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Helping People with Developmental Disabilities Mourn: Practical Rituals for Caregivers

Authors: Marc A. Markell, Ph.D.


This book describes several interactive activities useful in helping people with intellectual disabilities talk about and accept their feelings after a close friend or family member has died. Here is an excerpt from the publisher’s description:

“Frequently, people with developmental disabilities are excluded from bereavement ceremonies when a loved one or friend dies, therefore not receiving the special care needed for comprehending their own feelings of loss. Focusing on creating mourning rituals for special needs people, this guide offers specific rituals and techniques for caregivers to use while helping explain death and dying.”

taken from the Companion Press Bookstore website viewed on 10/28/10 (http://www.centerforloss.com/oscommerce-2/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=85&osCsid=1bdb80017fdf9137f5ae1ad6902ddced)

The “Greif Speaks” website chose a few examples of the rituals outlined in the book, and briefly explained each:

The use of photographs in ritual
Have everyone sit in a circle and pass around a photo of the person who died and share memories. If anyone is non-verbal the facilitator can share memories about the loss on his/her behalf.

The use of storytelling in ritual
Write a story about the person who has died in collaboration with the grieving person(s).

The use of memory objects in ritual
Put a group of objects together that remind everyone of the person who died, such as photos, books, clothing articles, papers etc. For someone less verbal, let the grieving person(s) choose what goes in pile. Leave the objects for several days. Limited time for those easily distracted.

The use of drawing in ritual
Have the grieving person(s) draw a picture of the person who died or together write down memories of the person and share it with others. Even if the grieving person(s) has limited fine motor skills, encourage him/her to draw what he/she remembers.

The use of music in ritual
Listen to music that the person who died liked or that reminds her of the person who died. The song may relate to the job or a personality trait of the person who died. The grieving person(s) may choose to listen, move to music or draw.

The use of writing in ritual
The grieving person(s) can write or dictate a letter to or about the person who died. Perhaps providing the grieving person(s) with a letter that has some sentence starters will be helpful.

The use of stones in ritual
Share a memory of the person who died and then place a small stone in a decorative fountain or paint the rock or write a word on it. Take time daily to remember that person.

The use of daily memory in ritual
Choose an activity that the person who died used to do with the grieving person(s). This may be self-care or taking a walk, cooking or playing a game together. As the facilitator does this activity intentionally talk about the person who has died. This can occur immediately after the death or delayed for weeks. Pay attention to the grieving person(s)’s cues in order to help him/her in the healing process.

Adapted from an article viewed on 12/12/2010 (www.griefspeaks.com/id96.html)

Contact Info:
Name:Dr. Alan Wolfelt
Organization:The Center for Loss and Life Transition/Companion Press
Address:3735 Broken Bow Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526

Web Links

Description of the book on the publisher's website

Home page of the Companion Bookstore/Companion Press

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