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A GRIEF PRACTICE: Can you give it a good death?

Updated: 5 days ago

I am here, and a new grief is present. I am feeling into a fresh loss, a split in the fundamental fabric that’s informed my being for as long as I can remember. As I make space to be with this new grief, and as I am with others in that space, I notice old wounds that haven’t quite healed yet are surfacing too. No matter how new and unique the most current loss, grief is a familiar companion.

I can recall my first brushes with grief. Picture my 12 year old self sitting on the rug in my bedroom, listening to India Arie, getting off on my own weeping. It felt good to feel. My breath skipping rapidly, my belly flutters like it’s catching on something as my diaphragm lifts, the exhale that follows unleashing sheets of tears as my body sobs, releasing the tides. I didn’t understand why I felt so much and I felt like I needed to know why to make it better. Actually what I was really trying to do was make it stop. Feeling with all my intensity in a way felt good, but everyone around me seemed to believe something different, all around me I heard "feeling is bad". I felt strange, othered, for always being the one who felt more than the rest. And who couldn't seem to hide it. And so I came to know my sadness, in particular, by way of a language and way of relating to it that was handed down to me, as depression. I kept this expression of sadness compressed in the shadow of my unconscious under the guise of judgement. I held it down there for as long as it was unsafe for me to feel it fully. For as long as feeling it meant my own needs would go unmet—I would be abandoned, ridiculed, someone else’s feeling made bigger than my own, someone else’s pain centered.

When I was young, sadness was something I came to know well. It was the emotion I first learned how to partner with consciously. It was where others placed their attention and so I placed mine there too. Love’s presence was less known by my angsty preteen mind desperate to rationalize and make sense of my experience. It was less romantic, it was less dramatic. But in truth its quiet presence I just couldn’t quite see yet. My environment required me to become a sage of sadness and I looked there in the symptomatic loneliness that consumed me in my early years for answers. Thinking that they would free me from my feeling, something that kept me apart from everyone else.

For so long I felt my sadness and my love living separate in me. I felt that if I extended love to my sadness it would be a betrayal, somehow diminishing the truth of my experience. I felt contempt for those people who could so easily feel happy, who said ‘choose love’ over and over again in the face of horrors and atrocities but also in the face of my own small pain. I didn’t trust them. My coach Zach Dacuck offered these words and I remember them changing something for me...

“The depth of your sadness is the depth at which you love.”

These words helped build the bridge between my grief and the role love would play in reshaping the way sadness lived in my body and informed my embodied life—that is the beliefs I live by, the actions I take, the choices I make, the possibilities I can imagine, the wisdom I act on, the way I am able to be in relationship and extend, practice and show up as a loving presence. Ultimately it would inform my practice of not abandoning myself in my sadness, or abandoning myself to be with others in theirs. This bridge would show me that pain and sadness weren't the only way to relate to my grief. Love and ease are possibile here too.

Francis Weller’s work has also impacted my relationship with grief. In Weller’s book, ‘The Wild Edge of Sorrow’ he describes his Five Gates of Grief. While I don’t claim these are the only ways in which we grieve or the only categories to sort our grief by, these words provide a container (Yang) that to me feels complete or whole—so in that sense clear—one I can press into and partner with when I feel the incomprehensible, wild, hard to sit with feelings (Yin) that are alive in my grief space. There is a resonance that I feel connected to inside this language, where the things that are hard to hold can finally be held by something other than my own grief stricken heart. So often the only thing I need inside my grief is to be witnessed. Weller's language provided a container to be witnessed in. The container frees me up to just focus on being with all of the present sensations and grants me permission to not have to worry about making it mean something. To not problem solve them away. May they offer you relief as they have me. Perhaps they will provide a new container to not only feel into the depths of sadness, but to make sense of that sadness in the context of love.

