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Following the Moon, Processing Grief

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This season is a good time to process the grief you’ve felt this year. Practice this intuitive moon ritual that is easy to adapt to your own needs.

It's natural for human beings to contemplate the cycles of life and death as we watch the sun swell and grow in spring and summer and then settle and rest for the winter.

We experience all kinds of losses throughout our lives, whether it’s loss of a relationship, the death of a loved one, or even the loss of an identity that comes with some change— even a good change, like getting married or having a baby. Despite the fact that we all experience grief, our culture does not like to address it, allowing unprocessed grief to linger in our bodies.

The winter, and especially the winter solstice, is a nourishing and supportive time to hold our grief with some tenderness.

This ritual takes up a whole moon cycle, from full moon to full moon. I recommend doing it anytime between November and February, but it is especially potent around the winter solstice.

You can absolutely do it more than once, even for the same loss, as grief tends to be cyclic and you may need to return to these practices. I frame the ritual around the loss of a person, but you can also work with a lost object, a lost sense of identity, or a lost period of time in your life—whatever you are grieving. Feel free to adjust the meaning of the ritual.

This is an intuitive ritual, which means it does not follow any particular tradition. One of the best things about the moon is that it belongs to no one, so anyone can connect to its nightly phasing. If there are spiritual or religious elements you want to include, please feel free to do so. Add anything you would like, and take away anything that doesn’t resonate with you.

Please be aware these grief rituals may be emotional, so make sure you have a safe enough space in which to do them. Plan to do something soothing and enjoyable after each ritual.

DAY 1: Full Moon

Acknowledging the Fullness of Feeling

YOU’LL NEED:

  • A candle
  • Paper and pen
  • A small piece of paper with your lost one’s name on it
  • A cup of water

The full moon is a time for whatever has been hiding to come to the light. We feel things more intensely, and we face the things we normally hide in the dark or in busyness.

It’s time to acknowledge and address the grief you feel in all its fullness. Find a quiet space for this ritual. If appropriate, do it outside by the light of the moon.

Light the candle. Have the cup of water and paper and pen nearby.

I often like to open a ritual by acknowledging the sacred Indigenous land on which I am practicing. If you are also a guest (a settler on Indigenous land), find out the traditional names of the land and the peoples who originate from this place and bow to them, asking permission to begin your ritual and offering thanks and honor.

Hold the paper with the name on it in your hands. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, keeping your focus on the lost person. Breathe into every emotion that comes up, imagining you are shining a light on how you feel. Let everything be present side by side.

When this feels complete for you, write down the emotions that you feel on the piece of paper. The full moon is about allowing the fullness of feeling, so don’t censor yourself.

Remember your feelings are your feelings—they are not right or wrong, or good or bad. You are simply bringing them out into the light.

When you have finished your writing, hold your page or pages up to the light of the candle or the moon. Allow your feelings to be seen and held by the light of your ritual.

If it feels comfortable, place your hands over the top of your heart and say the following words: “I am held in the fullness of my feelings by the light of this full moon. I hold myself in the fullness of my feelings by the light of this full moon.”

When this feels complete for you, symbolically wash your hands with the cup of water, rinsing the heat of your emotions and letting go. Keep the paper in a safe place. Blow out the candle. Your first ritual is complete.

DAY 7 (Approximately): Waning Half Moon

Regret and Forgiveness

About a week after the full moon, the moon will be waning at half. Now is a time to be processing emotions, organizing, categorizing, and letting go. It is a preparation for the new beginning of the new moon. Here we consider forgiveness.

Keep in mind that forgiveness doesn’t come until it’s ripe and ready, so this might be more an intention to forgive than an actual forgiveness. That is okay. Taking the first step is like planting a seed—it will grow in its own time.

YOU’LL NEED:

  • A candle
  • The paper with your lost one’s name on it from the first night
  • A new pen and paper
  • A fireproof bowl partly filled with water
  • A cup of water

Find a quiet place for your ritual. Light the candle and do your land acknowledgment. Hold the paper from last week in your hands and close your eyes. Imagine the grieved person in front of you in as much detail as you can.

What do you regret about your time with this person? What do you wish you had done differently? Speak aloud to this person if you feel comfortable. Apologize sincerely for what you wish you had done differently.

Now imagine your younger self standing with the person you are grieving. Imagine yourself in as much detail as you can. See this younger self-making decisions, including the decisions you might regret. What would you like to say to this younger self? The invitation is to forgive this younger self, but be gentle: Forgiving yourself is often much harder than forgiving someone else.

Write down your regrets on a fresh piece of paper. You might write them as “I regret …” or “I forgive myself for … .” Use whichever feels more right for now.

Is there anything that you might feel angry with your lost person for? Anything that might need forgiving? If so, tell the person how you feel, either in your mind or out loud. If forgiveness is available, tell them you forgive them. If not, skip that part.

Write down these old hurts on another piece of paper. You may frame them as “I am angry with you for …” or “I forgive you for ….” Use whichever feels most true.

Check-in with how you are feeling in your body. Is there forgiveness available tonight? If so, it’s time to let go of the anger and regret. Carefully burn what you wrote over the fireproof bowl (reserving the name paper), allowing the regrets and forgiveness to transform into smoke and ash.

