Honor—and release—your loved ones this Memorial Day

“All deaths, all endings, are a path to the next beginning.”
—Alberto Villoldo
As we honor the lives and sacrifices of our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, many of us also remember loved ones who have passed.

In many indigenous cultures, the ancestral altar serves as a symbolic home for those who have died and the relationships they had with the living. Often, it is nothing more than a few photos in a bookshelf where you light incense and say your prayers to honor the departed and wish them a luminous journey. Some cultures have complex ‘houses’ for the spirits of the departed, where the living offer food and blessings to them. Either way, they are a way of acknowledging what came before and the continuity of life.

The ancestor altar can also be envisioned as a way to contain the wandering spirits of those who have passed. A spirit may attach itself to you if you have not completed the grieving process and truly accepted this person is gone from this life. The attachment is an energetic one, and you will experience your connection in toxic ways that can keep you from moving on with your life.

You can honor your late father, mother, grandparents, spouse—even your child who passed—by constructing and working with a modern ancestral altar. Create a space in your home, such as a shelf, where you can place photographs of your loved ones and candles to honor them. Add small items like leaves, twigs, buds, flowers, or other items from nature to remind you of the impermanence of life and of the cycles of nature.

When you sit by the altar, reflect upon what was good about your relationships. Affirm what you received, and give thanks for the lessons your ancestors taught you. Even if the person hurt you, acknowledging the lessons learned and the qualities you developed as a result will help you to grow and move on, and set the ancestors free so you do not have to be re-born with them in the future!

Honor even those ancestors you never had a chance to know but who have somehow affected or inspired you. And as you thank them for their love, their lessons, and their lives, assert your own path of beauty and dream your world, and your reality, into being.

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To become a butterfly, you must be willing to give up being a caterpillar.