I’ve been reading Malidoma Patrice Some’s Of Water and the Spirit. In it is the story of Some’s upbringing in an indigenous African culture where the supernatural and the consensual world have no separation.
In my own study, practice and leanings in spirituality I have felt a deep connection to ritual, ceremonies, rites of passage and initiations. This book is full of that longing I have felt and in particular, the part I’m reading now about a funeral is envoking a lot of intense emotions in me.
In Some’s tribe the Dagara, the rites are 3 days long, everyone is there and there is an outpouring of emotion. If you don’t cry it is seen as disrespectful to the community. Everyone is given ample opportunity and many different avenues of getting their grief out and showing their concern for the dead and the remaining family members. This quote from the book explains:
“Unlike people in the West, the Dagara believe it is terrible to suppress one’s grief. Only by passionate expression can loss be tamed and assimilated into a form one can live with. The Dagara also believe that the dead have a right to collect their share of tears. A spirit who is not passionately grieved feels anger and disappointment, as if their right to be completely dead has been stolen from them. So it would be improper for a villager to display the kind of restraint and solemnity seen at Western funerals.
Although there are certain ritual forms of mourning, it is not less sincere for all that. Public grief is cleansing–of vital importance to the whole community–and people look forward to shedding tears the same way they look forward to their next meal”
Reading this released an ability for me to shed some tears. I have definitely felt the healing power of tears and it is not like I have rabidly avoiding crying, but I have found it a little difficult to grieve when I have wanted to in the last few months. Maybe it is has been being too busy to really prioritize it, or being complacent or just not feeling a justification for it…but I have at times wanted to cry and not really been capable of getting there. Yesterday was different.
I remembered my first serious bout of depression in my teenage years. It was after the death of a family member who’s funeral happened to be 12 years ago today. It was my first funeral of someone I really knew well, and only my second funeral at all. I was confused and surprised at how quickly we were expected to grieve and then get over it. People in my family told me to cheer up, eat, get over it, after the funeral was over. I definitely didn’t feel like I had gotten my grief out, I wanted to talk more about her death, express more about her life, I felt consumed with it on the inside and I wanted to express it more outwardly, but this was looked down upon. In the months after her funeral I disconnected from my family, from my school, from my life, from society. At this point, I first looked into my ideas on spirituality and saw the conflicts. I opened up to my intuition and trusted in my own connections to the mystery and mystical energies of life. I spent several months in my own world, dreaming, creating music, writing, expressing myself to myself to the invisible world, dancing, channeling, attempting to find my own way. I didn’t go to school for months and eventually when my family could no longer handle what I was doing I was sent to a psychiatrist and diagnosed with depression.
What I really needed was not psychiatric drugs or a diagnosis, what I needed was to express my grief, what I needed was a ceremony. I believe so much in ceremony that I’ve written a book about living a ceremonious life and developed a program to compliment it. I really believe that because we are constantly so busy in our lives, so neglectful of the stresses and dangers we live with, so committed to normalcy, that we really prevent ourselves and our communities from harmony and well-being. We lack the priority to integrate our experiences and constantly carry on from one thing to another without paying our respects to our own processes. A lot of us are walking around with childhood trauma we’ve been avoiding and shoving under our feet for years, unaware of how our current struggles relate to the very things we’ve been carrying around with us, not dealing with and trying to avoid.
Although I’ve focused and worked a lot with trauma release, even I have fell back on this important practice. The last year I’ve been too busy, too committed to normalcy and concerned with my environment to express my own traumas. I realized though, with the birthday of my oldest child, that I need to embrace this calling of mine again. My children will need ceremonies, trauma release and they will need to see that I do too. When my oldest daughter was born until she was almost 2 she experienced yogic techniques, meditations, healings and trauma release exercises on a constant basis. Even after she was two and while I was pregnant with daughter numero dos, she was still exposed to these practices, but numero dos, has not really experienced much of these practices and I am committed to correcting that pronto.
I have some trauma to release and I’d venture to say the rest of my family and of our community does as well. While I have my own experiences with trauma release and grieving ceremonies, I’d love to hear any other traditions, experienced, read about or tucked away from others out there.
If you have any experiences or ideas on the things I’ve shared here, I’d love to hear about it! Comment below if you have any thoughts or information to share.
And for crying out loud, if you need to, CRY IT OUT!
- Grief and Motherhood (scienceofmom.com)
- Coping with the death of a child (guardian.co.uk)
- New Resource Helps Women Face Grief After Abortion Without Fear (prweb.com)
- Good Grief: A Meditation of How Grief can be a Gift in Strange Package (adw.org)
- Humor and Grief (writeintothelight.org)