Episode 39: Funeral Rituals for the Death of a Marriage

Rocky Road ritual with rose quartz and black stones

Most couples don’t get married expecting to get divorced. But when a marriage is dissolved, can ritual help the couple move on? 

As a Life-Cycle Celebrant, I believe rituals can help the couple navigate one of the most stressful events in a person’s life: divorce. 

You won’t find any legal advice here. Nor will you find professional counseling. Instead, you’ll find two rituals: 

  1.  Rocky Road — This is a marriage maintenance ritual. I created it to help couples avoid the inevitable potholes that, unless repaired, can create a chasm,  destroy the bridge, and lead to divorce. I’ll also tell you how one woman used the ritual to help her through a painful divorce. 
  1.  Untying the Knot — When the rocky road goes off the cliff and the couple decides to go their separate ways, this ritual is designed to help them discover the gifts in their relationship, no matter how brief or long the marriage lasted.  
Close up of a breaking rope on white

As a Life-Cycle Celebrant, I’ve officiated more than 150 weddings. There’s a moment in every ceremony, even the smallest of elopements, when the couple stands in front of me, hold hands, and listen as I ask the question. You know the one. It includes the words:  “…to honor and to respect, to love and to cherish, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, as long as you both shall live?”   

 

As my couples listen to those words, I imagine how hopeful they feel about the future. Sometimes, they get choked up. Sometimes, they giggle. Sometimes, a lip quivers or a tear falls. Sometimes, they eagerly say, “I do!” before I’ve completed the question. So, it’s sad when the marriage is dissolved. It means the dream died. 

 

Or does it? 

 

As heretical as this might sound, I don’t believe that all marriages are meant to last. 

I believe in reincarnation and that each lifetime presents opportunities for our souls to evolve. How? By having experiences that teach us something important about ourselves, so that we can become a better person, and teach others what we’ve learned. Perhaps in this lifetime, my soul needs to learn about the right use of power, or the joy of generosity, or the pain of being betrayed or abandoned.  

 

This is a huge topic and I don’t have all the answers. What answers I do have are based on what I’ve learned in working with my wedding couples and what I’m learning about myself this time around.  

 

I believe we are to “harvest” our experiences. Unlike farmers who sell or store their corn and grain, the crops we harvest — knowledge, insight, and understanding — are meant to be shared. In that sharing, we can make the world a better place. 

 

It takes courage to get married. At some time before or after a wedding ceremony, I thank my couples for getting married and putting love into the world. When the couple parts for reasons other than death, they each have an opportunity to harvest the experience. Again, the crops are knowledge, insight, and understanding. The difference I see is that in a marriage, two people are working the emotional fields together. In a divorce, each person is working his or her own emotional field alone.  

 

Whether people are married or divorced, they have plenty of opportunities to learn about themselves when the marriage ends.  

 

My Sister, the Buddy Horse

 

For instance, my sister married her high school sweetheart. They had a long and happy marriage. In the years after her husband died, she realized that for nearly forty years her role in the marriage was that of what she called “the buddy horse.” As a widow, she’s had to learn to be independent, to dissolve a corporation, to sell property, to move, to purchase property. And I can tell you she has done a fine job on all fronts. Though she doesn’t regret having been the buddy horse, it’s not a role she will play again. Through the crisis of her husband’s death, she has gained knowledge about who she was, insight into why her marriage worked so well for so long, and understanding of the strength she is developing now.   

 

Key to Happiness

My Friend, Podcast Coach Dave Jackson

 

My friend and podcast coach Dave Jackson has been married and divorced twice. The subject of divorce came up on a recent mastermind call when I told the group that I was working on this episode. I said that I believe that the self-knowledge available to us after a divorce can be a real gift, though we do have to work for it. After the group call, I asked Dave three questions:  

 

  1. After going through the divorce, what knowledge did you gain about yourself? 
  2. What  insight has that knowledge given you about what you want and need in a relationship, what you want for the future?
  3. With hindsight being 20-20, what benefits can you see to having been married?

 

He learned that he genuinely likes helping people and that it’s easy to get into trouble thinking with the heart and ignoring the head. Putting expensive fertility treatments on a credit card wasn’t smart, but he was willing to do anything to help his wife achieve a dream. Dave learned a lot more, too. You can hear all of his responses on the podcast. 

 

My Own Story

 

My first marriage ended in divorce. We were together for nine years. He left during the tenth year, and in the eleventh I filed for divorce. Here’s how I answered my own questions. 

