A Ceremonial Send-Off

Today’s guest post comes from Renee Boomgaarden, known as Renee in North Dakota.

A couple of weeks ago, husband and I were invited to a ceremony that a Native American friend organized to commemorate the fourth anniversary of his mother’s death. Our friend is Arikara, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) who live on the Ft. Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota.

The ceremony took place in Bismarck while our friend was camping at the United Tribes Technical College Pow wow. It was conducted by Eric, a Lakota Indian from the Pine Ridge Reservation. He is our Arikara friend’s spiritual advisor. Eric explained that the Native American period of mourning lasts four years, and the purpose of the ceremony was to set free the mother’s spirit and bring her children out of the mourning world.

Our friend and his five siblings lined up by the camper and we observers sat across from them. A plate of food and a glass of water for the mother’s journey into the next world was set on a nearby table. The ceremony began with all present getting smudged with cedar smoke, fanned on us out of a shell with a leather-bound bunch of eagle feathers. Eric then stood between us and the siblings and directed two Lakota traditional singers to sing the song to help the mother’s spirit leave this world and travel to the next. He said prayers in Lakota to the four winds/directions. Then he brushed each of the siblings head to toe with the eagle feathers and wiped under each of their eyes with his fingers to remove any tears.

Eric then directed the singers to start the Song of Welcoming, to welcome our friend and his siblings out of the world of mourning into our world. Each sibling was given a taste of corn meal and a drink of water. We observers very formally shook hands with each of the siblings while Eric said another Lakota prayer. We then sat down to a potluck supper, the oldest person going through the line first.

Everyone mourns in their own way and in their own time. Our friend was very happy at the conclusion of the ceremony, surrounded by friends and family, sharing a meal, at peace.

Describe a ceremony that gives you comfort.

39 thoughts on “A Ceremonial Send-Off”

  1. Good morning. Traditional ceremonies are not currently a part of my life. I am not appose to the the participation in these ceremonies by other people. I just don’t do any of that myself.

    We do have some traditions in our family that do perhaps provide comfort in some ways. The first one that comes to mind is pizza on Christmas eve. For many years we have had a family gathering on Christmas eve to open presents. We always serve pizza on that occasion.

    Thanks for telling us about that mourning ceremony, Renee. I think it is great that you were invited to participate in that ceremony.

    You have my best wishes regarding the situation you are in with your father being close to death.

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  2. Funerals give you a great moment to reflect. I think putting an x on you calendar to refresh the reflection a week and a month and a year later is a good idea too. Remembering past lives and their special touches is strong stuff. It means a lot. Without a ceremony I suppose you could accomplish a similar end but the gathering and words help let go. I went to a service afore a friends dad a couple weeks ago and the priest was the only weak part of the program . He was lost all the other speakers were on the button. Very emotional and touching
    Thoughts are with you this weekend Renee
    Thanks for the ceremony from Mandan
    I should learn my Chippewa traditions

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  3. Thanks for describing so beautifully this Native American ceremony, Renee. I’m sure it’s quite an honor for a couple of non-Native Americans to be invited to participate in such an important ceremony. I can also imagine that for you it was particularly thought-provoking with all that you have been going through during the last several months.

    While I have participated quite joyfully in many such celebrations in connection with the mostly Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, they are not part of the ceremonies that I turn to for comfort. At the moment I can’t think of a ceremony that gives me comfort.

    The West Side community, where I live, has a strong tradition of celebrating the Day of the Dead, and I think I’ve mentioned it before on the trail, I’d highly recommend that any baboon who lives within the Twin Cities make an effort to attend this very colorful annual celebration. The tradition honors the dead in a celebration that blends Indigenous Aztec rituals with Catholic traditions, and takes place on All Saints Eve. The colorful Aztec dancers, the creative ofrendas, and the scent of thousands of fresh marigolds all lend a special aura to this celebration of death as a natural part of life.

    Thinking of you this weekend, Renee.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m the opposite of Jim–ceremony is very much part of my life. My rituals, being solitary, can be as personal or traditional (or both!) as I wish to make them. I wrote a simple offering ritual which I perform daily for my Matron. She also has a traditional prayer of protection which I use each morning. Then there’s the monthly full and dark moon rituals and the eight seasonal rituals, so my ceremonial calendar is pretty full!

