Grief is a Four-Letter Word

Guest post by GSN Provider Erin Love, L.Ac.

I get excited about grief.  It’s true; I love talking about it with people.  But, I’ve noticed that people don’t love talking about it with me.  In fact, I’ve noticed that when I mention that I help lead Grief Rituals, there is a mild shock that settles in to the conversation.  It’s as if I’ve just uttered an inappropriate four-letter word or I have a giant piece of spinach stuck in my teeth. No one really wants to say anything about it.

erin head shotI’ve also noticed that within my own community of healing professionals and seekers of growth there is an initial shared excitement about the idea of having acommunity Grief Ritual and people are happy to know that rituals like these are out there… but way over there, out of the way, not for them, but for someone else.

This is where grief goes in our culture:  Away.  We want to keep it out of the way and not talk about it.  What this cultural behavior does is isolate those of us who are deeply experiencing grief in our lives. We all experience grief. Some do so through the loss of a loved one or a divorce. And some of us have smaller, seemingly more mundane grieving to do from events like the loss of a job, heartache, or a breakthrough in therapy about our childhood pain.  Because of our culture’s inability to accept grief, and because of the inability to predict grief’s unpredictable route through our lives, we mostly end up grieving alone behind closed doors, if at all.

I felt a self-imposed version of this cultural attitude before attending my first Grief Ritual with Sobonfu Somé.  Without the support of two good friends, I would not have been able to find the courage to attend the weekend ritual at the Shambhala Mountain Center.  I felt as if they had to drag me there.  But I was able to face the initial feelings of fright and numbness, listen to my heart and participate.  I had no idea what to expect but found the simple structure and process of ritual to be reassuring.

After participating in the ritual, I couldn’t believe it, but I felt light and joyful in a way that I hadn’t in years.  I found out that I wasn’t only grieving my husband’s suicide from years earlier, but I had more unacknowledged grief to shed as the ritual progressed.  True to the nature of grief, my grief ebbed and flowed over the weekend.  There were moments of levity and connection in community and profound feelings of compassion and satisfaction that came from supporting others in their grief when my own process wasn’t active.  And, I learned that forgiveness has a role to play in the process of grief.  It was extremely healing and empowering.

The ritual opened my eyes to new ways of seeing grief and to the need in our culture for new ways of grieving.  From the perspective of the Dagara people, who brought their Grief Ritual to the West through the wisdom of Sobonfu and Malidoma Somé, grief and joy are two sides of the same coin.  In their village, people do not grieve alone but have regular Grief Rituals as a community that last several days, allowing people to go through a full range of emotional states with the support of the community ever present.

I believe that grieving fully is living fully.  If we cannot touch our grief, then how can we reach our joy?  Not one of us will live our lives without experiencing some loss and sorrow.  If we can embrace our grief and give it a voice, we can begin to feel aliveness in the other areas of our lives, regain our energy and strength and begin to have movement in our lives again.  We may even begin to access our joy again.

As an acupuncturist and a cranial sacral practitioner, I can’t help but think of things in terms of movement.  There is a great adage in Chinese medicine that says “When there’s pain, there’s no free flow, and when there’s no free flow, there is pain.”  This reminds me of grief.  My experience of grief is that things are not flowing, particularly if we are not tending to its expression when it’s needed.  So things get stuck.  And this causes pain and stagnation in our bodies and spirits which could eventually turn in to physical, emotional or spiritual illness.

butterflyHere at the Grief Support Network, we provide an alternative to the culture that treats grief like a four-letter word by offering a new perspective and holistic approach to grief.  I’m proud to be a provider and proud to offer Grief Ritual in the tradition of the Dagara people as one of the ways to move and release our grief for transformation and healing.

A Grief Ritual retreat will be held in Estes Park, CO October 26-27, 2013.  If you are interested in this weekend Grief Ritual retreat or have any questions, do not fear!  This is a safe place to help you transform your grief.  For more information, you can contact Erin Love at (720) 939-0392 or or Deborah Inanna at (303) 817-5000 or