release tangled feelings from experiencing a health crisis or other hurdles in life, you may consider contacting and talking with a Life-Cycle Celebrant near you, who are professionally trained and certified by the world-renowned Celebrant Foundation & Institute.
Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant® online classes start on June 1. Register here for an Open House Webinar.