Grief was a constant friend for many years…
At first I hated her, she tortured me daily, nightly, without rest. I couldn’t believe how fierce she was. To live I had to develop coping skills to survive… or die also! I worked many, many levels of healing and developed many tools for coping with, and surviving, grief.
IF YOU ARE IN A TIME OF GRIEF… my hope is that this page brings you tools to find comfort. Try whatever form below resonates with you! We ALL heal differently and you must honor what works FOR YOU.
Below you will find a virtual tool box of suggestions for acute grief, anniversaries and ongoing grief. Additionally you will find a closure ritual for use when you know it is time for the grieving and bereavement to ease.
And there is a grief recording, words of healing to move through grief.
And lastly there is a video of a dance I choreographed that embodies grief, a visual and visceral experience to help heal the grief.
I have gathered these tools because grief hurts to the core of our being, and we all need help when we grieve. Use the these tools as they serve your needs, in good health. My heart is with you.
This Sacred Time of Grief and Celebration
HOW DOES ONE GRIEVE WELL?
Grief is love. The more you loved, the more grief hurts. It hurts so much that our first instinct is to make it go away. But the thing to know about grief is that it is a healthy outpouring of the love you have. It will hurt, it feels like your heart is breaking and if you can focus on it as love you can feel that it is bursting and a river of love is pouring forth.
Grief can bring incredible growth and compassion in life. But grief that does not get expressed can turn to anger and bitterness.
“Grief… happens upon you, it’s bigger than you.
There is a humility that you have to step into, where you surrender to being moved through the landscape of grief by grief itself.
And it has its own timeframe, it has its own itinerary with you, it has its own power over you, and it will come when it comes.
And when it comes, it’s a bow-down.
It’s a carve-out.
And it comes when it wants to, and it carves you out — it comes in the middle of the night, comes in the middle of the day, comes in the middle of a meeting, comes in the middle of a meal.
It arrives — it’s this tremendously forceful arrival and it cannot be resisted without you suffering more…
The posture that you take is you hit your knees in absolute humility and you let it rock you until it is done with you. And it will be done with you, eventually.
And when it is done, it will leave. But to stiffen, to resist, and to fight it is to hurt yourself.”
~ Elizabeth Gilbert
When you’ve never experienced a good role model for grief, how do you know how to grieve well? Especially when we’ve been trained to hide these difficult emotions.
On this website you’ll find many tools that can help various phases of grief. But some may wonder what grief looks like. What’s healthy?
For every single person grief is different. For me, and others like me, it takes us to our knees and we rock and cry. Often in the shower where I feel alone. Sometimes I have melted to the ground in the kitchen when I am alone and I hear a certain song.
Sometimes grief needs to be screamed. If I am in nature or driving in my car, or even underwater in a pool, I might allow a Primal Scream to express my grief. Sometimes again and again.
Sometimes my grief is expressed in cleaning furiously. Somehow for me, it’s therapeutic to scrub and clean and organize. Other times, my grief comes through as an inability to even fold the laundry. And I need lots more sleep than usual.
I often express my grief through my choreography, artwork, and songs. Creative work, carpentry, lots of things can be a beautiful expression of grief.
Surrounding myself with other people who grieve also is a very beautiful experience. When someone you love leaves, they leave a huge hole in your heart, and no one can fill that hole, but other people collectively can help fill some of the empty space. In my grief, I have created monthly zoom meetings with others that are grieving, I have created monthly sweat lodges with others that are grieving. It’s so helpful to have that touchstone each month to get through the first year. It gives you a place to look forward to letting go, where the grief can be released and you can feel recharged for the next month.
What’s important is not to judge yourself.
At first the waves of grief may knock you to your knees. Be gentle with yourself as you return to work, school, social events… the real world. Use your GRIEF ALTAR well and the waves will be less unpredictable. Use your SPIRIT BOX to relieve those things that need to be expressed. Tend your grief like you would nurture a garden. In this way you will grow through this process and grief becomes an ally.
