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Right to rite: Divorce rituals can help you move on

Quick question: What do marriage, birthdays, christenings, coming-of-age, death and graduations have in common? They are all rites of passage. These are just a few of the momentous events in our lives that we have built traditions around. Those traditions may vary from person to person or faith to faith, of course, just as the list of rites of passage may shrink and expand over time. Who knows? One day the iPod Fairy may leave new earbuds under the pillows of children who have downloaded their first MP3.

Divorce is also a momentous event in a person's life, but there isn't really a traditional way to recognize it -- at least, not here in Lake County. A recent article highlighted some traditions, though, that we would like to share.

In Japan, for example, a temple that used to be a refuge for women who wanted to escape unhappy marriages has instituted a practice that allows men and women a chance to shed the last vestiges of a marriage. A visitor writes his or her breakup wishes on a piece of paper and flushes that paper down the toilet. Divorcing couples in Japan also hold divorce ceremonies that culminate with the couple taking a gavel and smashing their wedding rings.

Overseas and here in the U.S. -- and even in Illinois -- couples are also marking their divorces with church ceremonies. The ceremonies are unique to the couple, with some couples reciting divorce vows in front of a group of friends and relatives, while others stage elaborate "un-weddings." Some are officiated by a minister or priest, and some couples add divorce vows that explain why the marriage is ending.

The Unitarian Universalist "ceremony of hope" is also held in a church and officiated by a minister. A small group of friends and family gather to witness the couple end their marriage by apologizing to each other and asking for forgiveness for any pain caused during the marriage.

If we take a page from celebrities' books, we can host lavish parties to mark the beginning of a new phase of our lives. The couple can throw one party together or one for each of them.

Though critics say celebrating a divorce is a little crass, these couples may be onto something. Maybe the form of the celebration is not as important as its function. Like a wedding or a graduation or a birthday, a divorce marks the end of one stage of life and the beginning of another. Sometimes scary, sometimes lonely, but always full of possibility.

Source: Huffington Post, "Divorce Custom: 7 Post-Split Rituals From Around The World," July 21, 2012

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