Symbolic Gestures

Symbols such as Tibetan prayer flags can connect people with the unseen or unknown, and can connect the living with the dead.

Symbols such as Tibetan prayer flags can connect people with the unseen or unknown, and can connect the living with the dead.

For thousands of years, in every part of the world, symbols have played an important role in ritual and ceremony and have acted as a touchstone for reassurance in times of distress. In the latter case, symbols are especially of benefit to help the bereaved focus on something other than their pain and loss. Symbolic images can serve as an anchor, a sign of familiarity when the life they once knew is forever changed by the death of a loved one.

For many people, symbols offer a physical connection to their spiritual and religious beliefs and practices that provide strength, not only for daily living, but especially in difficult circumstances. Symbols are the concrete reality of faith and can become powerful objects that personify unseen forces. They are also a link to those who have passed. This is of tremendous comfort to the grieving, sometimes providing comfort even to those who are not particularly religious.

Often, in a time of crisis, we may find ourselves digging out an old good-luck charm or religious tokens, and even pray for the first time in many years. We seem to have a need for something physical to cling to, whether we are in physical danger or emotional distress. In a room filled with grief and stress, it is amazing how much of that can be absorbed by strategically-placed symbols.

A great deal of your relationship with your clients is to give comfort. And whether or not you know it, even you are a symbol. You are, in essence, a mediator between the living and the deceased, tending to our final passage — a very ancient symbol set in modern times.

When considering the nature of symbols, keep in mind that not all of them have a religious significance. The definitions can be broken down into two camps:

  1. Religious/spiritual – crosses, rosaries, incense
  2. Non-religious/non-spiritual – candles, water, flowers

Simple enough. Now, let’s take another step further into the details of each, starting with religious/spiritual symbols.

I would suggest that you start with an overview of a good variety of symbols and their meanings by visiting The site is invaluable to put you in the right direction to assist with a client’s preferences and practices.

In this part of the world,most people are most familiar with the Christian Cross. You may have seen it in many places and understand its significance. However, be aware of its variations, such as the Celtic Cross. Was the deceased and their family proud of their Celtic heritage? For examples of Celtic Crosses, rosaries and other symbols, go to This site provides a good selection of many traditional items.

Suppose the bereaved is Buddhist? Where would you begin to locate the necessary items? Check with to get a wonderful assortment of symbolic and ritual items such as prayer flags, mala beads and incense.

Let’s move on to the second category of symbols — non-religious/non-spiritual. These types of items are readily available, but nonetheless important. Candles and flowers are two of the most-often used symbols — and comfort often is found in the familiar. You can increase this comfort value even further by personalizing candles, flowers and other non-religious objects in ways such as emplying a color, scent or type of flower that’s particularly significant to the deceased and their family.

Nearly anything can be a symbol. By paying close attention, asking questions, you can learn what was important to the departed and implement it into the service. Your gesture will mean so much and be of profound benefit to your clients, to their families and friends.

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