While I want to write this article with my signature rye humour and a series of risque metaphors that collapse unto themselves — this feels kind of different.
I know three absolute truths about grief.
Grief is universal, especially amplified in the current ( C-word 19) climate. That is – we feel it together, alone, and sometimes for those we have never met.
Grief is a deeply personal experience. There is no right way to do grief.
Grief is in our ancestral lines, and therefore working from inside us, on levels we can’t always fully understand.
The first thing we might associate grief with is the death of someone close, which is of course, profoundly valid.
We grieve because we are sentient beings. We move more closely with the cycles of nature than we may like to admit to ourselves. Because even if we did admit it, we would then have to be honest: we don’t always listen to what our bodies or our natural environment are saying. Sometimes, we drop out, instead of dropping in.
We can experience love and therefore suffering, through all of our bodies – the physical, the emotional, the psychological, the spiritual, the energetic, the etheric – but use our physical body as a container for almost all of our ‘feeling’.
When we expand our concept of grief, as outside of just a literal death, or other large measurable loss, we allow Life / Death / Life cycles to move us, with grace. (Trust me darling, they will move you whether you like it or not).
We allow ourselves and others to feel more valid, more allowed, as Clarissa Pinkola Estés might put it – to go to the ‘bones’ with embodied grace, a hand on the heart, as full-feeling humans. The ‘bones’ being the times when we felt abandoned, lost, cast out, left behind or too small.
We rarely got told we are allowed to go here, to grieve this, too. The invisible times, the times there wasn’t a ceremony for.
Have you ever counted your grief? Given it an age, journaled its form and feeling?
Not for the purpose of explaining yourself. Just to know.
Perhaps, this is why you had to go away a while to take on a new skin. To allow your ‘bodies’ to integrate on the concept that: so far, what you have lived, you have survived.
You have completed an important cycle and it didn’t kill you when you thought it really, really could. I want to be clear that grief is not fair, or kind, or picky, but I am so fucking grateful you are still here, even if it hurts.
My grief has had many shapes and forms. Often in response to great loss or fear.
At times it has been a recollection of a haunting man over my naked body, in another, a memory from another lifetime where I lost child, and in another, walking away from a relationship where I didn’t feel truly respected. No grief is without complexity, layers, story, longing.
Grief is often interwoven with themes of connection, apology and empathy. It is found in the doorways of our life where people couldn’t give us one or all of these things.
My first funeral
I’ve always been quite fascinated by all things: death, dirt, sex, magic and nature. From a young age, I would both masturbate in the garden in my bike shorts and conduct funerals for slaters, worms and ladybugs that had died on hot days, or had been trodden on.
I remember attending my first proper funeral at age fifteen, nothing could have prepared me to feel that much sadness. A friend with severe depression had decided she couldn’t be here anymore. It was held out in some bushlands, and no one wore black.
We were a room full of young people in the centre of this hall, howling their grief like multi-coloured wolves.
We were giving back what we couldn’t take to The Great Mother (Earth).
We were letting the air carry our pain, between estranged breaths, to the atmos – to a decimating black hole somewhere far from there. Not trying anymore to keep the tears, just for our bodies. Offering it all up, in one hell of a cacophony.
I got my period in the ceremony, like a third-day bleed, out of nowhere. I mean all over the back of my school dress. A month prior, this would have felt like a huge social humiliation for me. Now? I was relieved my physical body had declared some tangible expression of pain and aliveness. I understood then how my physical body was surrendering to my emotional body, in a new way.
One of my girlfriends at the ceremony offered me her knickers, saying she could just “free-ball”. I remembered then how the friend who had passed told me the previous year on our trip in Cambodia: “Everyone should really wear knickers less! It’s great, you never get thrush!”
I thought of my dear, knickerless friend at the wake. It is quiet moments of victory like this which give us the antidote to grief: hope.
I had been able to feel a sense of the friend I had lost, her spiritedness, her playfulness, very briefly. And sometimes, that brief moment is enough, to melt away anger, rage, sadness — to make room for love again. To create a tiny window for presence, softness and joy in the soul, when it seems fucking impossible.
For some, grief comes in the form of blood. For some in silence. Via text or a phone call. For some grief is quick and furious. For others, slow, subtle. Your grief is yours to know, explore, and understand, and of course, keep offering kindness to, even years later. You must cleanse it, from time to time, like an old tree in a warm climate.
To do: work out what cleansing means to you. A watery downpour? A holiday? A bath? To be naked in nature? To spend a whole weekend in bed listening to your favourite album and eating macaroni?
Without bypassing the feeling. Name your rage or your sorrow. Give it an age. Listen to it. Hold its hand. Place a chair in front of you, and let it be a thing that talks. Let it be wiser than you, then embody the wisdom. It’s all yours.
Reminder: you do not need to be a channel for anyone else’s pain. You do not owe that to anyone but yourself. (And yes, that goes for releasing ancestral grief too.)
Gentle movement: forward
If you need to move your body: try putting on the Album Anne by Joseph Shabason. Move as slow as you need. Feel what you need to. This album literally feels like a rebirth.
If you need to be witnessed: light an incense, wrap your doona around you, sit in
front of your mirror and repeat the mantra:
“I do not have to stop breathing so that other people can breathe.”
(Inspired by Activist Heather Peeble)
“Nothing is ever truly lost or forgotten, simply transmuted into more life force.”
(Inspired by one of my therapists)
Make your own mantra.
If you need help exploring a new perspective: listen to the podcast, Bespoken Bones, Episode 80: On Feeling at Home, loving and letting go.
If you need to talk to your grief, demons or past selves. I recommend reading Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict, by Tsultrim Allione.
Epilogue (for the poets)
The only other way I can explain the quality of grief, in the way I know it, is to think of it outside the body, as a moth: as the elder and the gatekeeper. Not afraid of the shadow, of not being seen or unseen, of shapeshifting, of being ugly. It is a witness and guide, to the beauty of the living, the joy, the expansive and the abundant.
We live alongside it, just trying our best to experience full-bodied, imperfect joy, pleasure, sex and magic.
P.s. Whenever you get the chance, skip wearing undies. My friend was totally right. Seriously, life is too short, you beautiful, thrush-free butterfly.