Francis Weller’s Five Gates of Grief

  1. The grief of acknowledging everything you love you will lose

  2. The grief for all the places in you that have never known love

  3. The sorrow for the world

  4. The grief for all the things you expected and never received

  5. Our Ancestral grief

When I read this list my grief became known to me as if for the first time. It found a sense of belonging absent before the precision of these words carved out a space for it to land within the context of my life. This naming helped me categorize and scale my grief. It helped me understand how each gate is its own thread or many, and how all these threads weave together in the tapestry of a felt life. How if I cannot be with my feeling fully, then I remain incoherent, incomplete, not fully expressing my aliveness. How within the sadness there is also love to feel into.

Death is the action of surrender. It is the exhale. It is the final release. The moment we choose to let go. It is also the event that must happen in order for something new to emerge. It is a natural and essential part of the cycle.

In the face of this language I suddenly understood and felt into aspects of my grief I couldn't access before. The grief that stems from a lack of clarity around my heritage, the lack of oral history passed on through my lineage about who my people were, how they lived, how they grieved, how they loved…with a new piercing resonance. I understood the illusory nature of white supremacy culture and capitalism in a new way, as one void of life affirming practices and necessary rituals, as one that provides a false sense of belonging by systematically separating human beings from their cultures of origin to disempower and dehumanize them. By systematically separating them from the ways of being that encourage them to feel into their aliveness. I didn’t just grasp this with my mind, I suddenly felt this with my body. The grief was given the context of humanity and so I could access it within the context of my being. By feeling. Into the space where resonance lives, between my sensations and my awareness, finally acknowledging the sensation by giving them space to be felt in relationship to something else....between two beings coming into proximity with each other, within the context of their two histories, within the context of their two lives, within the context that each gate provides.


I am currently practicing "closing loops"...tending to the suspended trauma frozen in my being in an attempt to show the parts of me that have never known love that I can love them, that they are worthy of recieving love, that they are lovable. I am holding space for what is frozen to thaw so that I can be drenched in the feeling. I am practicing giving the loss I face inside of that a good death. A conscious one. And boy is there loss here. If I am to let go of something that is no longer serving me, I need to feel the weight of it first. Feeling the weight of a rock informs how I set that rock down. I will approach setting down the pebble I am holding differently than setting down the boulder. It helps me to not compromise the integrity of my structure in doing so. How can we let go of something if we don’t know what it is we are letting go of? We can’t let go from this half place without risking a tear in our being. Why split deeper, that which is already breaking wide open?

If we can face our losses with our whole self, we can turn with that wholeness towards what's next and love as deeply as they imprinted themselves into our being. If we don’t, the parts that linger in loss remain unconscious, attached to something that is no longer here and frozen -- orienting toward the past. It's not a matter of becoming all of one thing and nothing of the other...it's about truly locating ourselves right where we are. Not in our doing, but in our being. This is awakening to our wholeness. If we don't, parts of us stay in this perpetual freeze around death. Not able to confront it, not able to move through it, constricting ourselves around an essential part of life that clears the path for transformation and allows us to continue on.

Feeling into our grief isn’t pretty, or comfortable. Being seen here isn't comfy either. Committing to feel more means we feel the hard stuff just as much as the not so hard stuff. If we can get out of our own way and let go of what it's supposed to look like and let the process unfold as it is meant to, we won’t be adding unnecessary suffering to the pain that is unavoidable in life. We won't be bypassing or distracting from the joy and ease that we can also experience as we open deeper to our own aliveness as we feel into the sensations present in our somas. We can begin to distinguish between sensation and emotion..between sensation and story...and wake up to our aliveness and what is also gained as we feel into what is lost. We grieve for the past, the present and the future. We open to our solitude, our being without to ready ourselves for what is next, for what else is already here. And despite all the stories that glamorize our aloneness, especially when our grief feels like it will swallow us whole, we don't have to expect ourselves to be with our pain in isolation. We also don't have to expect ourselves to be with our pain longer than is bearable. There is more to feel inside of our of grief than this.