The truth is, the grief won’t lessen. But your capacity to feel it as love expands so that you stop suffering,and begin to thrive as a testament to how big your love for them is. A great way to honor them is to move the love you feel into the world.
FOR ACUTE GRIEF
When grief is fresh one of the most important things we can do is to be in community. Surround yourself with others who share or at least can understand your grief. Make space in your life to allow this immediate grief to have room without needing to act or be a certain way, for example, at work or around others who don’t understand your grief. Taking the time to be with others and move slowly during this time is a great blessing.
Often communities will help with bringing food for the immediate time of initial loss. This can provide a reprieve from the daily work of life so that you can dive into this sacred time. If people ask what they can do to help, if you don’t know what they can do, ask them to bring you food. You will need to eat and may not feel like buying and preparing food.
Understanding what you believe about death is useful here. If you believe the spirit is near, you can take this time to speak with the spirit. If you believe the spirit does not linger, you can take the time to offer farewells.
One of the first things you can do in the initial days is to build a Grief and Celebration Altar—a space where you can go to grieve your loss. This is what most religions do at funerals… they create a grief altar with photos, flowers, favorite items, etc.
On your altar, put items that help you to feel the grief and celebration of their life. Photos, favorite items, special things that bring to mind the loss you are grieving.
Then, especially in the first days, when feeling grief go directly to the alter to grieve. Allow it to become a container for grief. This is training your subconscious mind so that you can fully grieve and also be present in “life” in the outside world without being ambushed by grief.
See more thorough directions for building and using a Grief Altar in the Grief and Celebration Altar section below for building a grief altar.
UPON DEATH: SPIRIT HONORING RITUALS
Differing cultures honor death in different ways. If you don’t know the rituals of your culture, explore, research and discover if any of them feel useful for you. Rituals speak in languages that are not verbal, they signal the mind and spirit to understand those things that are limited by the confinement of language.
LIGHT THE WAY
Upon the passing of a loved one many cultures light candles. This can be done in many ritualistic ways. The ongoing burning of candles on an altar for 3 or 7 days is common. There are lovely candles in glass jars that provide for safe continuous burning for as much as 7 days.
SEVEN DAY SECLUSION
A ritual that I love is to have the family and loved one of the person who passed spend 7 days in seclusion together. Invoke one room for seclusion into grief. In olden days they would sit with the body, so create a chair or space for the spirit to dwell. Lay out an outfit of your loved one so when you see their clothes, you know where their spirit can rest for a time as they prepare to move on. Sit in silence, cry, laugh, sleep, meditate… Have meals together, tell stories, be present together… play games together. It is important to spend the time, even when nothing specific is happening.
You may sense the presence of you loved one, and may understand messages they send through the veil.
If it is a significant loss to a family unit, like a mother or father, commit to being in the seclusion of grief together for a certain amount of time each day. 10am to 10pm for example. Taking the generous time to grieve together allows grief to begin to “heal” more quickly, so that it becomes an ally. This time together supports the spirit that is passing to transition well.
There may be much organizational work that needs to be done for funeral/cremation, funerals/celebrations, so when conversations need to stray into the business of death, remove yourself from the seclusion room so that the mind knows this room is for grieving.
SEVEN WEEK CEREMONY
Another ritual is for the family and loved ones to meet on the day the person transitions to spend time together. The first week the family should spend as much time together as possible. Make a point not to get distracted from the quest of just being together. Eat together, play games, tell stories, work out the details of all that needs to be taken care of.
Then, in this ritual, the family and friends gather on the day of the week the loved one transitioned, for 7 weeks following their death. So if they died on a Saturday, meet each Saturday for the next 7 weeks. Share a meal -set a place for the loved one. Make their favorite meals. Say prayers for the transition of the spirit that is passing through the veil. Tell stories about them. Laugh and cry.
