Celebrating Life During Tough Times, by Elizabeth Owens
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
There is an old saying that advises us to turn the lemons that life deals us into lemonade. No matter what age we find ourselves, life does, on occasion, present us with difficult challenges. I prefer to consider these challenges lessons in growth—and our growth comes in all sizes, shapes, and colors.
Sometimes a birthday is the bugaboo that gets us down. We don't like the idea that we are turning thirty, forty, or fifty. We see these markers as a delineation of old, no matter which decade we are in. When we are twenty-eight, forty looks ancient. When we are forty-five, sixty-five appears to be over the hill. But let us turn seventy-five years of age, and fifty looks pretty good to us
An impending divorce may be our biggest challenge of the moment. Being thrust back into the working world as a single mom is not appealing. Supporting and caring for children individually makes us quake in our Manolo Blahniks. Being in the dating scene again brings fear, yet facing loneliness is not our idea of fun either.
Living in a home that has become an empty nest is not a pleasant adjustment to make. Gone are the days where the home was a sanctuary that held children bubbling with joy, anticipation, and love for life. Now there is a couple living alone, perhaps having stayed together for the sake of the kids. Maybe there's an individual with too much time on her hands now that the last child has flown the nest.
The purpose of the book, Women Celebrating Life, is to show women how to gain a different perspective on what they perceive to be negative situations. They learned that through ceremony they could celebrate the not-so-good times. Sure, it was easy to celebrate the wonderful events in their lives, such as marriage and the birth of a baby, but losing a loved one was another story.
With the potential of war on the horizon, we all are focusing on potential loss, be it loved ones, freedoms or safety. By applying the tools shown in Women Celebrating Life, we can adjust to the less-than-pleasant circumstances in that area of our lives as well, and come to a more positive perspective.
Perhaps you wonder why a person would want to celebrate a situation in his or her life that is not pleasant? To find that answer, we have to understand ceremonies. There are many kinds of traditional ceremonies or rituals that are performed in our lives. For instance, weddings are joyous ceremonies, as well as baptisms, and graduations. Funerals and memorials are also ceremonial in nature.
Societies have always practiced ceremonies in one form or another throughout history.
The ancients celebrated everything: the full moon, harvests, the sowing of seed, and solstices, to name just a few. Ceremonies convey reverence, gratitude, and honor. They are positive practices that can help women today, and men, evoke self-love within and positive acknowledgments. Through ceremony we can heal our spirits and potentially create new realities simply by choosing how we perceive events in our lives.
Women can glorify their circumstances and manifest a uniquely fulfilling existence by celebrating events in life that perhaps they never realized were worthy of celebration. In the changing of our perception, we open ourselves to wondrous possibilities and magnificent happenings with benefits that are everlasting.
A newly divorced woman can change her perspective from angry and vengeful to one of opportunity. It's a matter of choosing to see things differently. Choice. We all have choice. The attitude we should adopt is, "I may not have a choice about this circumstance, but I do have choice about how I respond."
Remember the movie Carrie, starring Sissy Spacek? What a horribly, frightening experience she went through in the girl's locker room when her body suddenly decided to mature. The jeering teenage girls exacerbated the embarrassment and fear caused by Carrie's bleeding body. Had Carrie been blessed with an understanding, enlightened mother, she never would have felt shame and fear. Carrie epitomizes the result of the wrong way for a parent to handle approaching adolescence.
I have received many compliments regarding the Puberty chapter in Women Celebrating Life. What has the potential to be a difficult time for a pubescent girl can be transformed into a beautiful celebration of life. At this age, everyone has a desire to grow up and get older. What better example of maturing into a woman can there be than when a girl has her first menstruation? This is the perfect situation to glorify and celebrate! By assisting our daughters, granddaughters, and/or nieces with their transition, we potentially can ease the crossing from childhood into the mysterious realms of womanhood.
At the opposite end of that spectrum is menopause, which brings hot flashes! Better yet, we can choose to call them power surges; it's more positive. There is nothing fun about menopause, unless we choose to make it fun. In the Sisterhood of Menopause chapter in Women Celebrating Life, the women who are more knowledgeable, having been menopausal for a while, are helpful to other women in a health food store. They suggest herbs to cool brewing temperatures and chill emotional outbursts. We can't change the fact that, as women, we have to go through menopause, whether it's naturally or surgically induced. But we can choose to see it differently and turn those lemons into a lemonade drink that won't make us pucker quite so much.
