Farewells Need A Rite

Farewells need a ritual

We suffer several losses throughout our life. From the moment of birth, when we have to abandon our mother’s womb, until we die and say goodbye to life, we are forced to say goodbye to loved people, places, situations.

Let’s say goodbye to childhood and youth. We say goodbye to our parents, our siblings, our sweethearts and our friends. Let’s say goodbye to enchanting places and unforgettable moments.

Life is a succession of endings and beginnings. What is certain is that everything that begins must end, to make room for something new; however, we are not always ready to say goodbye. And it’s not always a happy ending.

Throughout history, societies have built rituals, ceremonies and special events to say goodbye. However, it now seems that there is not the time and willpower to do this, which worsens the leave and losses.

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One of the first gestures of prehistoric man was the creation of funeral rites. Unlike the other species, the human being began to give meaning to death and separation from the people who were part of its core. The first men began to bury the dead, because they understood that death was an event of fundamental importance.

These men wondered about the meaning of death and gave themselves explanations based on magic: they established that life did not end that way and, for this reason, they drew shapes to say goodbye to the one who was leaving and to cheer those who remained.

After that, new rites were added, almost always initiation rites: the beginning of puberty, couple life, harvest season, etc. However, celebrating a beginning also means consecrating an ending. All these rites persisted over time; they evolved and adapted to the peculiarities of each culture.

The rite in actuality

In today’s society, however, there are fewer and fewer rites to announce the advent of something new or to greet a situation that disappears. It could be said that the only surviving rite is the funeral one.

However, in the contemporary world, even the rite to greet the dead is increasingly in the hands of the laws of the market, rather than in those of broken relatives : there are prefabricated formulas, the funeral home takes care of everything and the relatives are passive figures.

Not to mention those goodbyes that are almost as bad as death, but are not as final: divorce, a child leaving home, a breakup of a relationship, etc.

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What are the farewell rites for?

A rite serves mainly to emphasize the fact that we are facing a special event. A non-ordinary fact, which deserves a pause along the way to be received, digested and to prepare for change.

Rituals and ceremonies help to give meaning to an event. In the case of farewell rites, they serve to make sense of parting with a loved one, be it a personal decision or death.

A farewell rite underlines the fact that the event in question will change our life, that afterwards we will no longer be the same. The event must therefore be elaborated symbolically, to facilitate acceptance.

To say goodbye, we need to adopt a new perspective in the face of the past and the future, change everything that used to be before and replace it with something new, something we have not yet built. Farewell also implies the awareness of having to accept suffering and process it.

The consequences of the absence of rites

In today’s society, there is not always room for rituals. Often  people have to experience the drama of separation in total solitude. They are only told that they have to move on, but no one wants to see them complain and express their pain.

They are told not to cry, to try to think of something else, to do activities that distract them. Then, if the pain does not heal over time, it is avoided. In these conditions, it is easy to go from pain to bitterness : the grieving person knows that he cannot change the facts, but, at the same time, he cannot adapt. He ends up suffering from depression and having difficulty relating to others.

The ideal would be that every farewell had its own ritual. In the contemporary world, everyone is likely to have to devise private farewell rituals because, in general, hardly anyone wants to think about death or separation.

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Farewell rites are healing

Performing a farewell rite is curative, because it allows you to look loss in the face and is a first sign of acceptance. Also, it helps to bring together the laces that may be untied at the time of the end.

You can use a symbolic object and let it symbolically be consumed by the fire, to say goodbye, or you can write a letter, a poem, to say goodbye. You can collect the memories of those who are leaving and arrange them in a special place to keep them.

All the small rituals that allow you to say goodbye allow you to better endure the pain.

Images courtesy of Catrin Welz-Stein

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