Grieving Rituals

I’d like to hear about peoples experiences with creating/attending grieving rituals. I often think about how important it is for us, and how we don’t really have a space for it. I want to create the space for it, in a comforting way that doesn’t feel socially awkward or disconnected at the end.

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In our culture, grieving is usually so private. I wouldn’t even know where to start.

This is definitely something I want to roll around in the back of my mind for awhile, though. If I find anything of value back there, I’ll come back to this topic!

My (at least part time) culture of Judaism practices something called sitting shivah. Ten men (usually just people, now) sit in the home of the bereaved, the clergy member is there, and a quiet, respectful service about the life of the person ensues. It’s very dignified and very peaceful. My grandmother did not wish to have a funeral, but we did sit shivah for her and I think it was wholly less sad and dramatic.

Also, I’m fascinated with the Spanish practice of Dios de los Muertos, with the doll representation and what amounts to a party in celebration of the deceased’s life.

I was just thinking about this earlier as I listened to Finnegan’s Wake,
I kinda like the idea of wake, I think that’d do well for how I’d like a ceremony of such to go, a party like, with telling stories etc.

for some reason, i’m really excited about this thread - perhaps because i feel i have more experience to offer in this area than in the ‘hard’ skills area of rewilding.
urban scout, i’m not sure if you’re asking specifically for grieving rituals around death, but i see grieving as something that needs to be done on many levels.
a specific ritual i have participated in and facilitated is something called the ‘despair & empowerment’ ritual.
it was created by a woman named joanna macy and developed into further work that centers around sharing deep feelings in circle, and moving through the feelings to a place of connectedness. i have had great experiences with each circle as have most of the people i’ve talked to who participated. if you have any questions about it, i’d love to share more - i think it’s pretty easy to learn (there’s lots of material available on this work) and easy to bring to your community.

on a more macro level, i feel its important to add some context to deep feeling work. this is an area that i feel is a huge blind-spot, not only for the dominant culture, but also for most progressive, radical, alternative etc communities. my experience is that learning to feel deeply, fully and expressing this in a safe and connected way is a prerequisite for healing to happen. in the civilized world, we bear many, many, painful scars, particularly from childhood, where humans are especially vulnerable to mal-treatment (i think here of the continuum concept and the trauma that occurs when we have experiences that are outside of our continuum). as a species, humans have a fairly long period as children of being vulnerable, dependent and with fairly specific needs for healthy development. this leaves us much more susceptible (than a turtle say who is independent from day 1) to emotional/psychological damage. i believe that most tribal peoples represent human potential when parenting/childhood is done properly - according to our real needs.
there’s a line from ‘against civilization’ (edited by zerzan) that goes something like ‘the birth-right of primal peoples is what zen masters spend their entire lives searching for’ - what i love about this is that it says that in our undamaged state, we experience what some describe as enlightenment (i don’t much like the term because it’s inherently contradictory, but to use the general sense of it).
i have been doing primal therapy for about 2 years now (which i found out about after reading continuum concept and became curious about the work that jean got into trying to heal those who had non-continuum childhoods) and the essence of it is connecting to the feelings that are there, and expressing them. primal refers to the early childhood scars that we carry with us and that drive much of our current day behaviour. by releasing those feelings, we are freed from their hold on us.
soooo…to bring it back to grieving (sorry for the long tangent, i just get excited about this stuff), i think those of us reared in civilization have much to grieve for (loss of tribe, territory, functional parents, elders, separation from mother etc etc) and it is critical that we find safe, healthy and effective ways to deal with these feelings.
i think it’s important to do this work both in a community setting, and in a more private setting (ex. with a therapist). the community setting is perhaps obvious as to it’s importance, but i think the ‘therapist’ piece is equally essential because certain needs are much harder to deal with in a community setting and require experienced guides to support you. my experience has been that in a community setting, i am able to move through more surface level feelings and deal with issues related to inter-personal relations, but that i have gone much deeper with my therapist because in that setting i have the time, safety and focus to go where i need to, and because it is a relationship that continues to deepen and develop more trust, which is essential for letting down defenses to get to the feelings.
i think a lot of therapists are probably pretty messed up people, and people who are into hierarchical, control style work, so this isn’t a blanket statement of find any therapist you can (nor that everyone needs to by any means). just that my experience of therapy has been incredibly healing and grounds and informs my life.
phew! hope that wasn’t too much of a rant…would love to hear others thoughts on the feeling/grieving topic.

