“What kind of rituals did you do?” a friend asked, peering at me from the corner of one eye, like I was talking about voodoo or séances. But there’s nothing mystical about rituals. They are simply small acts done to honor someone or to remember an event. We do rituals all the time. Like lighting candles on a cake and singing happy birthday. Like raising the flag. Feasting on Thanksgiving. Graduations and marriages are rituals. Rituals can be private or public acknowledgements. They can follow age-old traditions or be unique responses to mark a special moment. There are rituals of joy and rituals for healing. To create a ritual, you just do something to make a meaningful connection to whomever or whatever you want to commemorate.
“Well, the whole trip to the Rocky Mountains was a tribute to my daughter who died,” I told my skeptical friend. “I threw her jewels off the highest cliffs I could find, sang her songs, and blew bubbles into the wind. I read my manuscript aloud to her, a few chapters each day, by a lake. There were chocolates. Candles. And on the last evening, I stood watching the sun set over the elk field as I listened to the CD she left me.”
Long before my daughter died, my first rituals were funerals for dead birds. The neighborhood kids shared solemn words as we wrapped small creatures in Kleenex with shriveled dandelion buds, and buried them in the tiny space between the back of a garage and my mother’s rock garden. Later, rituals focused on the changing seasons. In the fall there was apple picking, pumpkin carving, the annual cooking and freezing of hearty soups, and traveling the countryside to view the fall colors.
The beginning of October is the time for the bittersweet annual ritual of closing the season at my mother’s summer home. My sisters and I gathered in Massachusetts the past weekend. I packed up the old philodendron plant that lives on the porch during the warm months and returns with me to Ithaca for the winter. My sisters raided the closets for cold-weather coats. And then we all made the rounds to say goodbye to Hoadley Gallery, the Shear Design Hair Salon, and Chez Nous Bistro. Until next summer.
“Cheers!” We raised our wineglasses and clinked them heartily. For three days we feasted and toasted. It was our mother’s 90th birthday.