Grief is the necessary and natural response to the many losses we experience in our lives, most notably, death. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that quite simply SUCKS at doing grief. While grief may be honored for a day or perhaps a week, mostly we are told, “Move on. Get over it.” All this attitude does is force us to suppress a very natural process that has been given to us by our loving Divine Source to help us find healing and to be open to the new life that is waiting on the other side of the grief. Until we allow ourselves to accept the grieving process and engage it fully, we can never find the healing and new life that are God’s promise for us in the face of each and every loss.
It is because of the work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross that we can at least name the stages of the grieving process: bargaining, denial, anger, depression, acceptance. (let me know if I missed one of the stages here!) While this is helpful information, it does not help us to understand how this process works. Neither does it help us to comprehend the cyclical, rather than linear, nature of this process. Grief is a mysterious process, the faces of which arise on their own in varying degrees and often unsuspecting. Flying in the face of our Western, goal-oriented, pragmatic ideal, grief forces to us stop, observe and allow. Grief cannot be facilitated or hastened. Much to our chagrin, grief cannot be controlled. All we can do it be present to it and allow it to move through us.
In the face of loss, we are then invited to be present to and allow the gift of grief to move through us. When we find ourselves experiencing the rage of grief – find a way to express this rage in a safe and healthy way. When we experience a day of depression and paralysis under the crushing weight of loss….allow time for retreat. Take a nap. Sleep. Tend to our own need for self-care and pampering. (Please seek medical attention of the depression goes beyond one or two days). Allow for periods of bargaining and denial – these tools allow us to separate from our loss for a time so that our inner spirit can find healing. And most importantly….DO NOT DO THIS ALONE! Grief, more than any other experience, links us together as human beings. We all suffer loss. We all know the pain of death. Seek support through friends and through professionals. DO NOT do this alone.
In this, I am reminded of my Irish ancestors and the way in which they processed grief. Better than any of my other ancestors, they understood the need for community in the face of death. And the ritual that cemented this communal support was the Wailing Ceremony. Before the time of embalming and funeral homes, the body of the deceased was laid out on the dining table of the family. Then the women gathered. They came together around the body of the deceased and wailed. During this deeply moving ceremony, they audibly let go of their grief. They screamed. They cried. They moaned and sighed. They pulled their hair and tore at their clothes. They lay prostrate and pounded the floor. They gave physical and vocal expression to the pain of the loss….and they DID NOT do it alone. The family of the deceased, were supported through the cries and tears of their friends, family and neighbors. After the wailing was complete (for now), they called the men (from the local tavern) to remove the body to the church, then proceeded to cleanse the space that had been used for the wailing. Floors were swept, the interior cleansed from top to bottom and fragrant herbs sprinkled around the space to create a sense of newness and to prepare the space to receive new life. It was through the Wailing Ceremony that the survivors gave powerful expression to their grief and found support of family and friends. Wailing allowed a large portion of the negative emotions of grief to be released and space within created in which hope could begin to take root.
In summary, grief is a gift from our Divine parent as a tool for healing and a process through which we can be open to the promise of new life. Grief is to be embraced, accepted and invites our undivided attention. Grief is best done with the help and support of others. Grief allows us to find healing, release and new life and is a remarkable gift for which we can be grateful.