Rituals for Remembrance


It’s my dad’s birthday next week – February 11.He’s been gone for five and a half years now, but I still miss him. I still miss my dad, and I don’t want to forget him. My dad was a big personality. He was a community college professor, the kind that changes lives. He was brilliant and charismatic and the world was so much better because of him. After he died, I noticed he was starting to turn into a legend. Or a story, maybe? And my dad wasn’t a series of anecdotes, however charming or impressive those anecdotes are. He was a a regular living person. He drank blank coffee, even terrible gas station coffee, but he hated styrofoam cups. He got five o’clock shadow by about 1:00 pm; I remember kissing his prickly cheek as a little girl. He liked cheesy top 40s pop, especially Madonna. He didn’t read fiction.

I’ve developed a ritual for remembering my dad. I do it on his birthday. I thought it might be useful for other people who want to remember their loved ones. You can straight up copy my ritual if you like. I don’t mind. Or use it as a jumping off point for your own rituals.

I sit in a comfortable place where I won’t be disturbed. Sometimes cross-legged on my bed, and sometimes in a cozy chair. I light a candle, and as I light it, I say “This is my space for remembering my dad.” Then I do four things.

First, I sit and remember the things that made him happy. The little things and the big things. Singing on car trips. Watching football. Seeing us succeed. Weddings – anyone’s wedding. Teaching. Having his students transfer to prestigious universities. Being in big groups of people. Solving problems. The time I came home from college for his birthday and he was so happy to see me he cried.

Next, I think about his physical presence. How it felt when he hugged me. The way he snored if he slept on his back. How he hated wearing jeans; he just wore old dress pants. Same with sneakers; he wore old dress shoes to be casual. He hated the cold and wore giant winter coats. He loved to cuddle my brother and I.

Then, I think about the special times I spent with him. The days he’d come to my high school and take me out to lunch. The time we went to a street festival together and were the only ones dancing to the band. When he’d help me with my homework, How he taught me to drive.

Finally, I do some journaling. I write, sometimes just a few notes, sometimes pages, about what I remembered.

I blow out the candle, and I tell the universe that I loved my dad and I miss him.

That’s my ritual. I hope it helps you find your own.


Black history month: Highways and institutional racism. If you read about Syracuse NY on that page – my dad hated the way Highway 81 cut our city in half and hurt its people. He didn’t use the term institutional racism, but he sure as hell knew what it was.