We live in a culture where expressing grief is not honored in meaningful ways. We live in a society that’s awkward around the subject of death & dying, as well as grief. We have “bereavement leaves” in the workplace that last for three or four days.
We use words like you need to “get over it,” and “keep busy,” and maintain a “stiff upper lip.” It’s almost as if we encourage each other to turn a blind eye and ear to our true feelings. So it’s no wonder that we call the expression of grief “grief work.” It is indeed work to express our feelings in our culture where it is not easy to do something that’s actually quite a natural process.
Having acknowledged that, I now would like to invite you to imagine with me what it would be like to be living in a totally different culture, where expressing grief is encouraged and honored. I’ve been reading some material by a woman named Sobonfu Some — her name means “keeper of the rituals” — of West Africa whose tribe, the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso, actually encourages their people to let go and grieve whatever no longer serves them.
As a child, she remembers when a friend of hers died and she was asked the question, “Have you grieved enough? Have you cried enough?” rather than “Aren’t you finished crying about that yet?” The belief among the Dagara Tribe is that hanging on to old pain makes it grow until it can smother our joy and creativity; it even could have the potential to kill us. So it’s always a good thing to be let go and release.
Wouldn’t it feel liberating to imagine living in a place like that – to imagine that kind of encouragement and permission to grieve?
I have heard it said that if all the women of the world could cry at once, the world would be healed, we would have peace in an instant! I believe this might be true. Certainly, if all of us who needed to cry and grieve and release “old stuff” could do so when necessary, we probably wouldn’t be fighting each other so much. We wouldn’t play the blaming game, the shaming game so much. Rather, we might take more responsibility for our own pain and work to let it go.
So, as we consider our grief and the memories of those we have loved, I want to invite you to grieve in any way that you can, today and in the days ahead! I want to invite you to be really good to yourselves in these grief-laden, sometimes intensely pain-filled days – even if not in your world, in other parts of the country or in the world at large.
May you find, and even create time to be sad, to look at photographs of your loved one and remember, even cry your eyes out, if you need to. May you honor the things and people and places that your loved one loved, and do things that will help you to honor and remember them. May you find creative, safe ways in which to release your feelings of anger, rage, denial, sorrow, and loneliness – like writing in a journal, going for long walks in the beauty of nature and letting Mother Earth know about your pain, seeking out a support group or a counselor, and really delving into and embracing your pain and sorrow – and all the other emotions that go along with it.
One of the things I find myself doing as a bereavement counselor is giving people permission to grieve the way they need and want to. I’ll never forget a phone call I made years ago to a woman who had just lost someone very significant in her life. She said that her friends were urging her to get out with them and “do things.” But she said that all she felt like doing at the time was to stay in bed and eat ice cream. I suggested to her that probably what she needed to do for at least the next little while was to stay in bed and eat ice cream! If that’s what felt good to her, that’s what she deserved to do for herself. We all sometimes need this encouragement to follow the guidance that our intuition is already bringing us.
When you are dealing with any kind of grief, I recommend doing at the very least the following four things:
- Receive the GOOD STUFF that others have for you; and ask for what you need.
- Go Inward – this can potentially be a time of great transformation and empowerment for you.
- MOVE your Energy. This will help you move your emotions, too. Go outside, or to the gym if you prefer, and get your body moving. This will help your emotions flow, too; plus it will help you simply feel better.
- Let your Emotions OUT – however you do it, find creative ways to cry, weep, wail, get angry, express your frustration, whatever you need to do. This will help you feel better, too.
If you go to the “Books” Page of my website, Change with Courage Books Page, you’ll find a Grief Pointers sheet that you may download for free.
This conversation is to be continued, and we welcome your stories, questions and comments around these topics.
Published in Mason County Journal: 10/15/15