Sometimes we need to release and just plain let go in order to heal our delicate emotions. We are being asked in times like these to bring closure to a situation that is aggravating us or disturbing our emotional balance. We can't change the circumstance, but, again, we can certainly choose to place a positive view on it.
The empty nest is a time in many women's lives that can be very stressful. Their role in life has changed. They aren't needed, as they once were, to tie shoelaces, mend torn clothes, or play doctor to a booboo on the knee. The kids are grown and have lives of their own. Mom simply isn't needed for all those little duties. The only thing asked of mom now is probably to occasionally send money. What's a gal to do? "Who am I," she may ask?
The answer is all in the perspective one takes. Mom has to release her former role and expectations, then focus on the positive new life she is being presented with. Now mom has time to spend on herself. She can go back to work or school, enroll in elective courses to learn Spanish or how to sculpt, and spend time working out at the gym. Maybe mom has always had a desire to have her own business. Now she can turn one of the kid's bedrooms into an office for that purpose.
A couple facing an empty nest together can rekindle their love life. They can return to the days when lovemaking happened spontaneously anywhere in the house that they chose. Candlelight dinners can be a regular event once again. The couple can take weekend getaways whenever they choose or spend long afternoons at a gallery or museum. This is an opportunity to rediscovery each other and life.
Celebrating an event that is painful is more challenging. But in so doing, we learn a new perception and heal our weary souls. We are able to pick ourselves up and get on with life.
When we have spouses, children, and friends serving their country in the military, we recognize that they can be at risk. Freak accidents happen, even when we are at peace. Helicopters plunge from the sky due to a malfunction. An explosives accident can occur during routine training. It happens. But if our leaders send those we love into an armed conflict, our fears are increased above the norm.
Our adrenaline races each time there is a news broadcast with reports of losses. Our eyes are fastened to the television set, our hearts praying that when the military unit is announced it won't be the one including our son, daughter, husband, or friend.
How does one celebrate the loss of a loved one due to war? It sounds like a cruel joke, celebrating death. How is that even possible? And what is the point?
The point of any celebration of so-called bad happenings is to release our pain and heal our heart. We must carry on with our lives, even though that will be difficult. No one is expected to fluff off the death of a loved one, but they can use tools to get them through the process of mourning. People can attempt to see things differently, through positive eyes. This is the healing process.
One important element to remember is, the son, daughter, spouse, or friend chose this course. They were not drafted into service, they willingly volunteered. For many, this was their heart's desire. Young men and women felt honored to be considered worthy enough to protect the United States from attack by other countries or go into battle in a foreign country to defend less capable people.
Those who perish in the line of duty, chose to serve their country to the best of their abilities. They each knew when they enlisted that there was always the possibility of being called to fight in an armed conflict. That potential is obvious when one serves in the armed forces. The risks were apparent, and yet, they chose to enlist. We must honor that decision, because it was their decision to make, not ours.
We must also remember that those who die in a declared war or armed conflict, perished while doing something they believed was an important duty. Perhaps they even loved being in the armed forces and enjoyed the challenge of war. We cannot fault anyone for doing what he or she loves to do.
If we look at this from a karmic point of view, we realize this was the ultimate choice each soul made when entering into the body. Each chose the family that would provide the best foundation for the karma they needed for their spiritual advancement. War was part of that equation and, therefore, the subsequent death to the body occurred at the proper time. This was their time to return to the spirit world, even though those who were left behind deemed it to be too soon. This was the soul's time to go.
If we have lost someone to an armed conflict, that means we did not have the opportunity to say goodbye. Therefore, a longing to say goodbye frequently accompanies the grieving process. It's like unfinished business, and closure needs to be accomplished. We can find the closure we desire through ceremony. We can create the opportunity we missed to say goodbye.
Should you find yourself in a situation where someone you love has died in an armed conflict or a declared war, here is a ceremony that will help to ease the pain and give you closure.
This ceremony can be performed alone or in a group, joining together family members, friends, and loved ones. The time chosen should be when it is convenient to all concerned, and all present are not under the influence of any intoxicants. If this is to be a group ceremony, participants should bring something as a memento of the deceased.