What if we could turn towards each other and open to the possibility of finding true fulfilling intimacy in the way we allow sensation to inform our lives? Part of our tendency to turn away from each other is our conditioning that says "feeling" is weak. Part of it is never having a safe space or safe person to feel our full emotional selves with. Part of it is in placing value judgements onto emotions, and then mistankingly identifying with them rather than acknowledging them as energy that actually gets expressed through us. Part of it is the severe lack we face in the west in having a conscious relationship with death. Part of it is the deep need for a foundation of trust to exist in order to open in this way with each other, something that takes time and care to build.

We lack practices, rituals and language that honors death as a sacred and necessary part of life and so we don’t trust that it is worthy to take up space with our grief. We have not been shown how. We don't see that feeling more fully actually brings us closer to life. We don't see life and death as two sides of the same coin. We are not practiced here. It breaks my heart when I hear someone say, I need to be “strong” for the one who has lost. What I actually hear is don’t cry. Don’t express what is true. How is it that we have come to lose our way, that the very mechanism through which our body processes and expresses emotion, energy leaving our being via the vehicle of TEARS is something we don’t regard as necessary? As worthy? As vital? Why else would we be built this way?

The word Grief has roots in both Sanskrit and Greek, both of which describe the word as ‘to burden, or to heavy.’ The greek word baros and barys point to the same idea of grief as something that is burdened with weight, often the notion of “strength or force” is implied. So isn't it curious, that we have confused the strength of grief as the nature of the thing itself with our own stubbornness in resisting it.

Crying feels good. The sweet release that comes when I feel safe enough to fully let go…there is nothing like it. I sleep after a good long cry. It's because when I cry I am unburdening myself from all the sensations I am holding. My window of tolerance to sit with sensation is wider than I ever dreamed possible and it still threatens to knock me over by it's intensity. Just the other day I buzzed so intensely from a confrontation, my entire being was literally vibrating. I had a moment of "woah, am I ok?" I will be honest when I say that commiting to fully feel my life has been at times overwhelming. It has not been easy, I have been scared, and I have opened to feeling more sensation than I thought I would ever be able to withstand. Sometimes I need a break. And I'm learning how to keep giving myself that. This work demands courage. And resource. And partnership. And love. It is not for the faint of heart. I have compassion for those who do not wish to do it. And I believe in every single one of your who is committed to take up this good work and BE different. To be with the shadow and offer it just as much love as any other part, to be with everything that resides there, and to welcome it to the table. I believe in you to go into those dark parts, find the medicine there and offer it to the world.

I believe in you to go beyond your fullest imagined expression. To be so alive through your feeling that it threatens to push you over but in your conviction you center again. To be so unafraid to WAIL that you give my own being permission to release just by doing so yourself. I want to weep in your company and not feel the need to hide the expression that comes with full surrender. I want to be certain that I will not be met with the subtle rejection that lives inside ‘it’s ok,’ ‘shhhhh’, ‘don’t cry’ as if my tears meant anything beyond the simple need to release and feel what is meant to be felt! I want to be met right where I am, with all that I am presently sitting with. I want to be witnessed in the raw degree of expression, I want you to know me there. I want it to be acknowledged that it is in fact unjust when we lose someone at the hands of human beings led by fear, who are resisting every last bit of themselves, that it is painful when we have to move through alone what we thought we would be able to move through together. I want to acknowledge the futures, the possibilities and the dreams that are stolen and lost and weep for them without needing to invite into that space a sense of “okay-ness”. Without being rushed. I want to hold space to feel into the full depth of the tragedy so that I can know exactly what it is that hurts so bad so that I can know how to show up and love. So that I can know how its different for you. I want to feel in order to move where I would historically linger. To emerge lighter and freer, to free up the frozen parts so more of us can move towards joy. So that the next thing can be informed by the wisdom of feeling, fully, what it is that has been lost. So that we can rebuild with it in mind, and emerge more whole and fully realized on the other side.

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Artwork: Collaboration between LS and Zoe Galle