grief tending in community
Facilitating grief tending in community rituals, remembering the sacred art of grieving, working with a growing village of grief tenders.
The Age of Loss
We are living in an age of loss. The sixth mass extinction evokes deep ecological grief. The mass migration of people from their land evokes cultural bereavement. The destruction of war, globally traumatic events and our violent society leaves congested stories of trauma, in both daily life and ancestral lineages. The personal loss of loved ones is one of the only certainties in life.
As the stories around us of growth, capitalism, individualism collapse, and the new stories of interbeing, cooperation and connection are still being seeded, we have become numb to survive. Francis Weller describes this as an age of ‘amnesia and anaesthesia’, where we no longer remember the sacred art of grieving and its place in our communities. We are, as Stephen Jenkinson says, a ‘grief illiterate culture’.
Yet grief is one story that unites us all.
The Sacred Art of Grieving
Love and grief are intertwined, like twins, grief a beautiful echo of love. We only grieve what we deeply love. Grief is not only a burden, but a sacred journey full of gifts. Martin Prechtel says ‘grief is praise, because it is the natural way to honour what it misses’.
Francis Weller describes the five gates of grief:
- Everything we love, we will lose.
- The places that have not known love.
- The sorrows of the world.
- What we expected and did not receive.
- Ancestral grief.
Grieving opens us to the depth of loving, and we find that the central energy of ‘the wild edge of sorrow’ is a vital life force, when welcomed and witnessed can metabolise our sorrows. Leading to profound healing and heightened communion with each other, all life and the planet we live on. Though our losses never leave us, our tender wounds can become a gate to our greatest gifts.
In indigenous cultures, grief has always been communal. We see this in the UK, with the old ‘keeners of the wake’, in Mexico with the celebrated “Día de los Muertos” (the Day of the Dead), and the weekly grief rituals of the Dagara tribe of West Africa. In all of these rituals, the role of the community is vital, with the village creating the banks of the river, which allows our grief to flow. Being held in compassion by the village provide the container for releasing and processing our grief.
Learning to Grieve
Learning how to grieve together is part of our collective love story. To be able to sit with being broken open and heart broken at the same time, is one of the paradoxes of our time. In our contracting and expanding hearts, we find the gift of gratitude.
My first experience of a grief ritual was alongside 150 people at the New Story Summit in Findhorn in 2014, beautifully described by Joe Confino in The Guardian in his article Grieving could offer a pathway out of a destructive economic system. It was the ‘Wiping Away the Tears’ ceremony from the Lakota Native American tradition, where they read out what the white man did to their people, land and culture. A few years earlier, I had begun to research and remember what it means to be indigenous to our lands. The ancestral home of the clan Davidson – Tulloch Castle – was just down the road. As I found myself face down in the earth, surrendering to waves of pain and howling with grief at the disconnection of my tribe, land and culture, it felt like an initiation.
In the following year, I went through several deep losses – death, miscarriage, relationship breakdown – and found myself overwhelmed with sorrow, wondering where my joy had gone. And so began my ‘apprenticeship with grief’. Since then I’ve taken part in regular rituals, and as I’ve learnt how to dance with loss and love, my congested heart breaks open and healing happens.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
My work is informed by the teachings of:
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‘“To fully inhabit grief is to hold the contradictions of the great mystery that loss shatters us and we become whole. Grief empties us and we are filled with emotion… We mourn our beloveds’ absence and we invoke their presence…
We know the darkest of all nights and in doing so can bring the light of our loved ones into the world. We are the paradox. We are the bearers of the unbearable.”
Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief