I celebrate my mom's birthday every year. See my post from her birthday earlier this year. My celebrations usually involve a trip to Dairy Queen to get what my mom used to call a "recommended daily dose of Dairy Queen."
|My ritual: Peanut Buster Parfait|
I also commemorate the anniversary of her death.
The practice of commemoration
My sense is that few Americans these days do much to commemorate the anniversaries of their loved ones' deaths. This is, however, a common practice in many cultures, especially in Asian countries.
I've been reading a little bit of Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion. It's not rigorous academic philosophy by any means, but de Botton makes a great point about the loneliness and isolation of grieving for many people in secular cultures today. This goes for religious people in predominantly secular cultures as well, but it's especially poignant for those of us who find ourselves without a religious community.
Learning from traditional religion
Many religious traditions provide communal support and structured processes to help individuals through the grieving process. But secular culture has as of yet offered comparatively little in the way of grief assistance (outside of therapy, anyway; I am in no way denying the benefits of mental healthcare, but we may need more than that). Americans, in particular, are both so afraid to talk about death and so entrenched in what I call the atomic theory of human nature that the idea of communal assistance with one's acknowledgement of a loved one's death is likely to be seen as pointlessly quaint at best and harmful at worst. "Why can't you just move on? Why do you burden others with your troubles?" some might ask. Of course, we do move on, but that doesn't mean we're not still grieving. And death is a burden we all share no matter how much we try to ignore it.
I agree with de Botton that traditional religions have a lot to teach us, even if we personally dispense with the beliefs and rituals of those religions (something the Richard Dawkinses of the world don't seem to understand). It also seems appropriate to learn from religion given my mom's Catholic identity, which always formed part of who she was but didn't incline her to the obnoxiously judgmental side of religion. As she always taught me, it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you're a good person.
We're all in this together
One of the greatest lessons of many religions is that we're all in this together. We all deal with death, so why not help each other through it? Or as one of my mom's favorite bands, The Beatles, might say, "I get by with a little help from my friends."
So what might contemporary secular versions of communal grieving look like? Jackie Oshry's "Why I Commemorate the Anniversary of my Father's Death on Social Media" makes an interesting suggestion about the use of social media as a communal grieving process. I humbly suggest that one might also use one's blog to commemorate one's loved ones. Commemorate = co + memory, remembering together?
This blog post and my maternal communion of ice cream may lack the depth and solemnity of many traditional religious customs and rituals, but they work just fine for me. So, if you like, please join me in commemorating those loved ones who are gone but who have made you who you are.