Falling Flower: a Simple Memorial Ritual

Oh, that sweet fragrance of falling petals….

With kind words, it is ended. Farewell.

The time to go is now.

  • Lee Hyong-Ki [1963]

It may be that the people who would most benefit from symbolic ritual are those who are least likely to partake in it. The inclination towards formal, poetic gestures in moments of truth may very much depend on who you were when you first read a book that changed everything, or whether you have an intuitive understanding of “serious play”, or what happened when you first stepped into terra incognita.

If you feel a need for permission or encouragement to take that step, though, please consider this post to be that. I know the immediate and lasting values of personal memorial rites. At present – especially during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, when funerals and mass gatherings of any sort are frequently prohibited (and clearly unwise), undertaking your own ritual for the dead is a strong step towards comfort and closure. In the longer term, these rites also form enduring, positive memories in association with the end of life.

If you’re there, one way or the other – if, in the words of Bone Games author Rob Schultheis, your soul demands a dramatic gesture – I offer the following prescription for a very simple memorial rite. All you need is a river, a poem, a flower and a small jar of honey.

Step 1: Select your flower, poem and honey. There are no hard and fast criteria here; if it feels right, it’s right.

Step 2: Travel to the river. Find an appropriate spot and time; this may mean at sunset, crouched on a riverbank with no signs of industry, or standing at mid-day on the center of a bridge in the heart of London, or at midnight perched on a tree branch overhanging a quiet country stream.

Step 3: Take a moment and bring to mind the person you wish to memorialize. Breathe. Smell the flower’s scent. Listen.

Step 4: Look at the flower and speak the poem.

Step 5: Release the flower so that it drops into the water. If you wish, you can open your hand into the memento mori mudra as you let go of the flower; if so, complete the gesture with the carpe diem mudra.

Step 6: If you wish, watch the flower as it is carried away.

Step 7: Taste the honey as a reminder of the sweetness of life, then do as you will.

Repeat as and when it may be necessary.

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