NY Times writer Abby Ellin shared an insightful piece recently about the power of ritual. Her story examined the growing occurrence of “divorce ceremonies,” which are just what you think they are. Lots of hugs, nature, vows and perhaps, even a ring. The events are sometimes lavish and always public. The women commit themselves to their re-found single life with the same level of pomp that they used to commit to their ex-spouses.
I totally get it.
Several years ago I participated in a pregnancy loss retreat that was developed along similar lines of thinking. Only in this case, the more apt comparison isn’t a wedding, but a funeral. It was definitely an occasion for mourners to say ‘goodbye’ and hopefully, gain a bit of closure.
Ten women —strangers until that day— spent an entire Saturday sharing their stories and pain. Most were like me, childless by chance or happenstance. One was a 40-something mother still devastated by an abortion she’d had years before. One, I think, had delivered a stillborn baby, the result of her only pregnancy.
From the start it was clear that we were each among the walking wounded. We looked just fine on the outside. On the inside? Better not to look.
The retreat’s most powerful session for me featured solitary walks through an outdoor labyrinth. As each woman began to walk, a gong rang one time as she spoke the name of her unborn child. (Not one woman had to think hard about it: every one of us knew exactly what we would have named our child.) And, although labyrinths look easy, after a few twists and turns, the only easy thing is understanding how the path serves as a form of meditation.
At the center of the maze, each NotMom put a farewell gift to that unborn child on the grass. (I left stuffed Mickey Mouse and Pooh dolls I’d bought in Disneyland in 1982 and carefully tucked away in a trunk for the baby “destined” to come within a few years.) Then, we each walked out of the labyrinth empty-handed.
As amazing as that day was, I’ve been unable to convince the facilitator to repeat it. She received healing from the experience, too, but she doesn’t look forward to repeated performances. Of course, there was nothing we did that day that was unique at all, and yet the 10 of us agreed that we went home lighter, brighter, and ready to start the rest of our lives without the old, heavy baggage.
At the time, I thought the power of the day was communion with other NotMoms. Now, I believe peace came from the ritual itself. At last, a public honoring of something that was so important to me, and yet basically hidden from public sight.
Rituals aren’t limited to what The Powers That Be say they are. What’s tucked away in your heart that needs to be honored? Celebrate or say goodbye formally, with intention and design.