On the 7th ritual gathering, arrange to distribute a symbol of this time together that can be taken home. You may choose to pool your resources and print and frame a favorite photo of the loved one for each person to take home, you may decide to get matching tattoos, you may each take home matching plants for your home. Whatever you choose, think it through as a group, you might decide to take home a long lasting candle that you will each burn for 7 days on this seventh week, to signal the closure of this ritual.
THE FOUR DAY SACRED FIRE
As of the writing of the update for this article I have just completed a four day Sacred Fire for the tragic loss of my dear daughter/friend. The day after her body was taken off life support we started a four day sacred fire gathering. In summary, we created a sacred space, tended a fire for four days, with specific rituals at sunrise and sunset. The remaining time was spent sitting around the fire and talking, telling stories, even being present in silence together. Each of the four days had a theme that would guide our conversations.
This is a specific death ritual that takes training to host, but you can use this idea to create a family or community event that allows time for communal grief healing.
GRIEF OVER TIME
GRIEF OVER TIME…
As time passes, replace items in your altar with things you love about life, and surround the images of your loss with lots and lots of love. And scents that inspire your love!
When you are ready, and have not needed to visit the grief alter in some time,begin to pack the things on the alter into a sacred box or container of some sort… one that you can bring out and visit whenever you wish.
GRIEF STILL LASTING….
There is no time limit on grief, though you may find that people around you have less and less tolerance for holding space with you grief. Your grief altar can become even more important at this time, giving you a space to give your grief the voice it needs.
One suggestion for grief over time is to create a grief/celebration journal and spend time writing anything that comes to your mind.
CREATING SPACE FOR GRIEF…
One ritual that has been very meaningful in my life is to create a monthly gathering for the first year, to honor grief and celebration of your loved one. For a recent loss, I have hosted monthly 2 day event, a potluck followed by a sweatlodge and potluck the next day -in our case on the full moon since our loved one died on the full moon. This helped us all get through each month as the grief naturally took the course of healing with it’s ebbs and flows.
At the final day of the 13 full moon lodges for one year, you can celebrate by having something that everyone takes home as a reminder. You can discuss this together and decide upon the perfect thing. It might be building a bench in the loved ones favorite walking path, or matching framed photos each of you take home. Be creative.
SPIRIT BOXES: OPEN REALMS OF COMMUNICATION
WHERE COMMUNICATION CAN REMAIN OPEN…
A useful tool to manage grief is to build a spirit box. Start with a cardboard box like a shoebox or the sort of cardboard boxes that hold photos. They are easy to find at craft stores. Decorate it with your loved one’s name or photos of the person, or pictures that remind you of them. You can put your Spirit Box on your Grief Altar (see directions for a Grief Altar below) or hide it away -where ever it feels like a safe spot. Set the intention for this box to be a place where you can communicate to your loved one. Letters placed in this box are “sent” to them. Once put in the box, leave them there, that’s where they live now. If your box gets full, start a new one.
When you have something you wish to say to your loved one, or on birthdays or anniversaries, or when you are celebrating something in your life that you want to share with them, write them a letter. Keep the letters in the Spirit Box. Share all about your life, whenever you wish your loved one could share this moment with you.
ASK FOR ANSWERS…
If you wish, in your letters you can ask your loved one to send you answers. You can ask for specific things, or subtle things, signs to let you know they are receiving your letters. Then keep an eye out for their response.
ANNIVERSARIES AND DIFFICULT DAYS
Expect that grief does not end. Know that there will be difficult times. Grief is difficult because we loved so deeply. Grief is good, is important, and is a valuable part of life. Make time on important days to honor your grief. Bring out your box, make a toast, burn a candle… whatever. Use scents to open the grief and to close the grief ritual, from the early days of your grief rituals.
When special days are approaching, make plans for a special way to honor that day. Your subconscious mind will be quite attuned to anniversaires, birthdays, and special days. Even if you consiously forget, something will remind you. You mind feel low and wonder why, only to realize it’s an anniversay. So, plan for them, honor them throughout the first year. Then decide each year which to celebrate.
