Last month I hiked up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek to a camp at 5th Lake. The camp was located in the Eastern Sierra out of Big Pine, California. I was camping with with my late husband’s extended family (brothers and sisters-in-law, one niece and nephew) and my husband of six months, Larry. The trip marked my extended family’s 25th annual pack trip to the Eastern side of the Sierra.
This year we were camped within a day hike of 11,100 ft Sam Mack meadow, a spot the family has renamed “Doug’s Meadow”. My late husband Doug had hiked and photographed this high alpine meadow many times. It is a gorgeous spot, surrounded by the towering Palisade Peaks, carpeted with multi-hued wildflowers, and bordered by gleaming white glaciers. Two of us family members had Doug’s stunning, autographed photographs of Sam Mack Meadow hanging in our living rooms. Doug had enjoyed many picnic lunches, rock hopping, and glacier climbing with our family at Sam Mack Meadow over the years.
The family had not visited “Doug’s Meadow” since the year after he died in 2007. Instead we had been camping in other locations up and down the Eastern Sierra. When I learned the location of our camp this year I felt I should plan a family ritual of remembrance for our day hike up to his meadow. For the ritual I chose one of Doug’s favorite black stones that he liked to carry in his pocket, smooth and pleasing to hold. My plan was to pass his stone around to each member of our group, offering everyone an opportunity for a shared memory or story and then place it somewhere in the meadow.
According to Alexander (2013), rituals for remembrance assist those who are grieving by providing an opportunity for the acknowledgment and expression of feelings related to loss. Rituals of remembrance involve a symbolic act or action. Lighting a candle, planting a tree, or passing the loved ones favorite stone enriches the service through the power of the action. In the “doing” of the ritual we further involve all our senses and also bypass the critical mind to help us express our grief. The doing of a ritual also is carried with us when we leave the event. It helps facilitate and honor our grief in a very specific action.
As a widow of 6 years who has actively participated in my own ‘grief work’ and still feels connected by continuing bonds to my late husband, a certified, professional life coach with an emphasis in Grief Coaching, and a newly-wed of 6 months, I naively did not expect to be mowed over by a tsunami of grief when I saw “Doug’s Meadow,” but the truth is, I was. I was surprised that I was so overcome with emotion but also realized that I was experiencing what I taught my own clients, that “the emotions of grief are unpredictable,” that you “never get over it, you get through it,” that “love never dies.”
There were many tears to follow from the family during our ritual as we all passed and held Doug’s rock. My dear husband Larry started the ritual with loving words about Doug as he has come to know him through my kids and the family. We all took turns remembering his wonderful qualities of warmth, humor, and playfulness.
One of Doug’s brothers knew where the rock should be placed–in the middle of a shallow, glacial steam. Afterward we all removed our shoes and socks and dipped our feet in the freezing steam, some of us running across the stream, shrieking from red, frozen feet. Doug would have loved that.
2013 Alexander, Paul
Grief Song: http://www.griefsong.com/memorial.html