Death and Rebirth, part 1: Death and Grief
Amber Xanthy Van Cleave September 2, 1972 –
As I am moving closer to a retreat I am choreographing on the theme of Transformation: Death and Rebirth, synchronicity keeps tossing relevant material into my path for consideration. Some examples: right now House of Aromatics is introducing a new line of anointing oils, inspired by the practice of anointing loved ones through the passage from this life; I recently participated in an anthroposophical workshop on the study of Biography, including unseen forces that shape our lives and the passage beyond; a recent issue of Lillipoh magazine was themed “Approaching The Threshold”between life and death; The Smell of Rain on Dust, a book by Martín Prechtel, resurfaced in my thoughts, with its poignant discussion of Grief and Praise; some of my friends have embarked on studies of the art of death-midwifing, hospice work, or singing for hospice patients; and certainly not least, a death in my family gave me cause for contemplation closer to my own heart. Death seems to be “in the field”.
There is a movement to reclaim Death as a natural part of living. I asked Erica Guinn, creator of our anointing oils, for some references I might use to “bone up” before my retreat. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) She led me to the website for The Order of the Good Death. There’s loads to explore there, including links to a You Tube show called “Ask a Mortician”, links for natural and eco-friendly burial, podcasts, children’s books about death, etc. She also pointed me to the work of Stephen Jenkinson, author of Die Wise, and to Francis Weller’s The Wild Edge of Sorrow (gatherings and book). I also learned from her that the legalities around death could be surprising for many of us, and are not necessarily what those in the industry would readily reveal to us when the time comes to deal with the fact. For instance, the traditional three-day vigil held over a loved-one’s body, which has been almost universally replaced by a call to authorities to come and whisk the body away. There are deeper reasons for such a vigil, which we could miss out on if we turn over responsibility to strangers so automatically.
Eric Scott Bresselsmith July 23, 1965 –
Pondering the inevitable has me wanting to take a more proactive stance with regard to “having the conversation”. It’s just part of the deal. People I love are going to die. I myself am going to die. We just don’t know who will go first. It makes sense to me to talk about it together, find out preferences, get things in writing, look into all the nooks and crannies and be a little more prepared. An Internet search for “End of Life Planning” comes up with some ideas and checklists from various perspectives. Yet we can never be fully prepared. Grief as well is inevitable, and another thing I feel our modern culture does poorly.
I have had the great privilege of working with the late Sobonfu Somé to create a version of the Dagara tribe’s grief ritual in our community in Eugene, Oregon. This powerful work has profound healing potential that reaches back into ancestral wounds and forward to affect the lives of our descendants. Ungrieved grief, both culturally and individually, can cause illness, depression, addiction, abuse, and can even lead to lack of empathy and violence. Movement and release through the stages of grief clears the way for healing and opens us up to the possibility of new life and of authentic joy. We live in a society that discourages grieving. This in itself is compelling reason for grief! There is also a movement to reclaim grief as both individual and community process. Malidoma Somé has brought grief ritual to many, and a quick Internet search (try: grief ritual) can yield clues to help find a path to the support that is right for each one of us. I encourage you to take the first step. We all will benefit.
Love and Blessings