 

  1. After going through the divorce, what knowledge did you gain about yourself? 

 

I learned that at nineteen, I was way too young to get married. I thought I knew myself. All I really knew was that I was desperate to get away from home. So I got pregnant. I had a significant psychic experience the night I got pregnant. I was eighteen. A woman’s voice said, “The baby needs to come tonight.” This was the 1960s. Being pregnant and unmarried was scandalous. That didn’t stop me.  

 

My mom had died when I was fifteen, leaving me and my two younger sisters with a father who had been away for two years on a military assignment. We barely knew him, except that he blamed us because he didn’t have the life he expected.   

 

I learned just how terrified I was to be on my own, especially with a child. Fortunately, in the years following the divorce, I learned that I’m strong, resourceful, and resilient. 

 

I also learned how destructive anger and jealousy can be, and that I’m capable of both, in abundance. I learned that when pushed, figuratively and literally, I can fight. 

 

  1. What insight has that knowledge given you about what you want and need in a relationship, what you want for the future?  

 

I went through a year of counseling, right before and right after the divorce. It was the best investment I ever made. I learned I was drawn to “exciting” relationships because I had numbed my feelings to anything normal.  

 

With the help of that counselor, I could eventually recognize that what I really wanted was a relationship without drama.  I wanted a partner who was dependable, responsible, respectable, and honest, someone who, like me, valued home and family. I just didn’t think I could ever have that.  

 

  1. With hindsight being 20-20, what benefits can you see to having been married?  

 

My first marriage was a trial by fire. It involved guns, drugs, underworld crime and undercover narcotic agents, sleeping with a 357 Magnum under the pillow, fleeing my home in the middle of the night and driving 500 miles to where I thought I’d be safe. Weeks later, I returned in the middle of the night and confronted him. I faced down a loaded shotgun. And I kicked him and his girlfriend out of my house. The nightmare eventually ended, but not for several more years. 

 

The greatest benefit from my first marriage was my daughter.  The other 

benefit to living through those years was that I stopped being afraid. I was in my 20s then. I’m in my 70s now. The last 50 years have been a gift. I don’t know that I would have recognized the gift of feeling powerful had I not experienced feeling powerless.  

 

 

My Friend Katy

 

Another friend, I’ll call her Katy, got married in 2011. I was the wedding officiant. The marriage lasted six years. And then, after all the pain and heartache that usually comes with divorce, Katy and her wife eventually developed a strong friendship. But while in the midst of the pain, Katy reached out to me. She asked if I could offer a ritual that might help. I’ll share that ritual later shortly. 

 

After the divorce, after Katy established a new life, I asked her the same three questions. 

 

  1. After going through the divorce, what knowledge did you gain about yourself?

 

During my marriage, my partner was always in charge of decision making, finances, etc. before I left I was unsure if I was capable of doing all of those tasks- paying the bills, taking care of the house, etc. I learned that I absolutely am capable of doing all of it. 

 

I also learned and chose to be a kind-hearted person. There was an opportunity that I had to emotionally and financially harm my ex. When it boiled down to it, I could not be that cruel. There were so many emotions – anger, hurt, sadness, disappointment, rage, fear, hope, loss- I had the instinct to hurt her. I wanted to hurt her, but it would have forever altered the way that I saw myself and how others saw me. 

 

  1. What insight has that knowledge given you about what you want and need in a relationship, what you want for the future?

 

It makes me know that I want a partner — someone who is able to allow give-and-take, someone who is a good listener, an affectionate person. I also want someone who appreciates and sees me for the person I am, not for my potential or who they want me to be. 

 

  1. With hindsight being 20-20, what benefits can you see to having been married?

 

Oh man, there were benefits to being married. There was such a feeling of safety within my marriage. I had never experienced that. Without having been married, I wouldn’t have learned about my own strengths. I also wouldn't have learned that even though a lover ticks so many boxes, you can’t make something work that doesn’t work. 

 

Now, my ex-wife is my best friend. We both had the opportunity to deeply hurt each other, around the time of our divorce and instead chose to care for one another and support one another. I know this is rare. So many people are unable to sort through the many many feelings and get back to a place of loving friendship with their ex. 

 

Katy’s right. Many people are not able to sort through all the feelings that come with divorce and get to a place of loving friendship. Counseling helps, as both Dave and I found out. So does ritual. Here is the first: 

Rocky Road

 

I call it Rocky Road. I think of it as a marriage maintenance ritual.  

 

Ingredients:  

  • 13 pieces of rose quartz, the stone associated with love 
  • 3 pieces of black onyx, a stone that can transform negativity 
  • 1 clear glass bowl large enough to hold all ingredients
  • (Optional) Handmade rose potpourri, scented with magical oils 

 

Directions:

Within the first month of your wedding, place the potpourri into the bowl.  Place all the stones around the outside of the bowl. Talk about the future you envision as a couple. 

