Many of my clients find comfort during bereavement in setting up a simple yet meaningful altar. Altars don’t have to be complicated structures, or take up a lot of space—a few framed photos, a candle, fresh flowers, or small mementos that represent something meaningful. The ritual of lighting a candle, maintaining flowers, and simply spending time tending the altar is a way to honor a loved one, and also mark time along the grief journey. One of my clients gathers up the fallen petals and at the end of the month makes a ritual of throwing them off the pier.
Altars can be especially important if you don’t have a gravesite to visit. They can provide a fixed location to visit when you want to remember your loved one, or a way of honoring them and the memories you shared.
The purpose of an altar is to provide comfort while you’re grieving, as and when you need it. If you miss a day lighting the candle, or if the flower petals fall before you replace them, then so be it. Constructing an altar is not about guilt or more guilt. It is a simple way of honoring your loved one.
Initially, you will probably pay careful attention to the altar. Inevitably, as time passes, you may find yourself skipping a day or two. This is normal and completely okay, and marks a healthy healing path. It doesn’t mean you are forgetting your loved one, nor that you love them less. It means life goes on, and you’ve taken another step towards recovery.