Creating an altar following the death of a loved one can help facilitate a healthy, dynamic expression of grief. An altar is a personal space that is specifically dedicated to someone who was important to you. It is a place of reflection and peace that can add spiritual energy to your home.
A candle is the key component of any altar for it gives it light and warmth. Near my home in San Francisco the Mission District has numerous stores catering to the mystical side of the Catholic religion, and I have found these stores to be a great resource when struggling with the early days after a loss. There are very specific, long-burning candles to choose from and the store owners are friendly and helpful in this neighborhood. Botanica Yoruba at 3423 19th Street is a particularly good retail establishment. Since there are many candles to choose from, I’ve always liked having someone help me choose based on my relationship with the deceased and what kind of person he or she was. Asking for guidance from the store owners gives me one less thing I have to navigate by myself during those days when decision making can be difficult. Going to the Mission neighborhood has become a pilgrimage of sorts for me now. If you don’t have a Mission-type district near your home, there are other places to search for candles and trinkets to place on an altar, such as this one: Online Botanica Store - Santeria, Occult, Witchcraft ….
What you choose to add to the altar is personal. I suggest favorite photos of the deceased and fresh flowers. You may add personal items that belonged to the deceased, photos of spiritual guides, religious items, rocks or shells or other things in nature that you have found. The choices are endless.
Where to place the altar is important. If you live alone, you have the luxury to put it anywhere. The altar for my father who died 9 years ago was in the middle of my dining room table - a room I had to walk through whenever I entered the house. It was a beautiful reminder as I would come home from work after a busy day to my favorite picture of him with his face smiling at me from the driver’s seat of his beloved motor home, the flowers I had arranged for that day, his blue cap, the last card he had hand written to me with a barely legible signature, and of course the candle. If you feel the altar is better expressed in privacy, then create it in a closet or on a shelf or somewhere where only you can feel intimate with it.
An altar created for a loved one gives importance and meaning to the person’s life and to the relationship you shared with that person. It is a living breathing expression of love. Over time the altar will change. Perhaps just the candle and the picture will remain, and then those items will be gone too. Allow the creation and maintenance of an altar to express the fullness of your grief experience.