This sky lantern is for you, beautiful one, wherever you are. For your, (what do they call it?), birthday-in-heaven. Also, since the lanterns came only by the dozen, I’m mailing the other eleven to family and friends. So in this month before your birthday, you will get twelve lantern-launching ceremonies. If I could send you a dozen roses or a trillion chocolate Kit-Kat bars, I would. I love you. Lots. I didn’t really need to write this on the lantern; I’d already said it, in our driveway under an almost-full moon, to my daughter who died.
Long ago, the first rituals I created were funerals for dead birds. The neighborhood kids shared solemn words as we wrapped small creatures in Kleenex, with shriveled dandelions and daisies, and buried them in my mother’s rock garden. Later I created ceremonies, mostly around food, to acknowledge monumental changes in my life. We’re not talking séances or anything strange here. Rituals are simply small acts done to honor someone or recognize some event. We do rituals all the time. Like lighting candles on a cake and singing happy birthday. Like raising the flag. Planting a tree after a birth or a death. Clinking our glasses to toast someone.
For some reason, my most recent rituals almost always involve sending things UP. When my father died we gave his ashes to a friend, who had a small airplane, to toss them out over the Long Island Sound. For my daughter, we let loose a bunch of homing pigeons. Over the last five years, I’ve released balloons and butterflies for her, blown bubbles off high cliffs into the wind, read poems to the sun, and sang to the moon. Why, I wonder, do I keep looking UP for my daughter even though I found a page of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself among her things, the part where he wrote, “If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles”?
I’ll plant daisies, or roses, too, I tell her. It all helps. Rituals make me feel closer to my daughter. More connected. And all the singing, the lanterns, the birds, and butterflies I send UP – in the process, I’m lifting myself as well.
What other rituals might I do for the upcoming birthday? Or for the coming of spring and summer?