Soon after my father passed way, my life was full of constant observation. I was in a perpetual state of recognizing the roles and rituals my family and I were a part of. In her book, "Our Secret Territory: The Essence of Storytelling," Laura Simms describes ritual as "an activity that evokes the sacred...ritual confirms our deepest human values; the presence of shared mystery; the magic of language; a knowledge or opinions; inspiration for growth; awareness of death; and the continuity of life." Rituals and ceremonies have always been a part of Hindu tradition as it bonds us to a higher power and spirituality which in turn grounds us in the humanity of life.
Within twenty-four hours of his passing, we had contacted a pundit (a person who has mastered Hindu rituals) to bless my father's body before cremation. This ritual along with a Tibetan prayer by one of our caregivers helped us sit with the grief. It started the building of a bridge towards acceptance of this momentous transition. We followed this occasion by witnessing cremation and holding a church service where others could share in the remembrance of my father's life. In an unexpected but needed next step, my sister and I designed our own mala beads that included a rudraksha (a common bead found on malas) from a necklace my father had worn for many years. It was our way of holding a sacred attachment to him and welcoming the new by the process of creation. Allowing myself to move through all of these rituals, sometimes gently picking myself up from the heaviness of it all, encouraged my healing.
Grief is universal but how we navigate it is not. Whether you are staring at the door of grief, placing your hand on the knob or moving through the other side, grief is unequivocally one of the most colorful terms we as a human force are a part of. It can roar vociferously, be quiet and withdrawn, accepting and nurturing or resilient and unwavering in its stance. In whatever way it makes its way to your heart, it is personal and uniquely yours which is ultimately what makes it universal.
Ritual is the lighthouse to grief. Its voice summoned me to emote, to write, to create and to rise up in this world. Part of this exploration encompassed rummaging through my life's course. I wanted to know who I was and how I was capable of witnessing and caring for my father throughout his twelve years of illness. What had this experience of caregiving made of me? Essentially, I ruminated on the question of, "who am I?" I certainly was not the same young woman prior to my father's illness.
Story is medicine as many indigenous cultures believe. I grew up with stories providing the narratives for me to comprehend more about the Hindu customs and traditions, which was also a means to connect to the deep rooted nature of my parents struggles and fulfillments as well as my own. I have often reverberated back the power of these stories in moments of healing and reflection.
We have within us generations of stories that have survived and made its place within our families, communities and souls. As caregivers, we have critical influence in that the messages of our stories are passed down to the generations that will follow. As we care for the many in our lives, we also must devote care to how we share our stories with ourselves and with others. With that, we leave a valuable legacy in which our stories delicately and authentically serve a purpose in confirming the worth of persevering through life. Truly embodying this care is the genesis of ritual.