 

The rose quartz stones represent significant expressions of love. Each time either of you feels that heart-swelling emotion that reaffirms your bond of love, place one piece of rose quartz in the bowl. In your first year together, bask in the honeymoon glow. You might place all thirteen pieces of rose quartz in the bowl in the first month. I hope so. 

 

Impatience and misunderstandings can lead to harsh words, and harsh words lead to anger. They all serve to test the bond you’ve forged. When there is a strong foundation of love, those challenging times will reveal new tools to use as a couple. So don’t be alarmed when the bond is tested. You need to know the strength of your marriage.  

 

When serious problems threaten your happiness, place a piece of black onyx in the bowl. Like rose quartz, onyx is a member of the quartz family. Where rose quartz stimulates the heart chakra, opening it to give and receive love, black onyx stimulates the root chakra (physical vitality), the solar plexus (will power), and the third eye (mental activity). In The Book of Stones: Who They Are and What They Teach, authors Robert Simmons and Naisha Ahsian write that black onyx  “soothes hot tempers and brings reason to passion.” You can see why I chose that stone for this ritual. 

 

When you put a piece of black onyx in the bowl, remove three pieces of rose quartz.  Set them outside the bowl. You might not recognize a gesture on your spouse’s part as one of love. If you’re really angry, you might not want to recognize a loving gesture. If that’s the case, remember that anger and grudges are heavy. Carrying them around can hurt your back. 

 

Fortunately, love motivates change.  As you work through whatever has come between you as a couple, remember those qualities that drew you together in the first place. See a marriage counselor. That’s something I think every couple should do at least every seven years. 

 

However you go about it, when you reaffirm your love, return the pieces of rose quartz to the bowl. And place the  black onyx outside the bowl. On each anniversary, empty the bowl and start the process all over again.

 

I gave all the fixings for this ritual to Katy and her wife as a wedding gift. I’ll get to that in a moment.  

 

First, what about substitute ingredients?  While rose quartz and black onyx do carry the energy needed for this ritual, don’t let cost or accessibility get in the way. The power of your intent is what’s most important. 

 

Gather ordinary stones. Wash them and make sure they’re good and dry. Then paint them with nail polish.

 

If the world of ritual is new to you, it’s helpful to know that all over the world alternative methods of healing — Bach Flower Remedies, Reiki, healing with light, past life regressions, dream work, to name a few — follow the premise that all matter is made of energy, and that everything in the universe has its own vibration. 

 

Color has a vibration, too. So if you paint your own rocks for this ritual, stay with pinks for the rose quartz and black for the onyx. Practitioners who understand color rays far better than I do, believe that the red color ray, from which we get pink, is believed to stimulate compassion and devotion, and that black absorbs all colors and can transform energy, especially bad habits. Then, when you can, get real rose quartz and black onyx.   

 

Now back to Katy, the bride I told you about earlier.  Here’s the rest of her story and how it relates to the Rocky Road ritual. After she answered the three questions I asked, she added this:  

 

I recall reaching out to you, Ms Zita. And reading your email and crying and crying and crying. Do you recall our wedding gift from you? It was a ritual with rose quartz and black stones. Like so many of the wedding gifts we received, they were packed in CT after the wedding, driven to OH and stacked in the basement to go through later. I found your box when I was sorting through things during the dissolution. 

 

It was too late to do the ritual as designed. So I created my own. I meditated on specific emotions —  my anger, my disappointment, my fear, and I buried them one-by-one in the ground along with a black stone. Then I concentrated on my hopes, my happiness, my gratitude. And I buried them with pieces of rose quartz. 

 

When it was all said and done, I had an extra rose quartz. I put it in my pocket. When I walked away, I felt lighter. To this day, that piece of rose quartz sits on my bureau as a reminder. 

 

I love the ritual Katy created with the Rocky Road stones. I also like the fact that she buried her anger, disappointment, and fear with the black stones, knowing the element of earth would transform them.  With the rose quartz, she buried her hopes, happiness, and gratitude, too. Not to transform them into something else, but to enable them to grow again. The visible act, burying stones in the earth,  was the same for the black stones and the rose quarts. It was Katy’s intent that was different.  Remember:  Ritual is a visible act performed with invisible intent.   

Rocky Road ritual in simple dessert goblet

Untying the Knot

 

The second ritual is called “Untying the Knot.”  When the rocky road goes off the cliff and the couple decides to go their separate ways, this ritual is designed to help them discover the gifts in their relationship, no matter how long or how brief the marriage lasted. 

 

First, let me state for the record, I am not a counselor. I don’t have the skills to help couples work through crises. So, if you’re going through a divorce, please seek professional counseling. 

