Why We Need Rituals, Now More than Ever

Jun 19, 2020 | Coaching, Thriving | 0 comments

A few weeks ago I started a ritual that I’ve only done once before, and come August, won’t do again. I began creating a “movie” for my 18-year-old son to mark his leaving home. Three years ago, I spent several months before my daughter left for college creating a movie for her. I didn’t use film editing software, opting instead for a slow, laborious process using PowerPoint to make a slide show set to music. I filled it with photos from her childhood, organized in categories: Impish Kira, Strong Kira, Growing Kira, Kira and Mom. I timed the slides to automatically advance in sync to songs that we had listened to together or that captured my feelings about her moving on to the next phase of her life.

Creating the movie took so much time because each session was intense—and because it wasn’t just a movie. The process was a ritual marking a significant transition. Every time I sat down to work on it, I wept. Of course, I was excited for her, but I didn’t really want this new phase of my life: no longer active-daily mother but at-a-distance mother. The ritual helped me dive into the feelings, mash around in them, and make some sense of my experience. Over time I was comforted by the idea that one of my primary roles as a parent is helping her to become more independent; her moving away meant I was doing my job.

The Cycle of Experience is a concept from Gestalt coaching that explains why I felt called to the ritual of movie-making at a key life transition. The gist of COE is that each interaction or event we have has a natural course from beginning to end and that we humans crave completion of these experiences.  In Gestalt terms, we call it “making meaning.” The exercise of creating the movie brought submerged emotions to the surface, which let me fully experience them and get to the other side. Sorting through her baby pictures, listening to music that reminded me of her, capturing something of her spirit in the movie—it gave me time and permission to make meaning of this time in her life and in mine.  It was cathartic.

In the end, clearly marking the milestone with a ritual made her leaving home easier. And I’ve seen in the past three years that we remain deeply connected and that I’m needed, although in different ways.

Now I’m giving myself the time and permission to make a movie for my son, Niall. His categories will be different, because my children are different. Where my daughter is outgoing and social, my son is quiet and creative. Much of the soundtrack will be songs he’s performed. Or songs he turned me on to during the drives to and from high school–songs I’d never have chosen myself but came to appreciate and listen to on my own. It will include video clips of short films he’s created, his artwork, and photos of his 3D printing projects.

So I spent some time weeping this weekend. I found the experience both sad and deeply healing, just as I did three years ago. Sad that I won’t be in his presence as often. Awed by the privilege of being a mother. Amazed to see that the essence of Niall was present from the start. Comforted by the way the ritual honors me: the work, the time, the being present for the hard parts and the wonderful parts. And it honors Niall and celebrates the young man he’s become.

Of course, because of the pandemic, we don’t know when he’ll actually move away from home. No matter, it is time for the ritual. By making the space to acknowledge and honor my experience and his growth, I’ll be less likely to “dump” my feelings on him. The ritual will help me remember, when my youngest leaves home, that he is doing his job well, and so am I.

Is there a ritual that would be helpful to you now in navigating a life transition during the pandemic or challenges and losses due to the pandemic? My homemade movie idea is just one option. Others I’ve tried (tailored to match the type of transition or loss) include writing a poem, creating a photo book, making a paper maché sculpture, and setting a paper boat covered with my goodbyes to sail in the Charles River.

Creating the space for rituals helps us complete the Cycle of Experience by making sense of transitions, losses, and challenges. Rituals allow us to move forward to whatever is next, better able to fully engage and to fully live the experience.

Rituals give meaning and purpose to our lives, and there is no more important time than now to remember them.

Photo credit: David Clode on Unsplash


Diane W. Shannon


Diane Shannon is an award-winning writer, author, and coach. Since leaving practice as a primary care physician due to burnout, she has worked to support physicians in achieving their personal and professional goals and to highlight the changes needed to reduce burnout, improve career satisfaction, and protect the bidirectional healing power of the patient-physician relationship.

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