9 Simple Mourning Rituals For The Modern Griever

We’ve all heard the term “morning ritual”, which is an important part of the day for many of us.

But what about a “mourning ritual”?

Dr Alan D Wolfelt describes a mourning  ritual as a “symbolic activity that helps us, together with our families and friends, express our deepest thoughts and feelings about life’s most important events.”

Mourning rituals have also been psychologically proven through studies to help ease the pain and burden of grief and connect others through a time of loss. 

With religion on the decline in the US, and spirituality on the rise, many folks are looking for ways to celebrate their loved ones and also move through their grief in new, unique and meaningful ways. And as funeral professionals, it’s our role to help provide the space or these rituals to take place.

“Mourning rituals and ceremonies are meant to bring people together, to take the hands of those mourning the loss and lead them astray from isolation,” says Tracey Wallace from Eterneva.

So whether you’re a funeral professional interested in building your personalization toolbox, or an individual grieving the loss of a loved one, check out these 9 simple mourning rituals to try today:


1. Cook the loved one’s favorite meal

“Food for the soul” is a ritual name used by the Mayans at the time of death, where they feed their departed loved ones maize in their mouth after they pass. It was known to fuel them in their journey into the afterlife. Why not take a modern approach to this ancient ritual and bring together friends and family of the departed for the loved one’s favorite meal? Not only is this a simple ritual to do, but also coming together over a meal helps open those who are grieving up through the senses. 


2. Carry a remembrance item

Whether it’s a handkerchief, lighter, watch, or piece of jewelry, invite the family to bring their loved one’s favorite items and host a small ritual where each family member talks about what that item means to them. Have them carry the item on them for as long as they’d like, serving as a daily reminder that brings comfort. 


3. Create art in the loved one’s memory

Have you ever tried coloring therapy before? Usually involving mandalas or repetitive designs, coloring therapy has been proven to be therapeutic for the anxiety faced after a loss of a loved one. Whether you offer families a space to create their own work of art, or you use a coloring book created just for grief healing, notice how helpful art can be as a mourning ritual!


4. Have a giveaway ritual

In ancient Lakota funeral traditions, there was a ‘giveaway’ in which people were encouraged to take one of the deceased possessions because among traditional Lakota, generosity is more important than possession. In honor of this tradition, encourage the family and friends to have a giveaway event of the loved one’s belongings, perhaps along with a potluck style lunch. This gives everyone a chance to share the meaning and stories that lie in the loved one’s belongings, creating plenty of space for open hearts and laughs.


5. Burn a stick of sage

Although it might sound a bit “whoo whoo”, sage is an herb that has been used for millennia by Native Americans for it’s cleansing properties. As simple as it sounds, burning a stick of sage could be a beautiful touch to a ceremony, or a ritual all on its own.

Below, an excerpt from Elephant Journal shares a deeply personal ritual involving the burning of sage:

I brought a sage bundle over to the house. We lit the fragrant branches together and I showed him how to wave the sage in front of him so that its smoke billowed. 

“Call out to M’s spirit in your heart,” I told him, “so that it can float softly on the wings of the smoke to another place of rest.” The ritual of the sage allowed him to speak the silent words of his heart and to let go more easily.”


6. Create an altar for the loved one

Although altars aren’t necessarily hugely popular in the West, more and more young people are beginning to tap into the Eastern traditions of creating an altar. An altar is a space where you collect meaningful things that represent or symbolize something sacred to you. 

You can invite each family member to bring in an item from the loved one, and photos, and leave them in a certain place in the surviving families’ home for a certain period of time (at least a week). 

Perhaps you could help your families create an altar for the loved one together, involving some of the rituals above to do so, and also incorporating some of the rituals below to take it to the next level. 


7. Light a candle a certain time of the day

The simple act of lighting a candle can be a very powerful ritual for remembering a loved one… especially when many people are present. Perhaps you can light the candles and place them on the loved one’s altar… or even light a candle as a personal ritual at certain times of the day or week as a reminder of the loved one.


8. Write the loved one a letter

Unfortunately, in some cases, there are many things left unsaid when someone departs… especially unexpectedly. Holding a mourning ritual where friends and family write all of their unsaid words and blessings to the departed is deeply moving for all involved. You can take the letters and bury them with the loved one, or even burn them to release them.


9. Go into their favorite nature spot

Everyone knows nature heals! Take your families on a field trip to one of the loved one’s favorite nature spots. Have a picnic, a sharing circle, and talk about the best and favorite memories and stories shared in this spot. Enjoy the company of Mother Nature along the way, too.

Although these rituals are simple, they are powerful, and can be combined to create a beautiful (but not necessarily religious) funeral ceremony for people from all walks of life. 

Let us know if we should add any more ideas to our list in the comments below!


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  1. Harvelyn Howard

    Iam sorry to hear abouth Grace passing a way but l know she is in a better place she with her husband an Roger she not suffer any more l love her an.she did know that sorry l cant go to the funral because l am sick myself my heart an prayers will be with the family an friends..

  2. David Cole

    We’ve seen more and more alters created by families facing untimely deaths. Normally posted on Facebook, a small memorial set up in the home in remembrance of the missing person. I’m not sure how I would have felt about this practice before being intimately involved with some of these folks. With fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, I now feel this a healthy response to grief! Thanks for the great post.

  3. Krystal Penrose

    Thanks David, we’re really happy to hear you’ve had that real-life, unavoidable experience with the potency of rituals that help us move through grief. Thank you for doing your work!

  4. SwampMama

    Not all of us burned sage, as it only grows in the lands of certain tribal nations. Gather and dry some of your and your relative’s favorite, non-endangered (which traditional white sage is) plants and burn those. You can dry them in an oven if you do not have the time to dry them slowly.

  5. Krystal Penrose

    Great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Ashley

    I would be careful with the sage burning. Sage is a sacred medicine to a number of Indigenous Nations and sometimes considered part of a closed practice.

  7. Krystal Penrose

    Hey Ashley, yes that is some folks opinions. I have asked a lot of elders of the First Nations about this and many have spoken that it is not for them, and they welcome the burning of sage. I guess it depends on your teachers and elders in your community.

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  9. Lynette

    I have a 16yearold daughter. We lost her father , my husband in May and I am looking for ways to remember him at Christmas but to also not make it all about the loss of our loved one. Our journey has been rough and unlike most others as we have discovered terrible things since his passing which have left us unable to grieve as a normal family. Of course this has changed the man we thought we knew and who although we are angry and feel betrayed and confused we still love. He was a good Dad and loved her so much and I want to spend a short time allowing her and I to focus on him on Christmas morning . Sharing our love and sadness before going on to having a day out just to two of us and creating new traditions. Any Ideas?

  10. Krystal Penrose

    Hey there Lynette thank you for sharing your journey and we are so sorry for your loss and the events that followed. We actually just wrote a post about ways to celebrate someone after they’re gone that aren’t sad or depressing, maybe you could check it out and see if any resonate? Lots of love to you and your family. Here’s the link: https://blog.funeralone.com/grief-and-healing/celebrate-life-grief/

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  15. Kathryn

    I lost someone years ago, but there are still times that it feels so fresh, and the harshness is so present. Valentine’s Day was big for us, so this time of year I’m really feeling the loss.
    One ritual that I’ve done is #8, writing him a letter, but rather than burning it, or burying it, I’ve put it in a helium balloon and then let go and watched it float away. It’s quite beautiful, actually. It sort of feels like, if he’s really somewhere above, watching over things down here, that maybe the balloon will float high enough to reach him.