If someone were to ask you “Do you believe that grief and loss are part of the human condition?” you would probably answer “Yes.”
But when it happens to you—the accident or diagnosis, the death of a loved one, the betrayal and divorce, or the loss of a job or home—that Loss feels personal. Loss often descends suddenly, suspending your momentum, demanding your resources and attention.
When faced with a loss, our first desire is to recover, to get over it, to recreate the balance and stability we had before.
But after some losses, recovery is not possible. We’ll never “get over” the loss of a limb or a child. We’ll never again be that person we were before the betrayal or diagnosis.
And maybe, we’re not meant to be.
Loss has been one of my greatest teachers. I’ve experienced betrayal and devastation during two divorces. Death has taken 10 of my closest loved ones, including my 17-year old son Logan.
After the accident that took Logan’s life, as the merciful shock/numbness wore off during that first year and the searing pain set in, I attended the Compassionate Friends support group for grieving parents. There, I learned to understand the symptoms and time-line of grief, and its power to change us—for good or ill.
At the meetings, I met parents whose grief had made them better, more compassionate people. I also met parents who had delayed or gotten stuck in their grief, who 10 or 20 years after their loss were still angry and blaming or depressed. I learned from all of them, determined to find a way through my own grief journey, a way that allows me to honor my son’s life.
On that grief journey, I prayed to receive the support necessary and my teachers appeared:
• A Course in Miracles teacher Carol Howe
• my Rollins professor Dr. Barbara Carson
• biofeedback therapist Marylou Gantner
• rebirthing breath-work coach Michael Stone
• Reiki teacher and therapist Chris Rosenthal
• Kundalini yoga teacher Sampuran Singh Khalsa
• Space and Personal Clearing teacher Eric Dowsett
• Feng Shui, 9 Star Ki and Chinese Face Reading teacher Jean Haner
With their mentoring and modeling, I managed to integrate Logan’s death and create a whole new life for myself—filled with more joy than I’d ever experienced before—in which the love I share with Logan informs all my relationships.
So I thought I understood the power of healthy grieving.
But in the last five years of my shamanic training, I’ve learned that there is so much more to healthy grieving than our western paradigm allows us to comprehend. In ancient times when any member of the tribe experienced a loss, that loss was believed to be a loss to the entire tribe. A loss which would need to be experienced and INTEGRATED by the entire community.
In April, a dear friend and colleague Joyce Dillon and I traveled to San Fransisco to participate in a shamanic grief ritual and learn how to facilitate one. During that training with Francis Weller, grief facilitators from all over the world created a “sudden community” and learned to facilitate collective and individual grief in a way that allowed each of us to access and embody more:
- personal power and integrity
- life-force vitality
- compassion for ourselves and others
- peaceful wisdom and courage
I returned home feeling younger, more vital and alive.
There is joy on the other side of sorrow, especially when our grief has been transformed into sacred medicine by a community of grievers.