Patrick, I could not agree with you more. You took the words right out of my mouth (although you seem to be more informed than I about things like the continuum concept). Honestly, it shocked me to read that and realize how well it articulates what I want to say.

Such kinds of “grieving” have as much importance as grieving over death, but a lot of the time, our culture doesn’t have ways for accompanying that process, or even accepting it as valid. I remember when a therapist suggested to me that I hadn’t yet grieved after a relationship ended, and it confused me. “What?!?? But nobody died!”

the interesting thing i thought of just now, is that often times when we grieve for something (like breaking up with a loved one), it FEELS like a death, and in many ways is. letting go of an old identity, dying to something new, in a more psychological/spiritual way.

which also may help inform us of healing rituals to use when somebody physically dies.

This thread, in my opinion, has the power to save all of our lives. Keep it going!

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thanks patrick i hear you.

In some ways the finality of death might make grieving that kind of loss easier. More straight forward anyway.
With the loss of a relationship there might be all kinds of other feelings mixed in there like betrayal, jealousy, revenge!! Or hope of getting it back, which could really screw up our ability to have our mourning period then make a clean break and move on.

With the death of a loved one, most of that stuff is just not part of the process.

When my mother crossed over she did it deliberately. She was 86. She’d been getting dialysis three times a week but still lived in her own place. She got sick and was told she would need to move to a nursing home. So she cancelled her dialysis appointments and prepared to leave. My wife and I moved in with her and took care of her till she was gone. About ten days.

For a few months after, I had this feeling that she had left me behind. (hard to actually describe, that’s the best I can come up with). I wanted to go with her. It’s wierd, I really didn’t want to die but I wanted to be able to at least see where she had gone. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, maybe melancholy. At that time we were in the middle of a period where it seemed like people all around us were crossing over. Lots of family, young and old. It was a huge struggle to keep going, My daughter got very depressed and I settled into that melancholia for a couple of years. Eventually it did pass.

Fasting and praying in a deliberate and structured way, with help from elders actually helped me get back on my feet.


i used to fear crying. i felt like if i cried, it meant i had failed, like my life sucked. i used to brag to myself how i didn’t remember the last time i cried. when others cried, it made me REALLY uncomfortable, like they had broken an unwritten rule. it actually made a tingle go down my spine, and the world become hyper-real. i avoided that at all costs.

little did i know, because of trauma from my schooling years, and health problems, i had built a wall around my heart so that i couldn’t cry even if i needed to. my heart had begun to atrophy. crying then manifested as a sore throat, a painful lump. i had a girlfriend who didn’t think i could love her for real, and i couldn’t let go of her to move on. so i basically staggered around with a sore throat half the time in a fog. i remember smiling and laughing a lot too. i put on quite a show.

jeez what a mess.

then i heard martin prechtel’s CD “grief and praise”

i had no elders to help me out. listening to the traditions of his highland mayan culture, of celebratory grieving, of the inextricable intermingling of grief and praise, finally got me to loosen up. then i could at least hang out and support other folks who cried. i didn’t fear it anymore. i actually encouraged other people to get it out.

but for me, i still didn’t like crying. out of habit i’d choke it up, hide my head, tuck my chin in. sheesh.

then bit by bit, learning about story, intimacy, and relationshiops, i realized i had to break that wall. i had to talk about things with my friends that would risk me crying. otherwise i’d never experience anything real with them. so i started opening up.

i still have a lot to learn about grieving courageously, but at least i can cry now and then when I need to without getting hung up about it.

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Thanks Willem, you could be telling my story.

I’m going to check out that link.

It’s been 38 years since I let myself cry.
I remember the last time.

I was 12.

There was no fuckin’ way that was gonna happen again.

So now, it gets right there, I feel like there’s no holding it back then it just settles back down inside.

