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Spiritual Practices for Grief

Yesterday was the anniversary of the massacre at Pulse, a terrifying night in which 49 people were killed and dozens more wounded in an attack born out of hate. As we all know, while this attack grabbed headlines and terrified us, this was not an isolated incident, just a very large reminder of the dangers members of the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly the transgender community and members of the community who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It was also yet another huge cause for grief.

All humans experience grief (and some animals too) and these practices are for everyone. I'm highlighting this during Pride month because members of marginalized communities tend to lose people more often to violence, to disease, to addiction, and so often our losses are coupled with the knowledge that it could have been us and fear that next time, it just might be. We lose people who are not dead, but who have cut off relationship with us because of who we are. We carry this compounded grief, the griefs of losing friends and lovers and chosen family and our family of origin and it can become too much to bear. During Pride month, this grief often comes to the surface as our celebration highlights who isn’t there and protests highlight the threats to our lives, all while we are “supposed” to be celebrating.

What do we do with this grief?

I am a huge supporter of community ceremonies for grief and rites for communal grieving. But sometimes we want to, or have to, grieve alone. This is for that.

While I have experienced quite a lot of death in my 45 years (much of it before I turned 25), I am incredibly uncomfortable with sitting with my grief. It often feels like my grief is a giant black hole that, if I get to close to it, will swallow me whole. The enormity of my grief, which extends into the world's grief, is too much for me to bear, so I tell myself that it is best I just don't deal with it at all. Surprisingly, I have been told this is not actually a healthy way to go through life and it has impacts on my spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

So, in order to not go through life as a ball of suppressed grief, I have developed practices to support me in sitting with my grief. Now, when grief is raw, I highly suggest giving zero fucks and crying whenever you feel it bubbling up in you. Make people uncomfortable -- that's their inability to be present with pain and does not reflect on you or me. Show the world you are strong enough to cry in public. Cry in the grocery store, cry on walks, cry at work (in the bathroom if this will get you deemed unprofessional because corporate culture is an asshole, some of us cannot afford to be seen crying at work and we need our jobs). Try not to crumble into sobs while driving, this is unsafe. But in the immediate aftermath of grief, feel whatever you need to feel whenever you can feel it. If you need to shove it down, make a commitment to sit with it later and follow through. It is helps, imagine yourself putting your grief in a jar on a shelf that you will get down later (or get yourself a real jar).

Let's talk about sitting with grief rather than sitting in grief. It took me for damn ever to get this concept. The words didn't make sense to me because I felt like I was drowning and I couldn't imagine it not being all-encompassing. Now, I would describe it as this: when I have capacity, I meet my grief for a cup of tea, I invite it to sit with me as I pray, I ask for the support of God, Jesus, my ancestors, and whoever is wiling to sit with me as I gaze upon my grief and ask it what it needs.

I am not my grief, my grief is not me.

When I have the space, I return to my grief and call upon those that give me strength and support me, I ground myself, and do one of the following, depending on a lot of variables:

1) I try to find the grief in my body. Usually, for me, it sits in the center of my chest. I find the feeling and slowly let it grow. If I start to feel the fear that, for me, comes along with grief, I tell myself that it is okay to be in grief/be sad, that everyone experiences grief, and that the grief will not drown me. I let the feeling of grief grow and spread and allow myself to feel the fullness of it to the degree I am able to. And I sob until all of the sobs have been sobbed. This is the most difficult, and the most frightening approach for me. It also tends to provide the most relief.

2) I invite my grief for a conversation. I sit across from it and ask it what it needs and listen to its instructions. Sometimes it wants to remember with stories, sometimes it wants to sing, sometimes it wants to be held. I do my best to listen and respond.

3) When my body will not let me access my grief and sorrow, when the grief is locked so tightly in the little box I put all of my difficult to handle feelings in that I cannot access it, I watch the last 5 minutes of the movie Big Fish. It gets me every time. After my divorce (about 10 years ago), I listened to sad love songs. I found ways to break myself open when everything in my said no, it's not safe. Because I was safe, and I didn't' want grief to eat me alive.

While we have Pride celebrations fulled with joy, grief comes up. We remember who we have lost. We think of what we might lose. It bubbles up in our bodies at the most inconvenient times. I hope if this happens, you find opportunities to sit with it that are supportive and healing.


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