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Honoring Loved Ones Who Have Crossed Over: Why Rituals Matter

Quartz Crystal - Photo by Le Isaac Weaver“I don’t proceed with my day until I go to my ancestor shrine and honor them and ask for blessings.” —Anonymous Mom (HEART GUIDE, in memory of her son).

“I’ve learned that the rituals of death are important. … Gathering in community is meaningful. There are reasons people have gathered at the ending of life for ages.” —Karen Peck (HEART GUIDE, in memory of her mother and her sister).

In the animated movie Coco, a young boy named Miguel visits his ancestors during the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) festivities. Along his journey, he learns the importance of keeping alive the memories of family members who have passed. Upon returning home, he celebrates their continued loving presence in his life with music, dance, stories, and songs.

Throughout the world’s religions and across numerous cultures, humans have found ways to honor their ancestors. In climates that change from a period of spring growth to a seasonal time of harvest, ancestry holidays often take place during autumn: when plants decay, the sky grows grey, and the air takes on a brisk chill.

These rituals are significant.

Rituals give us an opportunity to share the stories of our friends and relatives who have passed. By joining together in community, we add value and meaning to our own lives, and we honor the lives of the people we love who have journeyed to another realm. In sacred kinship with our community, we can freely laugh, cry, sing, mourn, and remember.

Rituals give legitimacy to matters of the heart.

With rituals, we understand that we need not carry our burdens alone. Like Miguel, we might also learn that there is more to death and life than we currently understand.

A few ways to honor our ancestors:

  1. Set an intention to create a loving space in which to invite and welcome loved ones who have passed.
  1. Make an altar. An altar might have photos; cherished items; symbols that signify meaningful aspects of a religion (prayer flags, pictures of saints, a cross, a goddess figurine, a Buddha image, and so on); objects that represent elements of nature (such as rocks, feathers, leaves, shells, acorns). The altar can be set up in your home, at a gravesite, or at a location that holds special meaning.
  1. Light candles while naming loved ones who have passed. Perhaps say a prayer for their wellbeing or read a passage from their favorite book.
  1. Offer food: to the animals, to friends, to the poor, or to the deceased. Cook a loved one’s favorite dish for a holiday gathering.
  1. Engage in creative, joyful expression: sing, drum, dance, play music, draw, paint, journal. Tell stories!
  1. Include the young and the wise elders in annual Celebration of Life events. Intergenerational activities remind us of the ongoing cycles of human existence.
  1. Live your purpose. Share your gifts. Honor your loved ones by bringing your unique contribution of good to this world.


As Miguel sings: Our love for one another lives on forever – in every beat of our proud heart.


Peace & love, 

Diana Ensign

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