Grieving, and Loss–and, Letting Go

This morning, I’m surrounded by images of death–from the tiny brown lizard in the eaves (my cats’ doing, no doubt), to the small grey fish with the white belly and the three dark green prickly sea urchins thrown onto the rocks by the sea. I note their passing, and the natural occurrences of same in nature all around us. And I am reminded of my own grieving, and loss–and that this is natural, as well.

Malidoma Patrice Somé, in his 1997 book, Ritual: Power, Healing and Community, describes the tradition of grieving among his tribe in Burkina Faso, the Dagara. When a member of the tribe has died, the entire tribe comes together with the family of the deceased for a ritual of remembrance and to assist the dead in crossing over to the otherworld. For three days there is drumming and dancing, wailing and grieving. This is not unlike funereal rituals in other cultures; however, he goes on to say that during this time, not only does the family of the deceased grieve and all others in support of them, but that it gives each person an “opportunity” to grieve once more for all the losses in his or her own life. It’s this repeated opportunity for grieving, he concludes, that’s necessary for completion.

Grieving isn’t a one-off.

The loss of a loved one engenders a particularly poignant process of grieving. There are other losses in our lives, the pain of which we may not acknowledge quite as fully: of a relationship, a job, a home, an opportunity, our youth, and more. Often, while we recognize the loss, we don’t grasp the necessity to grieve. Further, even if we do, a desire to rush through the grieving–to get beyond the pain of loss–is a normal urge, yet in so doing we lose the opportunity to grieve fully.

Life presents us with plenty of opportunities to grieve, even when our own loss is not recent nor fresh in our minds and hearts. The grief of another, a new loss of our own, a national tragedy, any event that makes us sad can bring an old grief to the forefront once more. And it can take us by surprise, as we thought we were ‘done’ with it. Somé has suggested otherwise, that events of grief–whether our own or another’s–provide us with one more opportunity to feel, and to let go of, our loss…just a little bit more. Like life, grieving is a step-by-step process.

We can hold onto grief too long, however, developing a seeming inability to let go. And even while we grieve over a period of time and revisit our grief at later times in our lives, this is different from the experience of being subsumed by grief–or of nursing it in such fashion that it becomes a part of our character. It’s critically important that, while we fully acknowledge our grieving, we do not let it become who we are.

Letting go of loss, while revisiting grief from time to time, would seem a paradox–and while those in Eastern cultures are at ease with paradox, members of Western cultures typically fail to fully grasp this structure. We must mourn the loss of someone or something of meaning to us, an emotional attachment, and not avoid grieving fully but seek out opportunities in which to do so; yet, we must not hold onto it in such a way that it disables us.

No easy task. One of the many challenges of being a fully conscious, healthy human being.

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