Nothing is all good or all bad. It is possible to grieve the end of something that had a lot of bad in it. It is vital to grieve the end of anything that had some good in it. By grieving we play our part in the cycle of receiving life, and of giving life in return. We create nutrients of our past experiences when we grieve, similar to the way composting in a garden provides nutrients to the soil, from all that has lived its life and passed on.
“Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses”
says Martín Prechtel in his book The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise. About “these two strangely married instinctual talents,” he declares, “one without the other is not possible.” We might say that grief and praise are throaty, active, somatic, life-giving forms of gratitude.
Prechtel’s writing comes from a refreshingly sober place. Having grown up half Native American in a Pueblo Indian community in New Mexico, his formative years were spent inside a culture that never abandoned their earth connection. Later in his adulthood he lived in the village of Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, and eventually became a full member of the Tz’utujil Mayan community there. With village life having helped form his wisdom, his fresh perspective includes notions such as:
”Grief is not a preference, for choosing to not have grief when grief is there is to defer and burden someone else with having to do your grieving. This makes the world a sick place.” And “Without grief the world would cease to renew itself; the world would cease to exist.”
Maybe not every westerner will relate to ideas like these, but for those of us who have experienced any semblance of true, caring community, these statements ring true on a gut level. We will have experienced how anyone within the community experiencing a loss affects the group field. We will have memories of how we instinctively knew to hold a space for the outpouring of grief that the person experiencing the loss must weave into some poetic thing of beauty, if they wanted to continue on with their soul intact, knowing that if they didn’t find a way to do this, it wouldn’t turn out good … for anyone.
Tragically, many of us don’t have communities that know how to support us in our grief. To many, the idea of expressing grief is odious. I don’t judge this because I understand the dilemma – our culture’s abhorrence for any expression containing too much of our deeper truth lies in our extreme fear of vulnerability. Rightly so. Culturally we are conditioned to use peoples’ vulnerability against them in our own favor, not realizing that by doing so, we shoot ourselves in the collective foot.
How do we right the ship?
We slowly normalize the grieving process. Prechtel makes a suggestion in his book that anyone grieving who doesn’t have a community to hold them in their grief should enlist the help of a really good friend. Ask your “designated non-griever” to take you to a completely unpopulated stretch of ocean shore where you can spend a few days pouring out your grief to the ocean. Your friend’s job is to stand guard for you, drive you back to wherever you are staying, and make you soup, keeping you company so you don’t do anything foolish in your grief.
Times of great change on earth also often coincide with bigger numbers of people leaving their bodies than at other times. With so many souls leaving the earth plane at once, it is vital we grieve – that in our rituals and singing and praise we weave a path of light for the departing souls to find their way back home. (For one particularly touching and beautiful peek into a set of Japanese customs around honoring the dead and sending them on, watch the 2008 foreign language film “Departures,” directed by Yojiro Takita.)
During times of great change like the one we’re living through now, much recedes into history. We are all losing an old life, old dreams, old rhythms, old ways of being, old values, old relationships, old ideas about who we are. Not all of it was good! Yet it is perfectly normal to grieve, even when we are the ones asking for things to change.
There is much to grieve. And this is not horrible, or a waste of time, or a show of weakness, or improper. It is actually a vital, life-giving, strengthening element of the poetic we have forgotten but can easily remember. I hope for our own sake, we remember it, and allow ourselves to “go there.”