    It’s difficult to talk about the rituals themselves, both because they are personal and because Paganism has a different vocabulary than mainstream religions so explanations take too long. Having said that, one I can talk about is my crossing-over visualization. When someone, animal or human, dies, I take three evenings (or more if I feel it’s needed) to do ritual. I light a candle on my altar with the intention of illuminating their way to the Otherworld. Sometimes I give food and water offerings to strengthen the spirit for the journey. I do a visualization to show them the way for when they’re ready to take it, commit them to the care of the Goddess, and let the candles burn out.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. My family when I was growing up was informal and non-conformist. We did things our way, eschewing scripts and ceremony. My parents were not church people, nor were they inclined to join groups that had cherished rituals. We didn’t fit in with folks who were trying to honor any kind ceremony, so we were the family most likely to be disruptive and inappropriate, particularly at funerals. I would have told you that we assiduously avoided ceremony at all times.

    And yet that would not have been true. Although we were impudent and skeptical about other people’s ceremonies, we were also passionate romantics about those rituals that revitalized us. And what it all came to, after many years of refining our peculiar family culture, was that we avoided ritual except at Christmas. It was a colossal exception. The Christmas ritual we evolved reflected our need for ceremony, and it became the central emotional moment in the calendar. Rejecting all other rituals, we became Christmas-obsessed. Our Christmases were saturated with ritual. Christmas, for us, was the one truly sacred event our family honored.

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      1. Same music (literally, with just one album being played over and over alll day long), same dinner menu, same decorations, same people (with additions as grandchildren appeared). The smell of the home was the same (the spicy smell of artificial logs burning). Presents were opened late in the day, having been distributed by the smallest toddler who could follow instructions, wobbling across the living room rug with the present in small chubby arms). The presents had no names on them, but instead a number. That number was keyed to the master list my mother guarded with her life and which she used to orchestrate the opening. The ritual for opening presents was one by one, each person commanding the attention of all as he or she opened. The presents were opened in sequence, with my mother authorizing the less impressive gifts first, and then each successive gift was more stunning than the last.

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        1. Yes, and we learned that the smallest box had by far the best gift in it.
          An example for me was a 2″ by 2″ box held a tiny bathtub obtained at a dollhouse store. My parents were replacing the tub in our home which was stained beyond repair. Once in a while, there would be a huge check written out to us.

          These extravagant Christmases, which our mother worked hard on all year round, saw boxes piled almost higher than the gift-distributor could reach and fanned out at least three feet from the tree.

          Mom had control over the entire production and insisted that each gift be opened separately while the rest of the family waited his/her turn.
          This seemed to take hours, but Mom clearly reveled in seeing each one of us show pleasure and surprise.

          Wasband’s family was the opposite, with all gifts being torn into at the same time willy nilly. l really like this because it relieved the requirement of effusive acknowledgement gift by gift. Plus, it didn’t take hours on end.

          ln a way, l truly miss “the way it was”. As the years have passed, divorces, deaths, missing children who’ve moved out of state, and the nearly impossible blending of several in law traditions have taken their toll. l get nostalgic for the crackling fire, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, the whole family together, and the gifts piled to the ceiling.

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  6. Rise and grumble Baboons!

    WordPress is being mean to me this morning. I wrote an entire post about rituals and it is lost in the ethernet. I will pout a while and return to rewrite it.

    Hmph.

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    1. Rise and finish pouting about WordPress Baboons!

      Is logging on to a blog many mornings a ritual? Probably is.

      I have a few rituals I love:

      Garden–watering plants at night in the summer. Waking up the garden in spring, and putting the garden to bed in the Autumn;
      Rituals in church–I had a great experience with church and worship as a kid (yes, I know many people did not). The discipline of going, centering myself, paying homage to the order of things despite not believing a lot of the official doctrine, and participating in church lady jobs like generations before me;
      Yoga rituals–Namaste
      Loading my coffeemaker at night and programming it so in the morning I have dark strong coffee that smells so good.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m not big on ceremony. A gathering where people talk is always a good thing as long as the people in the group get along with each other well. But I’m happy to let others decide on what sort of ceremony it should be.

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  8. Having grown up in a household with a Irish Catholic mother and an atheist Danish father, I have very mixed emotions about ceremony.

    The Catholic church, of course, is full of quite beautiful rituals incorporated into celebrations of all kinds of life events. My childhood attendance of these ceremonies was calming and comforting.

    Over time, however, my dad’s skepticism rubbed off on me, and I began to question the rationality behind most of these rituals to the point where I felt self-conscious observing them. That sense of slight discomfort remains today. I view such rituals as a form of theater and don’t attribute to them any sacred, mystical significance. That said, as Jacque pointed out above, we all probably observe all kinds of rituals in our daily lives. But I can’t help but feel envious of Crow Girl who apparently is quite comfortable indulging in elaborate rituals of spiritual significance. Maybe it’s lack of imagination on my part, but I just can’t go there.

