When I lost my first husband, I learned the significant power of creating ceremonies and rituals. I’m not talking about the kind of rituals used in organized religions, but about structured activities with an intention, be they for celebrating, grieving, commemorating, even shopping. For the first year after Bruce’s death, I would carry a picture of him on every trip I took, for business or pleasure and, holding the photo, I would set aside 10 minutes to sit and talk with him about my experience. It was a healing ceremony that helped me get through my personal grief process.
My mom, Marianne, passed away in 2010. This year on the third of May, Mom would have turned 90. Not long before Mom died, we talked about what she wanted to do for her 90th birthday if she were lucky enough to live that long. She said she wanted to go to her favorite resort on earth, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii. So on May 3rd, my husband, Gary, and I traveled there to celebrate Mom’s birthday with a special ritual we created together in her honor.
Mom loved the beach at Mauna Kea. On our first day at the hotel, we let Mom’s spirit guide us to a tranquil spot under a tree overlooking the pristine white sand and gentle waves lapping the shore. Gary decided that Mom should have a special flower every day because she cherished tropical blossoms. The first day’s flower was plumeria. In the evenings, we would walk to Mom’s beach spot at sunset or just afterwards, order a Mai Tai and then sit and talk with her and about her. We sang, “All Day, All Night Marianne.” For the second night’s ritual, with Hawaiian music playing in the background, I placed a fragrant tubarose lei in the tree and it remained there for the duration of our stay. In addition to plumeria and tubarose, each day Mom led us to choose flowers for the rest of her bouquet – white and torch red ginger, hibiscus and a stunning bird of paradise.
On the last day of the trip, while sitting under Mom’s tree, I mentioned to Gary that I was surprised we had not seen a single rainbow or a gecko. Within seconds, a gecko chirped in the tree and when I looked up to see if I could spot it, I noticed a huge, glorious rainbow over the golf course. It was as if my sweet, funny mom had made both of these things happen. The natural beauty of the beach and the divine serendipity made it a rare moment of pure bliss.
Gary and I started an end-of-day ritual 12 years ago. When we were both home from work, we would spend an hour just sitting in a special place like the front porch or the beach down the street or even in the man cave, and talking about the day. It was our “Ward and June Cleaver” time together before dinner. And then one day we didn’t make the time. That one day turned into a year. Our relationship suffered, no doubt in part because we had ceased our weekday ritual. Thankfully, we started it up again last year and we brought it with us to Hawaii to celebrate Mom. Our relationship is stronger now.
Never underestimate the power of ritual to improve your life, to help you connect with friends, cultivate stronger family relationships and build high-functioning work groups. You may find yourself creating a vibrant new tradition that might just define your life’s legacy.