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The making of a bed: a timeless ritual passed through generations

Making a bed seems to be a lost art these days, an unassuming ritual. I have memories of my mother draping, folding, laying, and spreading sheets as they danced in her open-air bedroom. My grandmother passed on the technique to her. From my observations of other families, this practice varies from generation to generation. In a way, making a bed symbolizes life’s journey, where the layers of sheets represent rich and meaningful lived experiences.

When I was very young and not fully toilet trained, beds were frequently made in the wee hours of the night. I recall my dad following me, half-asleep, back up the stairs, spreading out fresh, dry sheets in complete darkness. I reciprocated this task with my own young children, remembering how life is truly a full circle.

Making a bed also represents a daily rebirth, or even, in my case, the act of giving birth. This laborious practice was the trigger for the uterine contractions that led to the birth of my first child. The folding and unfolding of massive sheets over a king-size mattress set a physiological cascade into motion, and he was born 14 hours later.

Making a bed became a grounding ritual when my mother fell terminally ill. At the very end of her life, when she couldn’t get out of bed, it took incredible patience and highly advanced technical skills to make her bed every morning. When she was hospitalized, her nurse assistant, Mimi, personalized the process by creating a bowtie at the bottom of the bed with blankets. Little did Mimi know, this welcomed work of art would spark one of my mother’s last smiles.

Though there are days I forget, when I feel rushed, I try to make my bed every morning and encourage my now school-aged children to as well. More than building a formality, what I hope to pass down to them is the beauty of ritual. This daily practice requires us to slow down and receive the moment.

Before, I used to think rituals were forced or contrived experiences. They felt rehearsed and artificial. I have come to learn that rituals are often not driven by our cognitive processes but rather by the rhythms of our bodies and the governing forces of our senses, much like bed-making. This lesson was particularly important for me after the passing of my mother. Rituals breathe meaning, remembrance, and life into a moment. When our senses get to create and drive rituals, we can then heal from our losses.

I now see the value of rituals and why humans have observed them for centuries. They are the bedrock of our shared humanity. I find warmth in the simplicity of an act done either alone intentionally or in community with others. Whether we are making a bed every morning or lighting a candle collectively in ceremony, may we all find ways to heal through our senses in connection with the world around us. This is how we open ourselves to a world beyond us.

Roxanne Almas is a developmental behavioral pediatrician.

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