What We've Learned from Grieving Together

Updated: May 29, 2020

“Grief must be approached as a release of the tension created by separation and disconnection from someone or something that matters.”

from The Healing Wisdom of Africa by Malidoma Patrice Somé

[Image description: Illustration from the book Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert and Chuck DeKlyen, illustrated by Taylor Bills. Drawing of a bookshelf with kitchen utensils hanging beneath. Books on the shelf are titled: Murdered, Fatal Diagnosis, Spouse Died, Infertility, Friend Died, Divorce, Moved, Near Death Experience, House Fire, Retirement, Chronic Illness, Prized Possession Stolen, Stillbirth, Flunked Geometry, Unfaithful Spouse, Child Died, Loss of Status, Pet Died.]

One of the things we work toward with our clients is helping them adopt a lifelong learning mentality. We do this because it’s our experience that there’s always something to be learned, and our lives become more full, more meaningful when we put on a beginner’s mind regardless of how much expertise or knowledge we already carry. We also believe it is critical, particularly for people with dominant social identities, to unlearn and relearn constantly as a way of undoing internalized oppression. We also hope that our clients not only keep learning, but share their learning as they go; it’s a good modeling practice.

As equity practitioners who hope to walk our talk, we’d like to share with you what we’ve learned in the last three months about grief.

In the early days of the pandemic, we felt bewildered, unsettled, and terrified. We put our heads and hearts together at TnT asking ourselves: what is required of us now? How can we support each other, our families, our collective, our communities? We shared with each other, we supported some direct needs in the community, we saw mutual aid relief efforts afloat, we researched some resources, and eventually decided that we wanted to offer a grief space. We’ve taken much of our rationale for and guidance of creating this grief space from the work of Malidoma Somé, specifically from his book The Healing Wisdom of Africa. We give thanks for his work.

We’ve now hosted two ritual grief spaces online. When we host those spaces, we ask for a donation, but money is not required for participation. We open with some container-setting and introductions. Then folks are asked to share what grief they’re carrying, what needs to be let go, and in conclusion, we share self-care commitments. We are thankful to all the people who have joined us. And while we know there are clearly limitations to online rituals, we remain deeply impressed by the depth of vulnerability, the sharing, and the support we’ve experienced together in these sessions.

We’ve learned that grief takes on many forms. We of course hear about the literal loss of life, the ongoing death tolls, and the threat to everyone’s health constantly looming due to the coronavirus. However, there are other griefs we are learning/hearing about too. The grief of isolation. The grief now that unleashes all the grief of the past. The grief of economic devastation. The grief of separation. The grief of not getting to experience milestones like graduations, or being present when a new baby comes into the family. The grief of alienation that comes from being cut off from colleagues and meaningful, life-giving work. The identity loss that accompanies being laid off. The grief of not being able to fully protect one’s children. The grief of facing a scary future. The grief of overwhelm. The grief of fatigue. The grief of not knowing the difference between appropriate health-related caution and crushing hyper-vigilance, especially among those with pre-existing conditions. The grief of there being just.so.much.grief.

So few of us are actually taught how to consensually accompany our own bodies and each other through trauma and tragedy. So we’ve also been paying attention to new critical questions emerging in that context. When are we resonating with someone else’s experience and when are we turning the focus prematurely to ourselves? Does there always need to be a response when someone has voiced pain or does reverent silence go the distance? And how do we know when our responses are truly in service to the other or instead are about absolving our own pain with cliche? Can we truly show up for others in their grief if we haven’t ever gone into the depths of our own? Given how much gaslighting and shaming happens when people show up emotionally authentic in this society, who has actually had the time/space to do their own grief work? Are our expectations too high? If so, how can we learn and do and be better? What level of emotional differentiation and personal boundaries are required for communal grief work, particularly when it comes to dominant groups/people hearing the pain of marginalized groups/people? Is there truly a distinction between, say, grief and anger, or grief and depression? Where are those lines? We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we sure are asking them in light of all that’s been shared among us.

We are growing and stretching beautifully in the sharing, in the learning, in the new questions. We are grateful.

If you need a space to process your grief in community, we invite you to join us. We will be posting events and invites on our FB page and through our subscriber email list.

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