If you are not ready to let go of these feelings yet, hold on to the pieces of paper and keep them in a safe place. We will come back to them.

When you’re ready, gently wash your hands with the cup of water, symbolically letting go and inviting the cool touch of forgiveness.

Blow out the candle and safely dispose of the water and ash. This part of the ritual is complete.

DAY 14 (Approximately): New Moon

Who Am I After Loss?

With every major loss, there is a shift in identity. The person you were before the loss is different from the person you are now and the person you will be in the future. The new moon is a time for resting in the dark and planning for the future. It represents a new beginning, and here we can begin to imagine the new self after the loss. It can be painful to think of a future without your lost person, but the person you are grieving can and should inform how you change and grow.

The person is still with you in spirit in the future if you want them to be.

YOU’LL NEED:

  • A candle
  • A pen and paper
  • The paper with your lost one’s name on it from the first night
  • A new object that you like—a crystal, rock, piece of jewelry, etc.

Find a comfortable place for your ritual. Light the candle and do your land acknowledgment. Hold the object representing your loss in your hands. Close your eyes. Call to mind an image of yourself before the loss. See yourself in as much detail as you can, in some moment before the loss. What do you like about this person? Is there anything you dislike about this person or anything you would want to change?

When you’re ready, open your eyes. Put the object down beside the candle. Write down your observations about this old self—this identity which is now shifted in some way after the loss.

Now pick up the new object. Close your eyes again and see the darkness in front of you. Who would you like to be in the future? Who could you become in a world where the loss has, indeed, occurred? What would your lost person want for you in your future?

Imagine this possible self in as much detail as you can. Focus on the positive qualities of this possible self. Allow the new object to witness this imagining. When you’re ready, write down the qualities of this new self you might be able to become.

When this feels complete to you, blow out the candle to indicate the completion of the ritual. Keep your writings safe, along with the others from this ritual series. Keep the new object somewhere you can see it often, or wear it if that is possible.

DAY 21 (Approximately): Waxing Half Moon

What Do I Keep?

About a week after the new moon, we will be at a waxing half-moon. This is a time for action and forward momentum. Here, we build on the possibility of a new self while focusing on the gifts the lost person has left with us. Grief is an expression of love—it couldn’t be there if there wasn’t a deep love in the first place.

YOU’LL NEED:

  • A candle
  • The paper with your lost one’s name on it from the first night
  • The object representing your possible new self from last week
  • Pen and paper

Light the candle and do your land acknowledgment. Sit comfortably with both the object representing your loss and the new object representing your possible new self. The question to contemplate here is: “What do I keep?”

What did you gain from having known this person? What did you learn? How have you changed for the better thanks to this person’s presence in your life? What memories will you cherish? How will your future be better because of the time you had with this lost person? What do you know now that you didn’t know before?

When you feel ready, write down these lessons and gains.

When this feels complete for you, pick up the object from your last ritual again. It has witnessed this acknowledgment and is being infused with lessons from and gratitude for what you lost. Keep the object with you, solidifying it as a reminder of what you gained from what you lost.

Say the words “thank you” out loud. Blow out the candle. This part of the ritual is complete.

DAY 28 (Approximately): Full Moon

Letting Go

Finally, we return again to the full moon. Full moons represent wholeness and completion. The wheel of fate has spun, and we find ourselves here in the present. We can take this moment to honor the harvest of the work we’ve been doing in our lives and weed whatever has not borne fruit. Here, we honor our own grief journey, which started at the last full moon and complete the cycle.

YOU’LL NEED:

  • A candle
  • All the objects from your previous rituals A fireproof bowl filled partly with water
  • A jar
  • A favorite tree or patch of dirt

Light the candle and do your land acknowledgment. For this part of the ritual, it is particularly important to ask permission of the land.

Gather the objects and writings from your previous rituals. Observe them and reread the writings. Reflect on how you felt then and how you feel now, and how this journey has landed in your body.

Consider what you would like to keep from your writings and what you would like to let go of. You can always return to the symbolic act of letting go later if the time feels as yet unripe.

Gather the papers you feel ready to release. Carefully burn them over the fireproof bowl of water. Watch the paper burn in the flame, allowing your work on your grief to transform from something concrete to smoke, ash, and water. Finally, if you feel ready, burn the piece of paper with your loved one’s name on it. You are releasing this person from your grief.

When the burning is complete, blow out the candle, pour some or all of the ashy water into the jar, and bring it to your favorite tree or patch of dirt.

Choose the location carefully. You will be both burying and also planting the fruits of your grief. The earth will do what it does best: Transform death into life. Make sure it’s the right place for that by placing your hand on the spot and asking permission. If it doesn’t feel right, look further for a better place. We do not want to drown or pollute a young tree or a patch of grass that is too vulnerable to take our ashy water and grief.

When you’ve found the right place, pour the water out onto the earth. This is a funeral for your grief. Speak aloud whatever words of thanks and goodbye feel right to you.

Your grief ritual is complete. Go forward into the rest of your life with kindness and gentleness, remembering that you can return to these rituals anytime you need them.