Ritual, Recovery and Guy Fawkes

A community’s resilience may be defined as its capacity to withstand major trauma and loss, overcome adversity, and to prevail, usually with increased resources, competence and connectedness. After trauma the community and its members face challenges arising from major disruptions to life, stress, loss and grief, and ruptures in connectedness. This comes as no surprise to us Cantabrians.

Resilience is a process taking place at all levels from micro (individual) to macro (communal). It has been defined as the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to resources that sustain well-being: the capacity of an individual’s physical and social worlds to provide these resources and the capacity of individuals, families and communities to negotiate culturally meaningful ways for resources to be shared.

Resilience, coping and healing may be enhanced in the presence of ritual and celebration which also occurs at all these levels from micro to macro. An example of a simple individual ritual may be that, prior to, or on arrival home from work, one takes a short break to arrive and ‘ground’ oneself before carrying out tasks or engaging with children and others. Couples, friends or partnerships may have rituals that provide pattern, comfort and connectedness. An example could be a date (day or night) or a shared meal on a regular basis with friends. Family rituals are many and varied and often deeply ingrained in family history and culture. These often occur around transitions, birthdays, weddings, funerals, religious dates and occasions, or may be simple weekly practices like a family movie and treats night. Simple bedtime rituals for children provide connection and routine which hold comfort. Simple sleep routines are possible even in times of major upheaval.

There is evidence to suggest that all these rituals enhance family health and functioning. They also assist family members to cope with ongoing stress and to heal from trauma and grief.

An upcoming example of family, group, community or mass celebration is Guy Fawkes. The fact that it commemorates the failed plot in the 1600’s of the attempt to blow up the House of Lords has become somewhat lost in the joy that children (especially) experience in the excitement of the late night, the fun, bonfires and fireworks.

This year, over a year on from the first of the Christchurch earthquakes, the function of this ritual may hold benefits for many. However, some traumatised children may require special attention. Traumatic memories may be triggered by sights, sounds, smells. Memories of what has been lost may also be triggered by the ritual itself and how it used to occur or who or what has been lost. While there may be comfort in retaining the familiar, for some it may be helpful to change the way the celebration occurs to minimise triggering of loss experiences and sadness.

While we all need to attend to our individual and family needs, the community and its activities are a vital part of our recovery and growth also. The celebration of Guy Fawkes is just one opportunity for joining the larger mass for the purpose of celebration. If choosing a smaller celebration, take time to plan what your family may enjoy, involve the children in planning and preparation, allowing them to experience achievement or success, make an example of yourself by practising optimism and attending to your own needs, keeping your own worries and stress away from children’s awareness. Finding optimism and holding the expectation of positive outcomes will help children and actually increase the likelihood that these positive outcomes will occur.

Children need adults to look after themselves. Pay attention to your own and others’ emotional and physical safety, plan and prepare and allow the healing powers of celebrations to take effect.


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