Why having a funeral for yourself is the ritual you need in your life right now

Last summer, I sat next to a dumpster, a long black dress with slits up each leg falling around my thighs. I was burning 70 photos of myself, the air smelled like acid. Inside my apartment, there were 13 candles in a circle, surrounded by hundreds of rose petals in different colors.

I was having a funeral for myself. (you might recognize this description from my latest book, “i never wanted to write a breakup poem).

Ritual has always been a part of human nature. We have our little rituals we do every day – ask anyone who loves sitting down with a warm cup of coffee in the morning. We have services when someone dies; we might have a celebration of life. We have the way we normally tie our cleats before a soccer game. Some of these things are routine, the way we typically do things. But some of them are rituals.

Rituals bring a sacred element into what we’re doing. They bring a moment of intention, of presence.

They allow us to say, this matters. Let me pay attention to it. 

Rituals also offer us a concrete, tangible way to transition from one moment in time to another.

We live in a material world. Because of this, rituals done only in our minds aren’t the same; they don’t work. We have to feel them both mentally and materially. These things are equally important.

I had a funeral for myself because my entire life was shifting. I had gone through a breakup, fell in love, sold my car and almost everything I owned, and moved to a new country… all in the span of a couple months.

Suddenly, in what felt like no time at all, I had changed massively. My life had changed massively. I had so many old patterns and emotions come up to process; I had been processing them. But it felt like such a significant change that I knew I had to acknowledge it materially, ritually.

And so I had a funeral for myself.

You can do this at any point. You can do it because you’re going from being single to a relationship, from a relationship to single, because you’ve changed your job… or just because you feel like you’re finally done with a pattern, you’re no longer who you once were, and you want that to be symbolized and etched into your system.

I thought about creating a “how-to” guide for this – and I will give you examples and suggestions – but ultimately, there is no one particular way to do a ritual. (Churches and traditions might disagree with this, so do what calls to you, but what is most obvious to me is that ritual has been used throughout time, in all cultures, all around the world, in infinite ways).

You can create a ritual built out of things that have meaning to you and that will be just as (if not more) impactful.

You’ll want to prepare. To map out ahead of time what you will do, to gather items that are important. It’s great to set a day and time. If you listen, your body will tell you when it’s time. “Today,” she’ll whisper, and you can agree.

You can have a funeral in your room at home, outside, or wherever you want. The essential piece is to set the space. You want to symbolize to yourself and to the world around you that this is important.

I love creating a big circle of candles, because that registers as sacred to me, and I like the way a physical circle offers a container for the space. I also love to buy dozens of roses and peel off the petals, sprinkling them around the floor. You can use flowers, crystals, tea, wine, coffee, anything you’d like to offer to yourself and to the space.

Think of a funeral you might attend – what would be there? What would you want there to be, at your funeral?

You might print out photos of yourself, like I did, and burn them all (though in retrospect, 70 photos takes a very long time and smells terrible and is probably very bad for the environment, so if I was going to do it again I’d create one photo collage, or I’d just cut them up). Anything that symbolizes the parts of yourself that are dead, collect that and destroy it or get rid of it in some way. I’d also collect a journal, a pen, and create a playlist of music that feels relevant.

You’ll set up your space, and once it feels good to you, you’ll want to open the space in some way. There are many traditions that have ways of doing this, so you can use one of those if that is familiar, or you could even just simply say, “I open this space.” You can call in any energies or guides you typically work with, if you have any. Ancestors, deities, whatever feels best to you.

I do urge you to not just take blindly from another tradition. Planetary energies are great to work with because they symbolize different parts of life, and they aren’t one particular culture. There is a way to find what is sacred without cultural appropriation; keep that in mind as you search for what feels best to you.

If this is new to you or feels a bit woo-y, you can also call in your own higher self.

I do think it’s important to call in some form of support, even if it’s just your higher self, because it helps create an energetic and protective container. 

Then you’ll set your intention for the ceremony. You might state that you are having a funeral for yourself, ask to be kept safe while you do this deeper work on yourself, and intend that the outcome is for your highest good.

So, something like, “Dear universe, I am ready to be done with the patterns of x, y, and z. I ask to be kept safe during this experience, and I intend for the outcome to be for my highest good. Thank you.”

Then you’ll have your funeral. You might want to actually walk through a line the way you would at a viewing; you could “view” the old photos of yourself. You could lie on the ground and imagine the funeral happening. If you died, who would come? Envision your actual funeral. Who would be sad, what would be celebrated?

The purpose of the funeral is not to pretend that all aspects of your old self are bad – that’s not what we do at a funeral, we grieve and celebrate the gifts.

So will you. Grieve for the loss of your old self, for the patterns that will no longer exist, and thank yourself for the immense gifts you have experienced, that have brought you to this point.

I suggest doing this both as a meditation, and then also writing it down (psychological and material). Writing down the things you’re ready to let go of, really feeling who you once were and how you’re not her anymore. Writing down what you celebrate, what you’re grateful for.

And then burn that piece of paper.

You can add anything else in that you’d like. A complex ritual does not necessarily mean better. Longer doesn’t mean better, either, though I do think for this, expecting it to take at least a full hour is a good idea.

A funeral is potent, it should be intense.

Another important piece is that when you’re finished, you will want to do something to symbolize a rebirth.

When we grieve and empty out, it’s a good idea to fill that empty space back up with something. That can be elaborate or simple, but since you’ll already have gone through the entire funeral, you’ll probably want it to be simple. It can be something like writing on a piece of paper what you’re calling in, dancing to a fun song and embodying your new self, or doing a meditation where you feel yourself filling up with the qualities you want.

Don’t skip that piece – in reality you’re still alive after your funeral, so you want to symbolize that part, too.

While I’m writing this, most of us are dealing with coronavirus and in quarantine… a time that has been bringing up many, many old parts of us that are ready to die.

Death can be such a beautiful thing – it is, most basically, the aspect of life that makes us feel most alive.

Have a funeral for yourself, if you feel called.

Have a funeral for yourself, grieve for yourself… and watch how that allows you to so fully embody your pleasure and joy in who you are now.


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