Eco-friendly Mourning Rituals In The Age of COVID-19

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Given the current size restrictions for funerals, and distancing regulations it can be helpful to have ways of releasing feelings that don’t rely on large gatherings, or official institutions. Creating your own eco-friendly mourning rituals in the age of COVID-19 can help with the grieving process and acknowledge an important rite of passage.

Today, I watched from afar as a sombre looking group gathered at the end of an old pier, all holding foil helium balloons. My heart sank as I knew what they were going to do – sure enough, one by one, they released the balloons, and watched float up into the sky.

Balloon releases and Chinese floating lanterns are a popular choices for saying goodbye, and remembering those that have passed on. They are, however, horrendous for our environment, causing litter, and killing, injuring and maiming wildlife both on land and at sea.

The importance of ritual in helping in the grieving process is not to be underestimated. Here are my suggestions for eco-friendly mourning rituals in the age of COVID-19. I’ll be concentrating on rituals using the four elements air, fire, water and earth.

Eco-friendly Mourning Rituals

Rituals for Air

The symbolism of balloons or lanterns floating up into the sky (towards the heavens) is clear. There are other ways you can emulate this symbolism, without damaging the environment.

Bubbles are a great option, especially if children are present at a ceremony – they are beautiful, and ephemeral, floating up into the sky, and becoming one with the atmosphere as they burst. As you blow the bubbles, you can infuse your breath with love to carry to the departed.

a family flying a kite in the countryside
A kite would make a great ritual to keep and do every year on an anniversary

Or you could fly a kite – reaching up into the heavens – if you were feeling crafty, you could even craft your own memorial kite, decorate it in a fashion that reminded you of your loved one, and then every time you flew it, you would be able to think of them. I actually really like this idea, as it’s a way of keeping your ancestor alive in your memory too.

I am aware that some people attach messages to balloons – if this is something you would like to do, you can buy flying wish paper, that you write on, light, and watch as it floats up into the air as it burns and disappears.

Rituals for water

Water can be poignant place to release feelings of grief too, so you may decide to head to a body of water, and carry out your remembrance ceremony there.

You could craft a small boat or raft out of natural materials, suck as twigs, leaves and feathers. At your ceremony, you would release it into a body of moving water – like a stream or river. Say goodbye as you watch it being carried away by the flow of the water. If this seems too complicated, then scattering petals, or leaves into the water might be a good alternative.

Like with the flying wish paper, you can also buy special biodegradable dissolving paper. This would work for writing messages, and releasing into water.

Rituals for Fire

A wood fire burning in the dark.
Fire provides a simple and effective basis for a mourning ritual

Fire provides a simple, yet effective ceremony to say goodbye to a loved one. It is my personal preference for saying goodbye. I find a great comfort in just sitting alone and being present with a fire, and my grief.

With a group, you can all sit around a fire, sharing stories of the deceased. You can write messages, and use the fire to burn them.

People have used candles as a tool of remembrance for centuries, all across the world.

paper bags with writing on the outer and tealights placed inside placed in shape of heart
Heart of Hope – a luminary light display for Maggie’s London Night Hike 2009. Photo – Sarah Wedderburn-Ogilvy

On your own, light a candle and sit with your thoughts and memories of your loved one.

As a group, make luminary lights out of paper bags and tealights (or empty jars and tealights) and create a beautiful temporary shrine, to light up the space for your gathering.

Rituals for the Earth

Planting trees or flowers is a beautiful way of ensuring life carries on. Watching the tree grow, or the flowers bloom can also bring happiness after the ceremony. Try and ensure that you do not plant invasive species – native flowers and trees are best.

Leaving offerings in a special place might also be an option you want to consider. If you are doing this, ensure that the offering is natural, biodegradable, and won’t cause any harm to wildlife.

As with any ritual or ceremony, you can adapt it to suit your needs, and your surroundings. Do your own research about options, and make sure they are ecologically sound for your area. In places where forest or brush fires are a risk, avoid any fire based activities during dry periods. Kites are no use if it’s not windy.

These suggestions are intended to be a starting point Think about ways that appeal to you, then elaborate on them and create your own eco-friendly mourning rituals.