Barbara Morgan, a Gestalt psychotherapist & Family Constellations practitioner in our Bath and Islington centres, shares how bringing ritual to the big moments in her life has helped her both define and embrace them…
I remember so clearly the day my firstborn started school. I watched him through the window walking down the school path with his dad. He looked so small and vulnerable, and not at all ready for such an important step. And yet, I soon realized, it was I who was not ready for this important transition. It felt too soon, too challenging, too unknown.
But we don’t have to think about transitions in this way. Moreover, we could come to consider them as an essential part of our lives, and ones that we mark with love and mindfulness. Because, I have gradually come to the realisation that for me, only one thing is really needed when life shifts and changes – ritual.
Getting married was a beautiful ritual for me in so many ways. I can remember every detail of the day. I wish now that my husband and I had had a equally moving ritual for separating from each other. I remember the divorce papers coming through and the grief I felt in that moment.
The difficulty with this end of the continuum is that we want it to be over with quickly. We don’t want to have to go through the pain of tearing apart - but the acceptance that whatever the circumstances, it is not an easy process, really helps. And, I think a ritual would have helped us both to process the ending of one thing, the start of another.
In fact, I am now so convinced of this, I offer separation rituals to couples.
A huge transition for most women is becoming a mother, or reaching the acceptance that they will not become a mother. This transition for me was one of the most beautiful and the easiest to make. I was delighted to be a mother. I had a well-paid job in London at the time, and my boss was convinced I would be back at work in no time at all after giving birth. Not so. I was at home with my two children for eight beautiful years. I am so grateful for that chance. Now I look back on that time though, and again I think a ritual to acknowledge the pregnancy and another to acknowledge the birth, would have really enhanced the whole process.
Now I’m at the other end of the scale with four grandchildren, having passed through the menopause many years ago. This transition for me was also easy. My periods just stopped when my mother died. ‘Oh that’s emotional, mixed up with your grief for your mother. Your periods will return’ is what I told myself. But they didn’t! That was the easiest transition ever… though for many women it one of the most difficult to move through, and it is another moment when I think a ritual would have been so welcomed.
But today, for many of us, our culture is sadly lacking in these rituals. Whenever I’ve done a ritual to mark a moment, I have found the transition easier. Rituals are important. They mark transition in such a beautiful way.
Recently I attended a wedding in Romania. This couple had been married before and divorced a few years later. They re-committed to each other and decided what had been missing for them the time before, was the spiritual aspect. They decided this time to get married in the Romanian Church which had been closely involved with the re-unification of Romania. What a fitting venue! I was deeply moved by the ritual of the wedding, by the amount of singing there was, from both the priests and the choir who were upstairs in the back of the Church.
So, maybe as therapists, part of our work is to find a way to encourage people to re-introduce ritual into their families and communities. In a way, it probably doesn’t matter what form the ritual takes – deeply spiritual or religious, a fun-filled party, a small, intimate gathering with a few words. It’s the marking of a transition in some way that makes it memorable and enables us to move forward to the next stage of our lives.