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; 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 C.W. Nicol, your soul demands a dramatic gesture – I offer the following prescription for a very simple memorial rite. All you need is a river (or a high place, if there are no nearby rivers), a poem, a flower or handful of flower petals and a small jar of honey. Because people often give flowers as sympathy gifts after bereavements, this is a nice way to extend that sentiment for a while; you can also pluck (and, if you wish, dry) some of the petals. Flowers and petals can also easily be sourced by keeping an eye out during walks after summer storms. I keep a bowl of dried petals and a glass jar of honey on my shrine, for these occasions.

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

Step 2: Travel to the river or to the high place. 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. It may mean the top of a windy hill at dawn.

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/petals and speak the poem.

Step 5: Release the flower/petals. If you wish, you can open your hand into the memento mori mudra; if so, complete the gesture with the carpe diem mudra.

Step 6: If you wish, watch the flower/petals being carried away by wind or water, or as they fall to the earth.

Step 7: Taste the honey as a reminder of the sweetness of life, then do as you will. Consider starting a new, creative project in honor of the deceased; transmuting grief into art is powerful alchemy.

Repeat as and when it may be necessary.

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