Rites of passage lost – why it’s natural to have SAMO

I’ve been thinking a lot about young people being sent home from school, particularly those who should be taking their GCSEs and A Levels next term.  Plus the students, like my son, who are leaving university abruptly without a final term, without having graduation (at least, not for the foreseeable future).  FOMO?  More like SAMO (sorrow at missing out).

I’m also thinking about the young mothers, those who have just given birth.  Basically all  those people who are in liminal spaces – beginnings and ends.  We usually mark these stages, these moments with ceremonies, with rituals, with gatherings, with people.  When that doesn’t happen it leaves a gap, a sense of something missing.

Yes, in the scheme of things, it may seem small fry.  It isn’t life-threatening if you don’t have a prom or a graduation ceremony; if you don’t hang out with other new mums and so on.  However on a psychological level, it’s seriously tough.  Our psyches love rituals, they’re embedded in our DNA.  We use them to mark beginnings and ends.  Without them, we’re left floating.  We are social animals; we flourish in tribes; isolation can be very hard, particularly for those who aren’t accustomed to it.

So first up, I’d say to anyone grieving a proper ending, or lamenting a strange beginning, it’s 100% fine to feel sad about everything that you’re missing.  It’s totally okay to cry (many of my son’s friends have been); it’s perfectly normal to feel angry or frustrated or to bash a pillow and yell it’s just not sodding fair!  Note – it’s perfectly fine for all of us to do that – there’s something very cathartic about pillow-bashing and there is nothing remotely fair about all this.

Parents of younger children – maybe think about making up your own little rituals for marking the end of school.  A ritual doesn’t have to be complex or overtly ‘spiritual’ – it simply needs to have personal meaning.  It could be making a cake and having a little party (even if it’s only for the teddy bears).  It could be painting stones or making pictures.  You know what your children love.  For older children and young adults it could be marked with an online gathering – a chance for cheesy speeches and shared toasts.  I’m sure you have far better ideas and it would be lovely to share any to inspire other people.

And, in all this madness, try not to forget the smaller celebrations too – the birthdays, the anniversaries.  Now, more than ever, as more of us go into isolation, a card or a little parcel may make all the difference.

Years ago I wrote a book on rituals which, sadly, is out of print.  But, if anyone’s interested, I’m happy to share some rituals over the coming weeks.



Image by Becca Tabart