For most of us, 2020 has been marked by loss.

Hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans have lost their lives — or those of family members — to the coronavirus and COVID 19. As has been well documented, the pandemic has disproportionally affected communities of color.

Ongoing racial injustice – historical and present-day — continues to result in the loss of additional Black and brown lives. Police brutality and lifetime prison sentences continue to afflict minority communities while Native Americans continue to mourn the loss of their ancestral lands, culture, language, and more. All of us, if we stop and look, have to face the loss of human and civil rights — either our own or those of our neighbors.

Over the last six months, we’ve also lost our routines. Parents have lost child care and youth have lost their schools, friends, and their primary places to socialize. So many have lost their jobs, their homes, or their sense of security – and again, these losses are carried disproportionately by people of color.

In a stunning and stark reality that has been brewing for nearly four years, we are on the brink of losing our democracy and the institutions upon which it is so fragilely built.

Are we also losing our collective grip on reality?

There is so much loss and so much grief.  But how should I grieve?

What function does grief have in society? Is it best done alone or among others? Do I risk going into a dark place I can’t get out of? What if I don’t know what to say or how to respond to someone else’s grief?  

These are all questions that were alive for me when a colleague, Erica Peng, invited me to a ‘grief ritual’ online, in community, last week. Despite how much I was walking into an unknown experience, it felt right. I NEEDED it.  And the experience was profound.

Here are three big learnings that happened to me that will help me continue to grieve while holding space for others who need to grieve as well:

3 Steps to Grieving

#1 The Setup Matters

Before coming to the grief ritual, I had made a deal with myself. If I got overwhelmed, I was going to give myself permission to leave. When I arrived, the facilitators had set up a wonderful list of intentions to help keep the container safe and inviting. The intention that made the most difference for me was an offering to meet with one of the co-facilitators, a trained somatic healer, in a private one on one space, if anyone was feeling overwhelmed. In this way, you did not have to “leave” the community, but you could get a tailored kind of support, respecting you may indeed feel overwhelmed, to help you stay connected rather than opting out altogether.

While I didn’t find I needed to take advantage of the offer, knowing it was there calmed my nervous system tremendously. Other intentions that were meaningful included: acknowledging the courage that it took to come, confidentiality, and a reminder that while we may be remembering moments of pain and harm, the harm isn’t here now with us today in this space.

#2 Share the Labor:  Your Grief Allows Me to Touch Mine

This was a new idea for me. We were invited to give gratitude to others in our group for expressing their grief because when they do, they are lightening the load for all of us. To witness someone else feel into their pain and begin to release it, it was as if all of our loads began to lighten. As people began to cry and release, emotions I had stuffed deep down began to surface, and I started letting them go. I thanked those that cried first and I meant it from the bottom of my heart.

#3 Move In and Out of Darkness and Light

We spent three hours together in the grief ritual. We grounded by calling in how we are resourcing ourselves lately, which reminded us of our natural resilience (this was by design to do first our facilitators later shared). Throughout our time together, we read poems, we breathed, tapped our bodies, and sang. We learned a call and response chant and our facilitators played drums. We brought symbols that were meaningful to our grief and the wisdom of our ancestors known and unknown.

For me, there were moments of deep sadness, but also moments of giving and supporting others by simply holding space and witnessing, which also served as a break from my pain. There were moments when I simply paused and rested, there were moments when I felt light and joyful, and moments when I dipped back into my sadness.

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