Christa Ovenell is a funeral director, end-of-life doula and educator with Death’s Apprentice. She recently shared with us how having Be Ceremonial in her pocket gives her the confidence to step into grief spaces feeling more inspired and empowered.
How Does a Death Doula Use Ritual?
Months ago, I was asked to facilitate a session for a group of mothers who had lost their sons in Afghanistan. I said yes without hesitating, as I know how important it is to come together as a community to grieve. Yet, I also shared with the host that I don’t consider myself a grief expert. I said that I wouldn’t want to create a lecture on loss for a group of women who essentially hold PhDs in grief.
I asked if she was open to me co-creating a learning experience focused on ritual and ceremony. This time, it was the host’s turn to offer an unhesitating “Yes!”
I’ll be completely honest, I was nervous about this session. As an end of life doula, community death educator, and licensed funeral director, I often find myself at the edges of my own comfort level in professional settings. There’s no manual for the kind of work that I do, and the consequences of getting it wrong can be significant.
Yet, the reason I was so quick to say yes to this wonderful experience was because I knew I had Be Ceremonial in my back pocket.
I had hundreds of rituals at the ready, ideas I could draw from to help guide our conversation and connect us. I also had a ceremony roadmap that could help me create a shared learning experience unlike any they’d been part of before.
The group I was facilitating was nearing the end of a long, full day. I couldn’t help but feel that my presentation was standing between them and a delicious dinner. They’d spend the day rekindling old connections and welcoming new women into their group. I was stepping into a very sacred space, and I wanted my time with them to feel meaningful.
Daily Rituals When Grieving
We started with a reflection on their children, spending some time reconnecting with memories and stories. I then shared what I’d learned about the importance of ritual and ceremony in helping me make sense of big and small events along life’s path, especially as it relates to grief and loss.
I drew on one of the daily rituals in the App that invites us to notice glimmers, or moments that spark joy or awe.
Glimmers are the opposite of triggers; they help us connect with positive memories and be mindful of the present moment. I spoke about the glimmers they might notice over the course of a day, the small joys that might help them remember their sons with softness and gratitude.
We finished with one of Be Ceremonial’s rituals that I find myself turning to often: The Two Sided Coin.
I took a bit of time to explain the ritual, but find that over-explaining it can complicate things. To begin, I asked folks to think about two feelings they were holding in connection to their child that seemed to be in opposition or tension to one another. Next, I told them to distill those feelings down into two words and write each word on either side of the paper coins I brought.
It was a tender, quiet moment in the room as everyone contemplated their words.
I’ve noticed that sometimes people are worried about doing the ritual wrong or not understanding the assignment, which often means they’re fearful about relaxing into discomfort.
Soon though, everyone was decorating the paper coins, bringing light, life, and literal colour to their chosen words. Once everyone was done creating their coin, I gently guided them through the ritual.
The Two Sided Coin Ritual
- Invite each guest to hold one side of the coin in their left hand, noticing the word they chose for a few moments. Encourage them to feel the emotions connected to that word, and to not to try to solve or fix anything. Instead, welcome those feelings in for a few moments or a few breaths.
- Then ask them to hold the other side of the coin in their right hand, focusing on the emotions connected to the opposing word. Encourage them not to push away any competing emotions, as we often do when grieving, but instead to lean into the other side of their experience.
- Finally, invite them to bring their hands together and hold both sides of the coin at the same time ~ holding polarities. Take a few deep breaths and allow these seemingly opposing feelings to co-exist in at once.
The Power of Ritual and Ceremony
It’s an incredible feeling to watch people as they concentrate first on one word and all that it means to them, and then the other. I could clearly see the way these women held positive and negative emotions in their bodies; smiles appeared, shoulders softened, brows furrowed, and tears came as we slowly and purposefully invited these emotions in.
When I invited the women to bring their hands together, holding both sides of their coins at once, I heard a few small gasps around the room.
When we were done, the room still felt tender and quiet ~ yet something had shifted. There was a new strength that surrounded these incredible women. We spent some time sharing our words, and how the experience impacted us. Even the folks who had been worried about ‘doing it wrong’ said that they were moved by the simplicity of the exercise.
It was a perfect end to their day. Our time together reinforced their innate knowledge and deepened their loving connections for themselves and for each other. By actually ‘doing’ ceremony instead of just talking about it, I was able to share a level of intimacy that would never be possible at a regular speaking engagement.
Having Be Ceremonial In Your Pocket
As someone who is often called to be present for a very short time during periods of unimaginable difficulty in the lives of near strangers, I can’t overstate how meaningful the Be Ceremonial community is for me. If you don’t have Be Ceremonial in your pocket, you don’t know what you’re missing!
I use Be Ceremonial’s app often in my professional work and in my personal life. If you’re someone who supports folks who are grieving or during times of change or transition, I recommend Be Ceremonial as a tool of the trade. It’s so helpful to have everything in one place, at your finger tips when you need it.