How to Grieve Part 1: Make a Shrine

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So the title of this post is a bit misleading. Despite the fact that my google search “how to grieve” returned 14,000,000 hits and my Amazon search yielded 126 books with “how to grieve” in the title, the truth is that no one can really teach you how to grieve. There are moments where I sincerely wish that this weren’t the case. And don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that those books and articles provide useful tips on how to do some of the hardest emotional labour we’ll probably ever have to perform. But I truly believe that just as grief can take so many forms, so can the ways that we choose to grieve. And trying to figure out what acts, objects, or rituals will help you grieve is so subjective and singular.

Next Saturday, October 22nd, marks the 20th anniversary of my mom’s death from cervical cancer. Next Saturday also marks the first time that I (or my family) have done anything to mark this anniversary. That sounds crazy, right? We never went to her gravestone. And in fact, I didn’t even remember the exact date of her death — and so when I decided that I wanted to do something to commemorate this date, I had to ask my dad “what was the day that mom died?” Such a question is a weighty one when your family has spent the past 20 years never talking about her death or its impact. This is not to say that we never spoke of my mom. We definitely did. But we only talked about her life prior to the illness. So not only is this anniversary a big deal because it’s been 20 years, but it’s a big deal because this is my first time really being intentional about my grieving process.

Instead of telling you how to grieve, I want to share some of the things that have helped me. This week I’ll talk about the process of making a shrine (and provide some tips on how to bring your vision to life in a way that feels supportive) and after the 22nd I’ll share the story of the ceremony that I’ll be having with close friends and loved ones.

You might be asking, why did you choose to make a shrine? Totally fair question. I want to do more research and writing on shrines (and other mourning rituals) in my future research, so for now I’ll give you my purely intuitive reasons: I’ve always found shrines to be beautiful objects on a purely aesthetic level — they bring together my love of collage and crafting. My mom was quite the crafty lady too, so the idea of creating something to honour her just felt right. Shrines not only speak to the act of creating something beautiful out of something sad, but they remind us that while the loved one is gone, they are still present in our lives.

How to Make a Shrine:

1) Decide if this is something that you want to do alone, with a friend, or with a few friends. I’m super fortunate to have friends who are totally okay with me weeping in front of them, friends who can sit with the silence I need, or fill up that silence with goofiness to lighten the mood. One of my dearest friends, Carla, is just that person. Plus, she’s AMAZING at crafts and understands my love of all things witchy teen girl. It also felt super symbolic that she’s about to be a mother herself LITERALLY ANY DAY NOW!

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2) Select the images and/or tokens that feel significant. One of the gifts that my mother left me, perhaps unintentionally, was a collection of photo albums that include photos of her when she was a baby, a child, a teenager, an adult, and a mother. I went through the albums, as well as the photos that I have up around my apartment, and selected some of her at different stages in her life. Part of the rationale behind this (if you can call it a rationale) was wanting to find some way to incorporate some more pagan/occulty beliefs into this project. Carla told me about the Maiden, Mother, Crone archetypes, and how they represent different stages in a woman’s life. I really appreciated how these archetypes emphasize the importance of intuition, creativity, compassion, and sharing wisdom. Once you’ve selected the images, you’ll want to go to your local photocopy shop to get them reproduced (unless you want to use the originals).

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Once you’ve completed that step, you’ll want to bring together all of your crafts, images, and objects together — just so you can get a sense of all of the possibilities!

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3) Decide what the structure of your shrine will be. I had originally hoped to find one of those picture frames where there are three frames attached to one another. But my search at Value Village was unsuccessful. I did, however, find some sweet lace curtains that we used (you’ll see a picture of that shortly). Carla and I ended up using a cardboard box, which gives that cool shadow-box, 3D feel. We then proceeded to paint it black:

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4) But before we painted it, we did one of the most important things when making a shrine: we selected a playlist to set the tone. Because we both love everything 90s and wanted to up the already pulsating female energy in the room, we selected this:

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Yes, that’s right, in case the photos is too blurry (still learning how to use my new camera), that is the Lilith Fair Ladies of the 90s. I’d be lying if I said that we didn’t know all of the lyrics to every song on the list.

5) The next step is probably the hardest: choosing what will fit in your structure and inevitably making some cuts. I brought A LOT of photos of my mom, so I had to go through an make sure that I had Maiden, Mother, and Crone representation and that the photos I selected were my favourites in those groups. This is another moment where having a friend present is helpful: they can not only provide you with the emotional support you need to make these choices, but practical support as well by offering their opinion.

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Many of these didn’t make the cut, including the photo on the bottom left which has to be in my top 3 favourite mom photos. Just a word on the mother of wands and daughter of wands tarot cards that I photocopied. Those cards come from my cherished tarot deck, The Wild Unknown, written and illustrated by Kim Krans. Krans describes the wands cards as follows: “Ruled by the element of fire, the wands represent inspiration and creativity. They relate to our ambitions, goals, and dreams. They mark the beginning of all ventures within the mind and spirit.” Creativity. Check. The beginning of a venture (grieving). Check.

The daughter of wands is said to be visionary and passionate. She is a “free spirit, a truly visionary creature. She can be stubborn and much stronger than she looks. This card can also represent a woman going through a transformation or spiritual breakthrough.” While the mother of wands is “a vibrant woman and happy mother. Family comes first in her world — she’s very protective of it and is the dominant parent within the home” (so far check, check, check, check).

6) Decorate and embellish. Carla is a true visionary and she took my embroidery thread, which I had no clue how to integrate, and transformed and textured some of the photos.

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One of my favourite things that Carla came up with was this flip book. I have two images of my mom with her sisters as adults: one where they were together before my mom was sick, and another taken the last time that my whole family came together before my mom passed away. Given that we didn’t have a lot of space, and that I wanted to highlight this juxtaposition, Carla suggested that we cut around the bodies and create a flip book.

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In the spirit of more texture always, we added this vintage silk scarf that my mom got when she was in France. DON’T WORRY, I have a whole bag of these! Only one got sacrificed in the process of making this shrine, and it was for a good cause.

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The final piece of our creation was these moon phases with that lace that I was talking about. Each of the three archetypes is linked to a different moon phase: waxing for the Maiden, full for the Mother, and waning for the Crone. We picked a jar that was the size of the moon I wanted, found these paper plates, and then traced and cut out the shape.

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Carla painted them too look like little moons and then added the lace overtop of the waxing and waning so that the crescent moon shape would stand out. Here they are pre-lace.

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And post-lace:

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7) Start to assemble. Before you start glueing, lay out your objects so that you can figure out where the best place to put them is. You’ll want to think about which images/objects you want to have front and centre in the middle of the box. And then you start gluing!

Here’s the finished product back at home, along with other significant objects:

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This post was written by Margeaux

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