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Grief rituals: Honoring memories

Dia de los Muertos is beginning soon, and it brings with it a reminder to celebrate and remember our loved ones who have passed.

Personal grief rituals are those loving activities that help us remember our loved ones, and give us a sense of connectedness, healing and peace. Creating and practicing personal grief rituals can also help us release painful situations and unpleasant memories, freeing us to make our memories a positive influence in our lives.

What follows are a few examples of personal grief rituals. The ideas are as unique and as varied as the people who invented them. Think of ways that you can adapt them and make them your own.

You are limited only by your imagination.

  • If you’re a writer, write—it could be an article, an anecdote, a story, a poem, a song, a letter an obituary or a eulogy. You don’t have to write for someone else. Keep a private journal and write about your feelings as you journey through your grief.
  • Buy a very special candle, decorate it and light it in honor of your loved one.
  • Purchase a book – perhaps a children’s book – on coping with the loss of a loved one, and donate it to your local library or school. Place a label inside the front cover inscribed “In memory of [your loved one’s name].”
  • Plant a tree, bush, shrub, garden or flower bed as a permanent growing memorial to your beloved. Mark the site with a memorial plaque, marker, bench or statue.
  • Memorialize your beloved in cyberspace by lighting a virtual candle at
  • Write a special note, letter, poem, wish or prayer to your beloved. Go outside, attach the paper to a balloon and let it go – or place it in a vessel and burn it, and watch the smoke rise heavenward.
  • If you are harboring bad feelings or regrets, gather symbols to represent those hurtful or painful situations, events, or feelings from your past. Place them in a container and hold a private burial or burning ceremony, saying goodbye and releasing them as you do so.
  • Ask relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors to gather their contributions, and put together a scrapbook or box of memories containing mementos, letters and photographs of your loved one.
  • Celebrate the life of your loved one by continuing favorite traditions or eating favorite foods.
  • Select a Valentine card that you wish your beloved would have picked for you, and mail it to yourself.
  • Give yourself a gift from your loved one that you always wished he or she would have given you, and think of your beloved whenever you see it or wear it.

*Please seek the advice of a medical professional for any problematic symptoms.

A giver to the very end

A fighter and giver to the very end, Asante Contreras came into this world as a life force.

“I almost lost him twice during my pregnancy but he was determined to be here,” said his mother Anja.  

But the life that fought so hard to be in this world was abruptly taken at the young age of 20.

On May 8, 2020, a community of first responders lined Highway 90 to honor Asante, a fellow EMT, as he was sent home to Del Rio, Texas to rest. When he arrived in his hometown, family and friends rallied in a procession to honor the young man who inspired them so much.

“Asante was just a bright light,” Anja said. “He lifted up the room. He just made everyone happier by being around them.”

People remember Asante for his smile, positive energy, and his passion to help others.

Asante dedicated his life to helping others. He hoped to be an emergency room physician one day and became an EMT in order to save money for medical school. He died a day before he was supposed to take the test needed to complete the Paramedic Certification Program at UT Health San Antonio.

The school honored Asante’s work by giving him his certification posthumously.

Anja remembers Asante’s supervisor telling her, “Not only did we lose a friend and a coworker and a wonderful human being, but the medical field lost out on his future care. Patients lost out on a passionate caregiver.”

Asante was able to leave one final, lasting gift. He was a cornea and tissue donor—a decision he had made when he got his driver’s license.

“Even in the end, he did what he wanted to do,” Anja said. “He helped people and that’s exactly what he wanted to do. This is what he dreamed of.”

Asante left a lasting impression on all who came across his path. More than a year following his death, his mother continues to receive random calls from strangers telling her that Asante had helped them when he was working as EMT.  

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