I awoke this morning with thoughts of rituals and the many forms they take in our lives, and so these thoughts led me here to write. Rituals are basically intentional activities that give value and meaning to our lives. As a Thanadoula and one who works with those transitioning at the end of life I witness daily how rituals play such an important part in our lives without us even thinking about it. Daily rituals take place in the little ways we do things; preparing meals, cleaning the house, our fitness routine, our work schedule. I know personally my daily rituals are vastly different in winter than they are in the warmer months.
Winter mornings find me wanting to stay in bed curled up with my cats and dog, relishing the warmth of the blankets, comfort of my pillows and cuddles with my pets. I move more slowly, dressing myself while looking out the window and waiting for the sun. Let the dog out back and turn on the kettle for coffee or tea… and so the day begins. In warmer months I rise with the sun, much earlier than the rests of the household! I dress quickly and head outdoors with the dog for a long walk as the sun rises, letting the cats outside to explore the world as it awakens.
For those at the end of life daily rituals are part of life, keeping somewhat the same but slightly changing. Caregivers arriving on specific days. Awaken at this time, perhaps take medications, watch television, try to eat something, drift in and out of sleep. Listen to music. Visit with family, then sleep again. Experiencing awareness of daily routines while preparing themselves for the end of this life and wondering about what is to come.
And the family is surrounded by ritual – perhaps unknown at the time, but actions repeated daily become such. Watching over their loved one while trying to maintain their own needs, dealing with therapists and workers coming into the home to assist with end of life care can be stressful, but over time a routine is developed. Or perhaps their loved one is now living in hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses, people coming and going in a seemingly never ending cycle. The partner left at home develops new rituals being alone, starting the day in a different way, perhaps holding on to personal routines such as house cleaning chores, visiting friends or having their hair done while maintaining daily visits to the hospital and facing their partner’s demise, knowing life as they have understood it is about to drastically change they are holding on to whatever rituals they can to recognize the familiar in their rapidly changing world.
And other rituals must be addressed – rituals surrounding spirituality or religion, end of life beliefs and wishes. Going to church on Sunday may be important to some people, while others find deep spirituality rising with the sun and meditating or exercising, or perhaps lighting a candle or some incense and praying, or by walking a labyrinth or being in nature. Rituals at end of life vary among different cultures, from very formal and sombre gatherings to celebrations of song and dance.
When thinking of Advanced Care planning we need to take personal rituals into account. How do we live and experience our lives on a day to day basis? If something physical would change drastically, what is our limit as to how far we are willing to accept medical intervention? When do we simply say no – we have had enough? And as for end of life plans, how do we wish to be remembered? What about a legacy project – something we can leave behind to tell our story and share part of ourselves with loved ones? What about end of life care, or perhaps funeral arrangements – or even NO funeral arrangements? All of this is food for thought.
Our lives are filled with rituals of many sorts, some to which we hold fast and others that are more flexible in nature. The way we perceive the world around us is influenced by our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual state of being. Sometimes holding on too tight to a set way of doing things or a firm belief may limit us in the way we experience various aspects of our life – perhaps changing rituals can release limitations and bring more joy to our daily way of living. Today we should take some time to think about how daily rituals affect our lives and whether there is a way to change them to improve our state of being. Maybe play some music while you clean the house, or for more structure create a weekly list of chores that will be easier to adhere to. Let go of a rigorous fitness routine for one day and simply turn up the music and dance for an hour! Take time away from the busyness of life, turn off electronics, light a candle or some incense and sit and meditate for an hour. Rituals are pathways that lead us to experience more balance and calm while we grow in our sacred work of connecting with others and ourselves and experience greater success on all levels. Let’s think about making our rituals work for us as we move forward and enjoy living our lives – blessed be your journey xo