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    1. I think they are a form of theater, which is why I love them! Sometimes I just need a little drama. Riituals tend to be pretty safe drama, as opposed to, say, kicking the dogs or running away from home, which are dramatic things that can have unsafe consequences.

      I like rituals because then I know the outcome.

      Amen.

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  9. You’ve done a good job of outlining what is a central conflict for me and many others. I grew up with little patience with the rituals that others revered. After all that I read in college, though, I began seeing the value of rituals for processing emotions. For example, I had nothing but contempt for funerals as a child, but the adult version of me saw the need for rituals that would assist the grieving process. I liked reading about Crow Girl’s self-invented rituals . . . but that wouldn’t work for me, I fear.

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    1. As a writer, Steve, I know you to be careful with your choice of words. So I’m puzzled by your use of the word “contempt” to describe how you felt, especially about funerals, as a child. What about funerals was it that drew that kind of response from you?

      As a child the only funeral I ever attended was my dad’s stepmother’s, and I never saw a dead person until I was 21 years old. I recall feeling bad that I wasn’t crying at farmor’s funeral; I was afraid that people would interpret that mean I didn’t love her. But I simply felt so relieved that she was out of the pain she had been in so long, and, of course, I didn’t quite understand the finality of being dead. American funerals are quite different than funerals I’ve experienced elsewhere, so perhaps your experiences were quite different from mine.

      For some reason, this brings to mind the scene from Harold and Maude where Harold meets Maude for the first time, at a funeral of someone neither of them knew:

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      1. Thanks for the thoughtful question, PJ. The first funerals I attended shocked me with the display of the dead person. The way people viewed the deceased person seemed to the young me as morbid curiosity, and i thought the whole thing was repugnant. Moreover, the first funerals I attended featured some mawkish sentimentality from the minister presiding over the whole thing. One funeral was for a young man who had died at about 20 of Muscular Distrophy. The minister went on and on about how tragic this was, causing that young man’s attendant (whose sole job it was to take care of two young men afflicted with that terrible disease). John, the attendant, broke down in sobs when the oration mentioned that. I was furious, for it seemed to me then (I was about 12) that the minister had inflicted pain on John.

        I knew nothing about the role ritual can play in our lives. It didn’t occur to me that viewing the corpse and evoking tears could both be part of the process of working out the grief and loss.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Just switched driving spot with husband. Wonderful responses! Dad died this morning at 10. We are still on the road. I am doing fine. My sad time was on Wednesday. I am just relieved he is at peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. May he rest in peace. Isn’t it amazing how fast it can happen if nature is allowed to run it course? Glad to hear you’re doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances, Renee. This has been quite the year for you. You’re in my thoughts, and I’m joining vs in lighting a cyber candle. I know you’ll take good care of yourself.

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    2. And another regrettable thing about death
      is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
      which took a whole life to develop and market —
      the quips, the witticisms, the slant
      adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
      the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
      in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
      their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
      their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
      their response and your performance twinned.
      The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
      in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
      Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
      imitators and descendants aren’t the same.

      “Perfection Wasted” by John Updike

      Liked by 5 people

  11. Thanks everyone. On the occasion of my great grandfather’s death the family was scandalized by the highly critical and unflattering sermon the Dutch Reformed minister gave. I guess it was common for ministers to outline the moral deficiencies of the dear departed. Dad will have a nice, traditional Lutheran funeral with military honors and a good lunch afterwards.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. May your Dad’s funeral be a true celebration of his life, Renee.

      Over the years I’ve made it a point to go the funerals of parents of my closest friends. In most cases I had met them, but in one notable case I had not.

      Rick’s mother was buried at the VA Cemetery near the airport with full military honors. In addition the minister and the old army men who were going to shoot the gun salute, we were all of four people in attendance. What made the experience all the more painful was the fact that it was perfectly obvious that the minister either didn’t know, or had forgotten, the name of the deceased. It didn’t help that it was a dreary, cold day in November. I have attended some pretty awful funerals in my life, but that one takes the cake.

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  12. OT – On a happier note, I attended a three hour demonstration of contemporary Indian cooking this evening. The winter months look tastier already.

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  13. Renee-
    Thanks for writing about the ceremony; and then to read your Dad passed this morning is actually very comforting in a way. I would think with the ceremony fresh in your mind you may be able to draw inspiration from that.
    As you said, he’s at peace. As MIG said, thanks for sharing him with us. And I hope you have your own way of celebrating his life.
    How nice that you were able to spend these final weeks together.

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