10 Rituals and ceremonies in death and dying

The end-of-life in many ways is a journey that is valuable and full of rituals and ceremonies that add meaning to this important time. Rituals and ceremonies allow you and your family to invite in the kind of memorable moments and lights the way of life. Rituals and ceremonies provide connection to your soul and spirituality, gifts of resilience, and positive response to your anxiety.

Here are 10 rituals and ceremonies in death and dying:

1. Living wakes / Living funeral

This is not goodbye, my darling, this is a thank you. Thank you for coming into my life and giving me joy.

~ Nicholas Sparks

If you know the end is near maybe you want to have a send-off gathering to say farewell to your family and friends to celebrate your life through arranging a living funeral. This celebration of life is just that: a time people come together and to celebrate your achievements and life.

  • Where do you want this celebration of your life? It can be any place that represents you.
  • What kind of theme will best evoke you religious or self –themed?
  • What kind of music do you want played?
  • Who do you want to give your eulogy? Or do you want it to be an open-mic ceremony?
  • What flowers do you want to be displayed?
  • What holy book readings or inspirational poems would you like read?

A living wake is about spending time connecting with the people whom you’ve shared your life with. This life celebration can truly be a magically uplifting and life-affirming way to look dying and death squarely in the eye and let it bring you to a new appreciation for living. It may be important to you and your family’s psychological state.

The goal of living wakes is to celebrate life, rather than mourning death, celebrate your life while you’re still around to bask in the warmth of the camaraderie and love of family and friends.

Different music is played along with an all around happier atmosphere. The goal is for this to be happy, to celebrate a life and to give thanks to everyone attending. During a living wake, families and friends will share stories and memories of the person who is nearing death. This ceremony is often a very happy event where there can be closure. The soon-to-be-deceased person often speaks about their life and who has affected it. Many people want to be able to show their appreciation through the living funeral. Friends and family of the person hosting the funeral will say things that they would have said at a normal funeral. Except now their loved one is there to hear it.

2. Vigils

A Vigil Plan is a blueprint, a set of ideas and suggestions, created by an individual that outlines what kind of emotional and physical support they’d like to receive in their final days when their energy and the ability to talk is waning.

You also have the right to put together an end-of-life plan with your vigil. A “vigil” is when an End-of-Life Doula can sit bedside the “traveller” and family during the “active” dying phase.

  • Would you prefer to be sitting outside in the sunshine?
  • Do you want fresh flowers surrounding them?
  • Candles lit?
  • Soft music playing?
  • Surrounded by photos of your loved ones?

Your vigil plan is unique and customised to your own preferences. You may wish to die at home. You may wish to be surrounded by loved ones. Write a list of those people you wish to accompany you and complete it with contact information. You may want fresh fragrant roses, lilies or irises at the bedside. You may have a specific music playlists of uplifting, comforting music. You may want someone to read you your favourite passages from a Holy Book. You may want a small altar with pictures of your family, or mementoes collected over your life. You may envision a member of the clergy to be present and perform specific end-of-life rituals such as the last rites, or prayers. It’s easier to write down your last wishes to help you feel in control.

3. Candlelight ceremony

The candlelight ceremony will enlighten your inner darkness of grief to bring an open heart and a calming presence. Hold the space for “a good death” with grace and compassion. That is when the magic happens.

Candle Lighting Ceremony

4. Incense stick

Incense stick will bring the holy atmosphere with aromatherapy during your prayers and alone times. Enjoy the elegant and special atmosphere and fragrance of holy atmosphere with incense sticks at the place of worship. It also makes mind fresh and delightful. Such a pleasant mind and atmosphere helps to create devotion in the devotee’s mind. Incense stick also bears a special significance for better concentration and meditation.

5. Singing and chanting

You don’t necessarily have to pray and worship quietly. Many people communicate with God through noise and movement. Singing and chanting — otherwise known as letting your voices be heard — are part of the histories of most world religions. It’s about letting go, giving yourself up to the divine ecstasy that is found in God’s love. These actions are often part of the rites of passage found among most religions. Singing, chanting, dancing, and whirling can bring people together, part of the communal experience that unites people of faith.

6. Water bathing and story telling

Water bathing and story telling to your beloved family members will aid you to let go of your stress and anxiety. You may go through hard days but it’s time to find peace in these hard days. Spiritual cleansing baths are used to reject the negative, open the paths, eliminate negative situations, attract positivity and above all … relax!

The time has come to make your daily bath a sacred ritual, a spiritual moment where you can find yourself and unwind your mind. With water at different temperature, we can obtain therapeutic results and rapidly feel calm and decontraction. If you add some essential oils and plants you will increase the effect, making your bath a true moment of peace and relaxation.

7. Life story video

You may be gone from my sight, but you are never gone from my heart.

Video is becoming a staple of life celebrations. Creating a life story video and enjoying the screens with your beloved family members will be a source of peacefulness to celebrate end of your life.

8. Music

 Music speaks to our soul and the right music can be deeply comforting in times of remembrance and grief. Live music at each step of the end of life process is quickly becoming a life celebration trend. These events showcase 2 instruments and sounds that inherently speak to us on a visceral level in times of pain. Their sound carries us, even if just momentarily, to a place of comfort, confidence, and strength when we are feeling at our most hopeless.

9. Photos

Capturing your happy moments and watching those photos takes you to those happy moments. This is a genuine way to regain the happiness again and again.

10. Memory celebration

Another emerging trend in the death care is the hyper-personalized memorial rituals, objects, and services to remember loved ones. Discuss with your end-of-life doula about how you want to create personalized celebrations that reflect your inner beliefs and values.


Jenny Wren

About the author

Jenny Wren (Sita Simran) is a Teacher & Founder of Jenny Wren Wellness and an End-of-Life Doula | Funeral Celebrant based in Brisbane, QLD Australia. She is a certified Member of The International Institute of Complementary Therapies and a qualified EOL Doula, Funeral Celebrant and Kundalini Yoga & Meditation teacher.

If you have any questions or require assistance with your general health and wellbeing, speak to me. Online consultations and training available.

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