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How to Cope with Loss: The Power and Importance of Rituals

By Margaret Manning April 21, 2014 Mindset

We all have small rituals that give meaning to our lives. We do things in a certain order and follow set patterns of behaviour. If you get up, shower, eat breakfast and brush your teeth in the same order every day; that is a ritual. If you light a candle when you meditate or pray, you are engaging in ritual behaviour.

These rituals make us feel comfortable and in control. But, did you know that rituals can also help us to cope with loss?

How to Cope with Loss, According to Harvard

According to new research from the Harvard Business School, the act of performing a ritual helps to people to cope with loss. However, the study also found that the importance of ritual is demonstrated when we actually participate in the activity.

Watching someone else perform a ritual is not enough. During the study, the team asked people to write about a recent loss. They found that participants that engaged in a ritual reported lower levels of grief than participants that did not.

From my perspective, this research makes a lot of intuitive sense. We feel helpless when we lose someone or something that we love. Mourning rituals give us back a sense of control. Whether the rituals that you engage in are religious or not, they can help you to come to terms with your loss. They can also provide a direct way for you to connect with and celebrate your memories.

As we get older, we often lose friends and family. We can’t avoid loss. But, we can choose how we deal with it. Instead of bottling up our emotions, we can find positive steps to keep the memories of our loved ones alive. It could the ritual of watching a movie or eating at restaurant that you enjoyed together. Or, you could go for a walk in your favourite park on a certain day every week.

Finally, keep in mind that, while rituals related to loss are personal, they do not have to be done alone. Some of the most powerful rituals are those that we do with friends and family. These rituals not only help us to cope with loss, but, they also help to forge stronger social connections.

Have you ever established a ritual that helped you get through a painful situation? What advice would you give to a friend regarding how to cope with loss? Please join the conversation.

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The Author

Margaret Manning is the founder of Sixty and Me. She is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. Margaret is passionate about building dynamic and engaged communities that improve lives and change perceptions. Margaret can be contacted at

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