Grief needs expressing and witnessing by community, in a container of ritual and regular practice, to become fertile ground.
I started facilitating community grief tending rituals and workshops in 2019.
On this page:
- What happens when we don’t tend to our grief?
- Grief is love and praise
- Grief needs to be expressed and witnessed
- Grief needs community and movement
- Grief needs ritual and practice
- Grief is fertile ground
- My teachers
What happens if we don’t tend to our grief?
“Life is a growth in the art of loss.” John O’Donohue
As a culture, we’re death phobic and grief illiterate, often living in a state of amnesia and anaesthesia. Many of us walk around with an unspoken numbness and emptiness stemming from unprocessed grief, the daily diminishment of losses, that can show up as anxiety, exhaustion, depression, addiction and more.
‘We haven’t grieved enough in our lives. We haven’t grieved all the losses, small and big, the daily and the petty…Because we have not grieved enough, we are out of practice.’ Roy Fellis, We were born to grieve
Loss of friendships, family, jobs, pets, and life on this planet cannot be metabolised in our systems without the help of the grieving process. In the absence of conscious grieving, author and soul activist Francis Weller argues, this hunger drives our relentless consumption and accumulation.
When we deny grief, we compress the depth of our emotional experience. It’s said that grief unprocessed can become a grievance.
Grief is love and praise
“Grief and love are sisters, woven together from the beginning. Their kinship reminds us that there is no love that does not include loss, and no loss that is not a reminder of the love we carry for what we once held close.” Francis Weller
There is no grief without love, and the immensity of our grief can be commensurate to the immensity of our love. Love and joy simply cannot exist without the acknowledgement of loss.
Our grief is praise for what we have lost.
“Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.” Martin Prechtel
There is a saying that ‘grief is love with nowhere to go’, but I see that our love and grief can’t just go anywhere. It is sacred and needs to be expressed and witnessed with ritual and reverence.
Grief needs to be expressed and witnessed
“Something magical happens when we bear witness to each other in grief. Something alchemical. It transmutes the lead of our devastation into the gold of connection. Our own compassion is activated. Our souls are soothed. The narrow circle of our private pain expands, and we recognize that we belong to each other. We take our rightful place in the web of interbeing and find refuge.” Miribai Starr
Allowing our sorrows to be seen through the eyes of another, brings us into relationship with ourselves and the world we inhabit. It supports the contraction and expansion of our hearts, that Rumi so beautifully captures in the poem Birdwings.
If we work with and compost our grief, there’s a vitality in the practice and medicine to be found. Giving ourselves permission to grieve lightens the heart. Our tears water the new seeds of life. Sharing our stories and listening to other people’s grief keeps our hearts open and tender, strengthening our grief muscles and building a grief literate culture.
It is said that grief not expressed and witnessed can turn into grievance.
Grief needs community and movement
We sing of our love from the rooftops, but have privatised our grief, especially in the last couple of hundred years as death has become more medicalised.
“Grief is brought forth by the safety and holding capacity of the ‘communal nervous system’. We cannot, and should not, do it alone. We have evolved to open together and carry each other into the places that scare us, just as we have evolved to sing and praise and dance and grow together”. Skye Cielita Flor & Miraz Indira, The Joyful Lament: on Pain for the World
There are many metaphors about grief being like a river. For the river to flow, it needs strong banks to support it. In a community grief tending ritual, everyone who attends is part of the community or village, and together we create the banks that support the river of grief to flow. When we do this work in community, we can begin to heal the illusion of separation and isolation.
In his Guardian article about the loss of his father, Owen Jones says someone shared with him that ‘grief is like a landscape without a map’. I see it as the river running through the landscape, that requires maintenance – tending to – to stop it getting blocked up, which can cause destruction like flooding. Pixie Lighthorse in her poetry says: “Grief is emotional pain …the remedy is to keep it moving like a river.”
Grief needs ritual and practice
“Ritual is a maintenance practice that offers us the means of tending wounds and sorrows, for offering gratitude…allowing our psyches regular periods of release and renewal.” Francis Weller
Ritual creates a safe container where we all drink from the same communal cup of sorrow. When we lean in and tend to our grief together, we find vitality in the shared gratitude, connection and reverence, restoring meaning to our lives. It is sacred work.
“We haven’t grieved enough in our lives. We haven’t grieved all the losses, small and big, the daily and the petty…Because we have not grieved enough, we are out of practice.” Roy Ellis
Some liken grief to a mountain, but I prefer to see it as a backpack. Sometimes it feels heavy, sometimes light, but we carry it all the time. Being able to carry that backpack requires strength and practice. Francis Weller says grieving practices should be as regular as going to the gym.
Grief is fertile ground
“Grief offers a wild alchemy that transmutes suffering into fertile ground.” Francis Weller
Have you ever noticed how having a good cry can make you feel better? Letting go is a natural part of life. The seasons of autumn and winter show us that endings are natural and needed, the trees exemplify how decay feeds new life.
When we celebrate grief rather than repress it, we discover profound resilience and renewal. By honouring the discomfort, we expand our capacities. Gratitude flourishes from the fertile ground of fully expressed feeling – healing happens through feeling. Without some familiarity with sorrow, we do not mature as men and women.
“Metabolise your losses with grief and feed the resulting beauty to life.” Martin Prechtel
Loss alters who we are in this world, stripping us back and destabilising us. We have to recalibrate our lives to be able to live alongside loss. It’s a creative process, like composting in the natural cycles that provides the soil for new seeds to grow.
- Maeve Gavin – The Keening Wake
- Francis Weller – Wisdom Bridge
- Stephen Jenkinson – Orphan Wisdom
- Sobunfu Some
- Martin Prechtel – Flowering Mountain
- Joanna Macy
- Joanne Cacciatore
- Sophy Banks and Jeremy Thres
- Rebecca Joy Card of Nature Wisdom
- Living Well Dying Well
- End-of-Life Doula UK
- The more-than-human-world.