We are born knowing how to grieve. As children, we cry naturally to feel better, to let go of our pain, to release the burdens of pent-up emotions. It helped us lessen the weight from our shoulders. Positive expressions of grief are helpful to us. It is the lack of such expression that leads to chronic tension and dissatisfaction in life and even aggression and violence.
The Communal Nature of Grief
But there are actions we can take as a community to promote the healthy and safe expression of intense emotional experiences such as loss. Sobonfu Some is one of the formemost voices of African spirituality. She travels the world sharing the rich spiritual lessons and culture of her native Burkino Faso.
Here is a quote from one of her articles: “Communal grieving offers something that we cannot get when we grieve by ourselves. Through acknowledgement, validation and witnessing, communal grieving allows us to experience a level of healing that is deeply and profoundly freeing.”
Communal Grief in a Fast-Paced World
In our fast-paced and fragmented society, it is difficult to take the time to create our own grief rituals. As a result we are often left isolated in our grief. My colleague KC Conway, LCSW, has written a lovely piece about how this issue was addressed when she was a child.
“When my grandfather died, the women in their small town mobilized as they always do to surround my grandmother and the family with care. There have always been generations of women in that farming community who attend to the rhythms of life, the sowing, the gathering, the birthing and the dying, with faith and competence. They have casseroles, breads, pies, and cookies pre-made and frozen for all occasions and needs. They are always ready to set their own lives aside to care for their neighbors, knowing that when they need it, as they inevitably will, that same caring army will mobilize for them. My grandmother’s door was left unlocked and the women came and went for weeks. They would come and heat and feed, clean and bake, laugh from the kitchen and tell stories over cups of tea and coffee, wrapping my grandmother in hugs. They had come to console and comfort as they had been taught by their mothers and grandmothers. In our city, when death comes, we are often surrounded by strangers. The pace of city life doesn’t permit the kind of nourishing, healing support my grandmother had in her grief. The grieving often suffer without the support of a community that shares the memory of the beloved. When death comes through violence, the grieving have notoreity but no comfort.”
On Saturday June 4, 2011, The Center for Grief Recovery hosted an event entitled: Walking Through Grief–Together. Our goal was to celebrate our 25+ years of work in the field of bereavement counseling and psychotherapy. We walked to honor grief and mourning and to provide communal support and comfort to those experiencing a loss of any kind. We walked to raise money for those in our community who want professional grief counseling but cannot afford it.
Here in Chicago it is still possible for us to look at our losses as a community of mourners and determine what is needed to help unburden ourselves of our emotional pain. Our intention was to gather, hold, walk, and give communal permission to the natural responses to loss.