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Ritual Remembering: Connecting The Past And Present

On Saturday morning I drove past a rural cemetery on a hill and saw a young woman standing alone in front of a gravestone, clutching a go-cup with a white plastic lid, other hand in her coat pocket, staring down at the ground in solemn contemplation. To me she seemed to be a picture of ritual remembering and I know how important that is.

I have my dog Moon’s ashes on my desk, and his photograph on my home screen. In his absence our new puppy has filled the physical space, but I still feel the emotional longing. My stepmom died at the end of October and my dad has her ashes with their wedding picture on the diningroom table, a shrine to his emotional longing for her. These physical objects — gravestones, ashes, photographs — ground our memories of the past in the present and make the connection between body and spirit.

Ritual Remembering Of A Stranger

In August I posted here about my partner, Roger, and I finding the body of a dead man in our backyard while we were walking the dog. It was traumatic, as you might imagine, and we were haunted by the experience. When I posted the story on Facebook a couple readers suggested that we have a spiritual moment at the site of his death, a ritual remembering that might replace the harshness of the images in our heads with a more comforting imprint.

We did it, and it worked. Thank you.

I picked some dahlias in the garden and tied them with a yellow ribbon to the tree where the man died. Then we stood there for a moment of silence and Roger spontaneously sang a verse from Danny Boy. The sound of his voice floating in the woods brought tears to my eyes. I took a photo of the flowers, and we walked away. That’s all it was. But it is such a sweet memory that now when I think about that man dying, I think of the song and the yellow ribbon and the dahlias.

Coming Full Circle

A month later his bereaved mother left a note in our mailbox asking me to call her. We were expecting something of the sort, and I was glad to be able to tell her about the flowers and the song. She cried, told me the story of her son’s life, how his happy childhood morphed into problems with mental illness and drug addiction. He had gone to prison for six years and two weeks after his release died of an overdose in our backyard. She felt she had failed him.

I fumbled to comfort her and said he was finally at peace, such a simple word for such a complicated situation. But it was what came to me because of my own need to be at peace with my memory of her son.

After the call, I texted her the photograph of the dahlias on the tree, and she was elated. Our conscious memory-making gave us a focal point for ritual remembering and helped each of us find the emotional closure we were missing.

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About The Author
Billie Best
Billie Best
Billie Best writes the blog Beyond 60 — Loving Life, Staying Relevant at Her memoir titled "How I Made a Huge Mess of My Life (or Couples Therapy with a Dead Man)" and her collection of essays “I Could Be Wrong” are both available on
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