 

What I do is create rituals that reflect the changes going on inside. A good ritual can help you get in touch with your inner self. A good ritual can help you find meaning in what’s happening. That’s where you find your power.  

 

A divorce breaks the bonds of marriage. When a couple has included a handfasting ritual in their wedding ceremony, a way to symbolize the end of the marriage is to untie the knot. Just as when the knot was originally tied, it should be untied as part of a ritual. But, since most people don’t have a handfasting cord with a knot they can untie, here’s an alternative.  

 

This ritual is one that you can do alone, or with friends. 

 

Advanced Preparation 

 

This ritual does need some advanced preparation. Let’s assume you’re going through a divorce. Family and close friends have a unique vantage point from which to view your relationship. A week or so before you do this ritual, ask them to answer these two questions: 

 

  1.  In what ways do you think being married to X was good for me? 

 

They may say things like: You had someone to share the bills. You got to travel. You had companionship.  You gained social status. You were protected. You had help with the children. You had sex. You got emotional support. You had someone to plan the future with. You met a new circle of friends. You gained a new family. This could be a long list. 

 

Write down all the responses. Cut and paste from emails is fine. However you do it, collect all the responses in one place. Add your own answers. When you get to the step of untying the knot, it’s important to know what you are releasing. The more specific you can be, the better. 

   

  •  In what ways do you think being divorced from X will be good for me? 

 

Depending on when you do this ritual, it may be hard for those who love you to respond without righteous anger on your behalf. They may say things like: You don’t need that bum / that mooch / that jerk. (I’m choosing my words carefully. You can be as colorful as you want.)   

 

You might also hear: You don’t have to pay his / her bills, or support a drug addiction, or worry about the guns in the house. You can travel wherever and whenever you want. You can move if you want to. You don’t have to spend time with his / her family. You can eat whatever you like, whenever you want. You can play the music you like. You can get a pet. 

 

As with the first question, collect all the responses, including your own, and have the list ready for the ritual. 

 

Ingredients:  

  • Two cords or ribbons, each at least 3 feet long 
  • Answers to questions 1 and 2, above. 

 

Directions

Holding the first cord, read the list of responses to the first question (In what ways do you think being married to X was good for me?)  As you read each answer, tie a knot in the cord.  

 

It’s helpful to know that knots have long been thought to bind energy. For example, centuries ago sailors would buy magic cords that had three knots. Should they get stranded at sea with no wind they would untie a knot, or two, or all three, with the belief that the wind initially bound in the knot would now fill their sails.  

 

A few years ago, an herbalist from African told me that knots that occur naturally in nature — something common in certain vines — are believed to bind the life force, imbuing the knot with magic. 

 

Keep that in mind as you make knots in your cord, one for each of the good things you gained by being married. When you’re finished, put that cord in a place that’s both safe and visible. It will remind you of the gifts you found in being married — such as my courage, Katy’s strength, Dave’s experience being a dad. 

 

Recognizing those gifts may also keep your heart from becoming bitter. That’s important because, someday, you might want to take the risk again. If so, you’ll be ready.  

 

Now for the second cord. Again, make knots in the cord. This time, one knot for each answer to the question: In what ways do you think being divorced from X will be good for me? 

 

When you’ve knotted all the benefits, pass the cord among your friends. Have each one say something like, “The power to bind her heart is over.”  

 

While the cord is being passed, play something upbeat such as Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. When the cord comes back to you, untie each knot. Do it with sass!  Let your friends know it’s okay to applaud and cheer with each release. 

 

When you’ve untied all the knots, soak the cord in water. That’s the element of forgiveness, of cleansing the spirit, and letting go of pain. Then bury the cord in the ground, walk away, and congratulate yourself. You’ve taken a giant step in a long process.  

 

Share Your Knowledge

 

I hope you use Rocky Road as the marriage maintenance ritual I created it for. And I hope you never have to use Untying the Knot. If you do, be sure to share what you learned with at least one friend. It’s in the sharing that we help each other map the heart’s journey.  

About Zita

Zita brings “Happily Ever After” to life. She is a wedding officiant, ordained interfaith minister, a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant®, playwright and multipublished romance novelist. Through Moon River Rituals, Zita creates customized ceremonies for individuals, couples, families, and communities in CT, RI, MA, and NY. She is a proud supporter of marriage equality. To see her handfasting cords, visit www.etsy.com/shop/MoonRiverRituals and www.Facebook.com/MoonRiverRituals. Zita also hosts and produces three television shows: Weddings with Zita, Page 1 and Full Bloom. Watch them on YouTube.com/ZitaTVNetwork. For information about Zita's writing, visit www.ZitaChristian.com, Yes, she wears many hats
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