When grief first arrives it is a huge thing… a great weight. People might think that grief gets less heavey over time. Indeed that is not the case. Grief stays with us, we are forever changed. But what happens is that our “container” for grief will grow.
WHEN GRIEF HAUNTS YOU
Though grief does not end, we become stronger if we walk through the grief and process the emotions. If we don’t honor grief… it can destroy us. Grief can cause us to have unhealthy behaviors, become bitter people, and even exaggerate mental disorders such as depression and addiction. So processing it is important.
Sometimes our life has not given us the experience to know how to process grief. Hopefully this page will help you find tools. It is never too late to grieve. Grieve never leaves us… but we grow stronger when we process our grief and make friends with it.
If the grief haunts you, it is likely that there is something that wants to be understood. Your subconscious is screaming for you to pay attention. Sometimes it feels like grief won’t end… it’s too big… especially when a child dies, or a loss completely changes your life.
In this case, create a grief altar now and begin to actively use it. Use a spirit box and write letters expressing your heart fully to the loved one. Create a grief/celebration journal. You can ask the grief questions and write the answers that you hear into your journal. Find the ways that you can to process the grief. Paint, sing, dance… give grief expression.
Grief is love that has no way to be expressed. Find you way of expressing it.
When you are ready, create a closure ceremony. Like a FUNERAL RITUAL (see the CLOSURE RITUALS tab). Actually take the actions and hold a funeral, even if only you attend it. Bring items that will assist you to release the grief and move to a place of feeling the love… the sorrow you feel -it is love you feel. The more you loved this person, the stronger your grief can be.
Grief is love.
CLOSURE RITE (a personal funeral)
MY FUNERAL RITUAL:
Do this when you are ready to let the grief go. To release their energies that you and they might move on.
It can be important you create your own ritual, but feel free to use mine if it works for you.
Photos of the loss (including a favorite “memorial” photo, life size face for example),
Be sure to print copies because these will be burned.
Whisky (or a ceremonial drink of your choosing),
A ceremonial knife,
A deer antler,
a scent that represents closure and being here now (herbs to burn or essential oils)
A lighter and
A burn caudron (a safe way to work with fire).
Go to an open space where you are in nature and fire is safe. Choose the time of day that most opens your heart. Choose a symbolic day; an anniversary, birthday, special day of any sort. For me I love to do this on the full moon.
Call in the seven directions with your intentions.
Place tobacco on the Earth, connecting with her spirit.
Pierce the earth with the ceremonial blade thanking Mother Earth for her gifts.
With the deer antlers dig deeper, calling in the deer medicine of love and gentleness.
This may not be for everyone, but it works well for me in a ritual to relase their spirit back to other realms. You can create your own version of this by burning letter or prayers and allowing the smoke to take your words to the other realms.
In the burn cauldron, one at a time, burn the photos, speaking the words that each photo represents and what you are grateful for (the love, etc) and what you are releasing (anger for dying, whatever). As they burn the smoke releases their energy back into the realms from which they came. In this way, you can hold them in your heart, without tethering them to this realm.
Save the memorial photo for last. Pause before the last photo, speak all that wants to come out. Set the last photo, the life-size face for example, on the embers and watch the embers take him/her/it back to home/spirit/ashes/dust/nothingness/heavens (however you think of it)… Allow that memory of the embers transforming the memorial photo into smoke and ashes, and hold that memory as the last image… releasing their energy that they, and you, might move on.
Poor the embers of each photo into the hole you dug.
Speak your feelings out loud as you bury the embers. Then sprinkle tobacco on top, thanking the earth for holding these things for us. Then toast and drink your sacred drink and you pray for the future. If it feels appropriate offer libations; serve some onto the “grave” by pouring or spitting it from your mouth. Speak your final words.
