Navigating Grief

Endings are as inevitable as beginnings. Change is the only constant. Death is a transition. Energy does not vanish.

Part of the role of Shaman is that if Psychopomp, one who helps people cross over. It’s easier for people who stand with one foot on either side of the veil. It is an important role, midwifing that transition. It is not, however, easy.

I have had a different relationship than my peers with death for as long as I can remember. I don’t fear it, never have. I even advocate people being able to choose the manner and time of their passing. A person can never know the level of suffering of another, and those that throw around the “suicide is selfish” trope are just as guilty of selfishness as those who choose that as a way out.

This does not mean that I don’t grieve. Grief is a natural reaction to endings. We grieve the end of chapters in our lives as well as the end of volumes. Our society is not particularly good at supporting that, so people can get stuck in that space. Every ending is different, so each instance of grief is different. Placing expectations (how long it’s going to last, what it’s going to feel like, the pattern and flavor of it) on grief can get us stuck too.

The way to support grief in others is to hold space. Love them, approach them without judgment, let them feel supported. The way to support grief in yourself is to simply allow for the process and to stay out of self-judgment. Sense a theme?

Anniversary dates will have their own flavor of grief as well. The birthday and deathiversary of those who were close to me tend to bring another layer of the onion, and I have to stay out of the idea that “I should be over this by now.”

A significant number of deaths in my life cluster around the thinnings of the veil. April and October are rough for me. It seems like every few years, another name gets added to the roster, another prayer flag gets made (I ran out of room on my ancestors’ altar years ago, and now I make a flag for each person), a fresh layer of grief gets slapped over the older coats. On Good Friday this year, my community lost a beautiful soul to a tragic car accident. This past weekend was the birthday of a friend who succumbed to cancer a few years back. Thursday is my father’s birthday, he would have been 93. Friday is the deathiversary of two dear friends, and Monday is another one.

It hits me differently every year. Last year I got a bit of a reprieve, because my husband and I were able to be out of town. This year is messy, and that has to be okay.

Most Tuesdays I walk the labyrinth in Malibu, because I have space and opportunity to do so. My releasing mantra on the way in today was simple: “I release all my anger, all my grief, all my attachments.” Interestingly, the church that hosts the labyrinth has put their cross from Holy Week at the center, and the energy is quite different.  In contemplation, the question arose, “If you let go of the grief, how do you honor those who have gone before, without wallowing in the loss?” The answer is simple: do something in their memory. How would they want to be remembered? What is the highest expression of the energy of their life? The path out of the labyrinth was just icing today – I got clear images for some of the flags I have not yet made.

Tell me how you honor your dead. Tell me what the highest expression of the energy of their life is. Tell me what you think they would have you do in their memory.

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