Grief and ritual : a pastoralperspective
This study was undertaken with the aim to investigate the value of ritual for pastoral care, with a specific focus on loss – mainly the loss of a loved one because of death.
Ritual is approached from a variety of perspectives in order to build a foundation for an understanding of the origins, functions and purposes of ritual. From this understanding of ritual, the effectiveness of ritual in the practice of pastoral care with the grieving is explored. Not only knowledge of ritual, but also the effect of death on those who are left behind and the process of grieving should be understood before the role of ritual in grief care can be investigated. The pastoral caregiver plays a guiding role in the practice of rituals in grief care. The bereaved should always be the main actor and the ritual should be planned in consultation with the person for whose benefit it is applied and performed.
A lack of knowledge concerning the effect of death on people and systems as well as the process of grieving, can lead to people – pastoral caregivers and family, friends and colleagues who form the support system of those in the grief process – doing more harm than good, even though they meant well. Knowledge and an understanding of the process of grieving can enhance the support offered both by pastoral caregivers and by support systems. Since grief work cannot be done in isolation, this study emphasizes the involvement of the supporting group or community of the bereaved. Pastors and the faith community supporting the grieving persons should also beware of and actively oppose damaging theologies with regard to death.
This study prefers ‘grief tasks’ that are to be completed, to ‘phases of grief’ through which the person goes, since the latter implies passivity on the side of the bereaved – something that ‘happens to’ them. ‘Grief tasks’, on the other hand, implies an active involvement in working through grief towards a desired outcome and a new
future that does not exclude the deceased from the narrative of the lives of the living, but includes it in a way that accepts the death and supplements the new life narrative with memories of the deceased. Rituals of remembrance are pivotal since remembering in a healthy way has healing power for those who grieve.
Ritual is found to be a very useful resource in pastoral care with the grieving and bereaved. A cognitive approach to healing is not sufficient. A cognitive-emotive approach is more appropriate, since it involves both mind and emotions. Ritual contributes a further aspect and speaks to a person’s whole being. Ritual can reach beyond words because it is symbolically laden and requires the active participation and performance of the bereaved. When grieving persons make the decision to deal with their loss actively, they will likely reach the desired outcome sooner and more effectively than would otherwise have been the case.