Anoint yourself by touching essential oil to your third eye and heart or smoke purify yourself with burning herbs. This assists us in shedding whatever is not in harmony with the True Self. By releasing what is incongruent, this ritual encourages us to listen and follow our inner guidance.”
If you opened the seven directions, close them to finish the ritual, thanking them and if you wish speaking for them to “stay if you will, leave if you must”. Notice your emotions as the funeral ends and you procession away (even if it is a procession of just you).
ALL OF THIS speaks the language of the subconscious… where healing and illness are both born.
Blessings on your journey.
Building a Grief and Celebration Altar
What is a Grief and Celebration Altar?
A Grief and Celebration Altar is way to help you begin to control the grieving process. It is a place where you put particular items that remind you of the reason you grieve and the life you celebrate.
It is important to honor both the grief and the celebration. Give them each space and give them as much time as they need each day. If you honor grief fully, and in a healthy way, it will need less and less as time goes on.
How do you Build one?
Begin by selecting the place for your altar. You may want to have two, one is a public place where many can grieve an done in a private place where you can be alone with your grief. What is a safe space that allows you to fully experience YOUR grief?
Grief/celebrarion altars often have a place to sit and rest comfortably so they invite you to linger.
Grief/celebration altars contain items that give you something to do. Perhaps lighting an herb to smoke purify, an oil to anoint, a journal to write in, art supplies to draw, space to dance, writing supplies to write letters to the departed. Include ritual items you might want to use, wands, athames, candles, cards, herbs and oils. Be creative. Have supplies handy so when the desire is present it is at your findgertips.
Adorn your altar with photos, mementos, clothes, jewelry, scents, flowers, anything that reminds you of the sorrow that you hold in your heart. Make the altar perfect for YOU. Usually a quiet area, private, with items arranged beautifully… but anything can be your altar!
How is it effective with grief?
HOW DOES IT WORK?
A Grief Altar speaks to your subconscious.
As you continue to make the altar your place to grieve, grief will no longer sneak up on you in unexpected ways. Your subconscious will begin to understand THIS is the place where we grieve. And soon you will be able to choose when and where you grieve, without repressing the grief. Soon your grief will begin to shift from being so painful all the time, to having moments of celebration and love. Allow whatever emotional waves are present to be fully expressed. Using a grief/celebration altar well gives you a pathway to move through grief in a healthy way.
What do you DO with it?
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE ALTAR?
At this altar you give yourself permission to grieve fully. Spend time there as much as you can. Really indulge in the grieving process when you are at this altar, and when grief starts to arise GO to the altar.
As mentioned in the section above, include a way to open and close your altar sessions. I like to use smoked herbs and anoint with oils, but ringing a bells or sounding a systrum are effective as well. You can use a wand or athame to scribe a circle around your body to the right to open a session and then scribe the circle around you body to the left to close the circle. You may find or write a ritual prayer that can open or close your session. What is important is that you give attention to the act of opening and closing the grief/celebration session.
Then just spend time there. You can write ina grief/celebration journal or write letters to go in your spirit box, or sing songs, pray or just talk to your loved one. Dance your prayers. This is YOUR time. Do what you are called to experience.
And always tend to the altar itself. Make sure the flowers are fresh, the items are arranged well, there is no dust. THe caring fo rthe altar is part of the process of teaching your mind to grieve in a healthy way
Island of Tears
Island of Tears is a dance I created to honor grief.
I hope viewing this can be of service to you, assisting you as you move through and honor your grief and find way of celebrating the life of your loved one.
Viewing dance that embodies grief can be a helpful way to move through it. Dance speaks the language of the soul.
It moves us beyond the lexical mind and into the experiences of the heart, where we heal.
This is in Minsk, Belarus and is a monument where the people of Belarus go to grieve for those that gave their lives in WWII. I have visited it and it is a powerful evocation of grief. In the same way that a grief altar works, this monument gives people a place to go to grieve. The women hold bowls to catch their tears