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A High Sierra Family Ritual of Remembrance

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.

Sam Mack Meadow flower

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.

Sam Mack Meadow 2

Works Cited

2013 Alexander, Paul
Grief Song: http://www.griefsong.com/memorial.html

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About the Author

Patricia Johnston is the owner of Purple Lotus Coaching and a certified life coach with a specialty in grief and loss. She helps her clients release the pain of grief, find peace, joy, and life purpose and create their new normal after loss. Patricia's professional background includes work as a certified life coach, registered nurse, caregiver educator, caregiver support group facilitator, hospice organization consultant, and cultural anthropology professor who has studied grief and loss customs and rituals around the world. Additionally, Patricia has experienced many personal losses, including her husband of 34 years, Doug Johnston, a former Nevada City, California Family Practice doctor in 2007. After experiencing valuable grief coaching for her own loss, Patricia decided to share the wisdom and compassion gained from her experiences. To that end she studied life coaching with The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC)and opened her own practice, which, together with her engagement to fiancé Larry Casserly, has created a bright new chapter in her life. "The lotus, which rises up out of the mud to blossom above the water, is a cross-cultural symbol of transformation. To me the lotus’s transition from darkness to light represents the journey from grief to growth through the process of grief coaching.” ~Patricia Johnston www.purplelotuscoaching.com .

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