Select a wooden table for your altar. It should be a fair sized table, but not as large as a dining room table. A dining room buffet would work well or the top of a chest of drawers. Choose whatever table you have that would be most suitable.
Use sandalwood incense to cleanse the table of any energy that would normally be clinging to it. The idea is to allow the smoke from the incense to swirl over the table area. This can be accomplished by swirling the incense stick or cone in its holder in a sideways figure eight. Then place the incense in its holder on the table.
Candles are important in any ceremony. The candles can be tapers, pillars, or encased within a glass container, or you can use a combination of any of these. Use the following colors: to represent love, pink; for healing, green; for peace, blue; and purple for spirituality. Pass each candle through the smoke of the incense and arrange each one however you wish on the altar.
A small dish or glass of water, preferably in crystal or silver, would be used to attract spiritual energy. Salt may be displayed in a similar utensil to represent the earth. The candles signify fire and the incense is the air. Therefore, all the elements are in place.
The following stones, or as many as you can gather, should be used for this ceremony: amethyst, agate, citrine, fluorite, garnet, jasper, jet, moonstone, rock crystal, rose quartz, snow quartz, sapphire, and/or tourmaline. Scatter the stones around the containers of candles, salt, water, and incense.
Use an object for religious or spiritual acknowledgment. For instance, if he or she was a Christian, a cross would be used; a Buddhist, a statue of Buddha would be appropriate. If there was not a particular religious preference, yet he/she was spiritual, then select an object that you think the deceased would have chosen. A picture of a tree may be a perfect representation.
Be sure to include a portrait-style picture of the deceased. If there is one of the person in uniform, that's perfect. Otherwise, include snapshots of the deceased in uniform or wearing fatigues. If others are joining the ceremony, they may wish to bring favorite pictures of the deceased.
Personal articles of the deceased should also be included on the altar. For instance, a ball cap, scarf, jewelry, hair ornament, or a picture of a special pet. Now the altar is prepared for the ceremony. The preparation may be done ahead of time or in the presence of all who are gathered to participate.
Since many people may be mourning the loss of this person, I have created this ceremony to accommodate several participants. If one individual is performing the ceremony, that person would perform all the actions.
Begin by lighting another incense if the first has burned away. Swirl the incense around each participant until all have been cleansed. Return the incense to the altar. Recite in unison the following prayer:
"Mother, Father, God (or any other terminology you prefer), We who are gathered here this day, seek peace in our hearts and an upliftment of our spirits. A loved one has been taken from us, and for this reason we grieve. Our hearts are weighed heavy under the burden of this sorrow. Please relieve our stress and our pain. Transform this grief into understanding, our pain into peace within, and the sorrow we share into joy. Open our eyes to the beauty of this event so we may go with a peace-filled heart. Amen."
All gathered should now either sit on the floor in front of the altar or in a chair. Soft music would be appropriate to accompany this part of the ceremony. Everyone should close their eyes and take three, long, slow breaths and exhales. Whoever is most gifted should lead a short meditation for the rest. The object is to be relaxed and open to the following suggestion. Afterwards, someone should read the following passage while the others remain with their eyes closed.
"Visualize _________ in uniform. See him/her happy and peaceful, with a smile across the face. Silently, or aloud, say goodbye to ________. Say all the things you wish you had had the opportunity to say, most particularly, I love you. And when you have finished, open your eyes."
When everyone has completed their goodbyes and has had sufficient time to gather their composure again, one by one, have each participant place on the altar the object they brought as a memento of the deceased. After each placement, have the individual say, "A peaceful transition to ______. May her/his spirit be blessed to the highest good."
Afterwards, recite in unison a closing prayer.
"Blessed Spirit, thank you for the opportunity to say goodbye. Please keep _______safe and warm by your side. I know he/she is whole, happy, and healed now. There is no pain in death, no fear, only joy and peace. I rest easy in the knowledge that _____is within your loving embrace. Amen."
The altar may remain in place for as long as you feel appropriate. All the memento items should be returned when the altar is dismantled. The healing energy of the ceremony will remain on the articles.
I hope this goodbye ceremony has helped to ease the grief a little. Please read Women Celebrating Life for more ceremonies intended to uplift and heal a variety of situations.
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2003. All rights reserved.