With levity in her voice, one participant described holding an online birthday party in which all invited guests wore hats (special clothing), lit a birthday candle to be blown out after Happy Birthday had been sung by everyone (participation and bearing witness).
Someone told the story of a woman painting in huge letters on the side of her house, visible to passing vehicles, “it’s my husband’s birthday today, please hoot when you pass.”
Another spoke of a couple who had expected to be joyously with their daughter for the birth of their long-awaited grandchild and how their extended network of family and friends created “altars” in their homes and burned candles. When labour started, there was an invitation to meditate together twice a day at specific times.
Attunement can be defined as bringing into harmony, in tune. These moments can bring people together, by doing something collectively, even if it is remotely. Mhlangu notes that: “As a country, we should set aside a day, a time, an hour, a moment … to collectively say a prayer, meditate, or anything that your respective religion dictates, to mourn the loss of your family member and South Africa’s deaths due to Covid-19. National Prayer or Time of Silence or Mediation should be an everyday occurrence as the daily statistics are released. We all need a moment to remember the deceased and support the families of those who cannot mourn traditionally.”
If you are experiencing, or have experienced the death of a loved one, here are some ways to mourn, even as physical distancing keeps us away from each other.
Set up a memory table to support your grieving process, a space where you display photos or put any object that you associate with that person, whether they are in hospital or deceased.
One workshop’s participant spoke of having stones in her garden, with each stone, differently shaped, representing someone and the memories she has of them. I also have plants and stones – the aloe vera is my late husband, the frangipani is my mother, the cycad is my aunt, the stone is my cousin. These nudge memories of what Maya Angelou called her entourage – the people who’ve believed in us, inspired us and whose memory we draw strength from.
Consider hosting an online ceremony. There’s no reason why you can’t do the whole service digitally with different speakers, a music playlist, psalms and poems readings, and prayers for the dead.
One Hindu participant also spoke of the plate left on the table for a certain number of days.
Ritual is essential to our psycho-social wellbeing. When something deprives us of our traditions, rather than feeling defeated or even possibly guilty, we need to work out what we can do differently to fill that damaging void.
And eventually, when this crisis has passed and we’ve dealt with what we’ve lost, we will be able to reflect and revisit our rituals, identify what served us well, and what can fall away. DM/ML
Helena Dolny is a leadership coach and author of Before Forever After: When conversations about living meet questions about dying. Ngiphiwe Mhlangu is a leading journalist and media strategist. Together they joined forces as founders of LoveLegacyDignity, a social enterprise which promotes life-affirming conversations in the face of our inevitable mortality.
Visit lovelegacydignity for more details and to register. If you would like to share your stories, ideas or suggestions with Helena, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit lovelegacydignity for more details and to register.