Yeah, I used to proud of that too. I thought it was my victory. Is that ever backwards.

i agree whole-heartedly - in a weird sort of way, this is the stuff that gets me going. i’m totally into learning how we can find a new way of being in the world, one that is more human and sustainable. and i know that this requires deep healing work because we have been very wounded. i guess whats exciting about it is that a sustainable way of being in the world, or, a rewilded one, is entirely human. how awesome is that!

willem and heyvictor - thanks for sharing. it is good to know that you see the value in feeling your emotions. i am glad to see that this perspective is part of this community because it’s lack in the dominant culture and other communities is such a loss. not only are we wounded, but then we’re told it’s not okay to feel the pain - what a tiring dance!

what i like about the deep feeling approach is that for me it is about accepting what is there. i don’t need to push myself, tell myself what i ‘should’ do/feel, etc, i just need to accept what is. in my case, that’s a lot of pain, that when i connect with, comes out in various forms (tears, anger, movement, noise, etc).

i have a sense (which oscillates between crystal clear and vague) that i am in the process of working out some deep rooted issues that drive much of my present day behaviour. what is painful about having old wounds drive the present is that so long as i think that this person, or that place, of these ideas, ad infinitum, will make things okay, i will spend my life searching in disatisfaction because it’s not about any of these. these are the distractions to cover the pain, because once i realize that it is not about the new skills, next training, the other person, etc, then the feelings surface and i must confront them. and herein lies the healing! i feel that i have spent much of my life searching for something which i will never be able to find. the sooner the ghost chase ends, the easier life will feel.

someone said to me recently, ‘if you can’t feel, you can’t heal’. feeling is healing!

thanks for this dialogue!

any more thoughts?
i keep checking this thread to see but it seems to have died out?

this thread inspired me to write this:

I hear you all,

I’ve been having severe problems seeing and being around other people crying. It always made me angry and i guess scared inside. I kept saying things like " you don’t have to cry" and that sort of bullshit. I can totally relate to the story of a girlfriend that thinks you cant love her, because when the need for me to be there supporting her grief arises, im scared shitless of it all. Lately im having a much better time at these things, i think this forum and its insights have a lot to do with that. So keep it up. Thanks for all.

hi all

i read somewhere (i forget where now) about keening ( and it really appealed to me. the format that was being described in whatever book it was talked about reviving keening but it not being over an actual dead body, but being done as a gathering to greive for ~whatever~. it’s gone through my mind many times how powerful it would be to gather some people in the woods, maybe at a full moon, with a bonfire going, and all gather around and keen (scream, cry, moan, wail, punch the floor, whatever).

my own way of dealing with grief (death of the planet, death of my younger brother, death of my husband) pretty much centers around allowing myself to feel whatever it is i’m feeling at that moment. it means i cry a lot. i hear so often of people greiving being told that it’s time they got over it. that’s just insane. you don’t “get over” intense trauma. you learn to move around it, function as this now completely different wounded broken being, but not getting over it. i wish i felt free enough to just scream it out. i live in a forest, it’s not like anyone would hear! i think that’s why keening appeals to me; i’d get to feel that freedom of emotion but in company.

love and rage

i really love this! i never thought the irish might have a grieving tradition like that.

I totally agree with you, tracy - grieving with company, with friends and family, makes it a whole different experience. And to do it with people who don’t fear screaming, gnashing, craziness, but who totally accept and encourage that as right and real.

i hope you can remember where you first ran across “keening”.

Jeez, I’d keep you company Tracy. Keening sounds intense. I wonder what it feels like to clean out all that piled up grief by just actually GRIEVING IT ALL.

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hi willem

starhawk may well have written something about it, but i can’t find anything of hers beyong a short reference. i’ve read so much on death and dying that it all muddles together!

hi yarrow dream

thanks! yes, i think it would feel wonderful and freeing to just express everything really, instead of half or most hidden. my children see me cry, but not much. mostly i keep it hidden from them, swallowing it down in the pit of my stomach, so that i can function adequately. that doesn’t seem right or natural, though.

i’m studying thanatology a little and death practices and rites have changed so drastically over the millenia. the 20th century has really messed it all up! everything is institutionalized now, hidden, machinery-fied. we’re scared of death. it’s become unnatural. so, like mostly everything else in the 20th century, it’s all fucked up haha.

we cremated my husband and scattered his ashes onto the beach and into the ocean. there is no marker for him. it was done originally by accident, but the more i study death, the deeper i journey into the spirit realms, the more i think maybe that’s the way it should be. we don’t put markers up for trees or rocks or mountains or lions or… death is change is life. as civilization crashes and we move to a more natural way of existing again, i hope to see a more natural relationship with death occuring.

thanks, all. apologies for the lack of e-prime. i’m reading the threads on it and thinking about it though! the e-priming of my writing will come haha.

love and rage