One thing we all have in common is that we’re going to die. Oftentimes when we lose a loved one, the grief can seem insurmountable and last a very long time. There is no best way to work through those myriad feelings; it’s an extremely personal process that we all must navigate in our own way. But how can we turn this life event into a way to not only soothe our own spirit, but also honor our loved ones? Some experts suggest that embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage—whether literal, as in a trip to a sacred site, or figurative, through our senses and personal rituals—can help to connect us to the soul we’re missing.
What is a Spiritual Pilgrimage?
A spiritual pilgrimage is a journey or search for moral or spiritual significance. One taken after the passing of a loved one can range from traveling with a dearly departed’s ashes and sprinkling them around a site that holds special meaning. It could also be a trip to a shrine or other location of importance to one’s beliefs and faith, that not only offers a spiritual connection to the person who has passed, but also to the Divine. It could be following through on a promise to visit a place that you and your loved one had planned to do together. Or it could be daily, weekly or monthly rituals done at home that honor his or her memory. In short, it’s whatever—and wherever—makes you feel connected to your loved one who’s passed.
While we suffer the severing of a connection when we lose a beloved life partner, child, family member or friend, Meera Lester, author of Sacred Travels: 274 Places to Find Joy, Seek Solace, and Learn to Live More Fully, suggests that if we embrace the idea that the person we loved has only disappeared from our physical world, we can then learn to connect on a spiritual level. “In our deepest spiritual core, we can remember and tune in to the presence of that loved one’s eternal soul. That’s our work: to learn to connect deeply and inwardly.”
Seeking Solace at Sacred Sites
Sacred sites, such as places deemed “holy,” can offer solace and nourish one’s spirit during the dark period of grief. One reason for this is because countless people from all over the world also make pilgrimages to the same spot, so one looking for a spiritual connection during the grieving period may find comfort in that shared experience. According to Lester, a holy site becomes spiritually and energetically charged “when people open their hearts to experience a deep and profound connection with that site through their prayers or meditations, or simply by being fully present to what the places offers them at a particular moment.”
Traveling to a religious site can indeed be a very profound experience, but a place doesn’t have to be religious to be sacred; it can be somewhere that the two of you enjoyed visiting together, or a spot where your loved one had always hoped to go. “Places you associate with your loved one will always hold memories for you,” explains Lester. What makes a site sacred is that you can return to it again and again, so your loved one’s spirit and memory lives on.
Connection Through the Sense of Smell
While we can’t connect to those who have passed in the physical sense, the sense of smell can instantly connect you to your loved one and your cherished memories. “Think of how the smell of roses, camphor, sandalwood, perfumed incense, or even smoke from a funeral pyre can suggest a holy place or spiritual experience,” says Lester. Another way to connect through your sense of smell is by keeping a bottle of his or her favorite scent close at hand. Opening it and inhaling the aroma may transport you back to a time and place where you were together and enjoying each other’s company.
How Personal Rituals Can Help
While taking a trip to honor a loved one who has passed is a beautiful act that can be very healing, it’s not always feasible. In addition, many are in need of more immediate ways to connect to a lost loved one than through travel. A spiritual pilgrimage can be as simple as personal rituals that help us keep their memories alive. Lester explains that after her husband died, she performed a nightly ritual to help in her time of need: “I wrapped his pajamas and robe around her pillow to embrace every night, telling him I’d meet him in dreamtime. It helped me to sleep when I most needed it.”
The key point to remember about a spiritual pilgrimage after experiencing a great loss is that the journey can be near or far. While a trip to a sacred or holy site, or a place where you have shared memories or were intending to make new ones, may bring you the spiritual connection you need, the pilgrimage doesn’t have to be a physical act. It can be as simple as tuning in to your senses and memories with the help of personal rituals that help you honor their spirit while wading through your grief. The hope for a spiritual pilgrimage is that it helps connect you to your loved one and aids your pain regardless of the path you take.