What is Grief Tending in community?

As far as we know, grief ceremonies have been part of many indigenous cultures for millennia. For the health and well being of the community, regular grief ceremonies are just another aspect of “village“ life. In these contexts, grief is seen as something that can only be processed in community, it is seen as a gift to community. When we shed tears of loss, it moves the grief through us and the village. Like water, it wants to flow. And our sorrow is not something we need to hide from our family and friends.

However in our culture, we have come to hide both death and it’s inevitable cousin grief. We even hide it from ourselves. There it lies waiting for a kind and loving container - a community.

In the word of Francis Weller, one of our inspirations for this work:

To alter the amnesia of our times, we must be willing to look into the face of the loss and keep it nearby. In this way, we may be able to honor the losses and live our lives as carriers of their unfinished stories. This is an ancient thought - how we tend the dead is as important as how we tend the living.

Who is it for?
Anyone! We all carry many kinds of grief, and it is not just the obvious loss of a loved one that burdens our hearts and bodies. Francis Weller’s five gates of grief give a beautiful expression to all the kinds of grief we carry:

The First Gate: Everything We Love, We will Lose
This is the most recognised form of grief in our culture. It may be a person, a place or ones health. Our life is inevitably marked by loss.

The Second Gate: The Places That Have Not Known Love
Each of us carries parts of us that were not able to be welcomed by those around us. This separation and exiling causes pain and grief

The Third Gate: The Sorrows of the World
We are in the midst of ecological and climate breakdown. Our lands and waters are being poisoned. War, injustice… and so much more belong to this gate.

The Fourth Gate: What We Expected and Did Not Receive
So few of us are born into a context where most of our deep human needs are met. The need for a community, the need for elders and initiation. The need to be loved and welcomed as we are. This gate honours that loss.

The Fifth Gate: Ancestral Grief
Here we carry the sorrow and unresolved pain of our ancestors. We give space to the unresolved trauma and unacknowledged suffering of this that went before.

Why do this?
For ones own wellbeing and mental health, and for the well being and health of the community. It is seen as a gift to the community to grieve. And when we give space for grieving, it opens up the channels to experience more joy and connectedness, we can touch out own aliveness in a new way. We are not burdened by the weight of the unacknowledged.

What happens at a grief ceremony?

  • We will gather to introduce ourselves
  • We will take time in nature, each finding a spot alone to connect both with our grief and our resource.
  • We will take time sharing in pairs to connect with another and find a 'buddy' for the process.
  • Then together we will commence a community grieving ceremony in circle, which enables a few people at a time, supported by another person, to grieve together in the centre of the circle, sounding, moving, speaking emotions with a soundscape of drumming and keening and being witnessed by those in the circle. Each person has had an opportunity to be held and witnessed in the centre (not everybody has to!)
  • We will begin an integration time individually and in pairs before we close with a gratitude round of sharing.
  • After the close of the ceremony, we invite you to make an arrangement to connect with your buddy to check in and share anything you would like to be heard/ witnessed with as a transition support. We will explain this more if you have questions.

Self-responsibility and preparation: Self-responsibility for before and after the ceremony: We will do all we can feasibly do as facilitators during the ceremony to support you and ensure that everyone is safe. We ask that you take responsibility for your own mental and physical health and wellbeing by communicating with us beforehand if there is any mental/physical health vulnerability that you feel we should know about - i.e. that might result in extreme reaction/symptom within a relatively unusual and intense emotional environment such as a grief circle. We also ask that you keep space and time for yourself after the ceremony in case you are exhausted or still feeling vulnerable. The aim of the ceremony is to express, witness and welcome grief, clearing the space in your heart to receive joy again. This process can take time and be unique to each of us, so we recognise that not everybody will leave the ceremony feeling uplifted. We put the buddy system in place for this reason, to enable everyone to leave knowing they have a connection with someone at least. However, this is also why we ask you to take care and let us know how we might help you.

Some usual questions…

Isn’t this someone else's cultural ritual?
Yes and no. Our ceremony does draw on other indigenous traditions - more specifically the Dagara, from West Africa. It also draws on the work of Joanna Macy and Francis Weller. And in our own lands we have wakes and keening. These ceremonies are deeply human. A quote from Francis Weller fits here,

While we have much to learn from indigenous cultures about forms of rituals and how ritual works, we cannot simply adopt their rituals and settle them neatly onto our psyches. It is important that we listen deeply, once again, to the dreaming earth and craft rituals that are indigenous to us, that reflect our unique patterns of wounding and disconnection from the land. These rituals will have the potency to mend what has been torn, heal what has been neglected. This is one way that we may return to the land and offer our deepest amends to those we have harmed.”
I’m worried I won’t feel anything.
It may be that you feel numb and disconnected and that is welcome here. You don’t have to be in floods of tears to honour grief. Come as you are. All parts of you are welcome.
What happens if I or someone else gets overwhelmed?
Sometimes strong feeling comes or rage and loud expression of grief. We may be worried about being overwhelmed. The support system we set up for the ceremony really does help. And don’t hesitate to get in touch before if you have concerns.
I'm worried i'll get triggered by strong feelings in others
Sometimes our grief comes in a strong and powerful way, and takes the form of rage. sounds and movement. It may appear scary if you are not used to it or it might bring up some reactions in you. We assume you are able to meet those in yourself but if you have any concerns before the ceremony, please get in touch. And here is how Francis Weller speaks about this:

“Grief is subversive, undermining the quiet agreement to behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. There is something feral about grief, something essentially outside the ordained and sanctioned behaviours of our culture. Because of that, grief is necessary to the vitality of the soul. Contrary to our fears, grief is suffused with life-force…. It is not a state of deadness or emotional flatness. Grief is alive, wild, untamed and cannot be domesticated"
I’m self conscious of crying in public, does that matter?
We are still getting used to showing any emotion at all in community, so no wonder it is hard. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to get used to this kind of process. We trust that showing up us enough.. and whatever happens next is welcome.
What is the buddy system?
We have recognized that during and after a grief tending ceremony a buddying arrangement can offer a tailored transitional support for each of us to return home and our lives with the experiences we have had. We will give you clear instructions and a time-scale for buddying during and after the ceremony and we ask you to read the guidelines below for extra info. You are welcome to adapt them to your needs with your buddy.

Buddying offers a challenging and rewarding practice within a specific non-social context. It has boundaries and responsibilities. And it is the clear honouring of those responsibilities that enable two people to fulfil the aims of buddying. Your buddy may or may not be a close friend. However, buddying is about something other.

Buddying is a commitment between two people to share a listening space with each other within the boundary of what ever is agreed between you.

You are responsible for your own process, although you are supported. And you are not responsible for where the other person goes on their own path. Buddies can feel very close but it is not about friendship or the development of any other relationship.
Some buddies prefer email to speaking on the phone. Others wish to meet and go for a walk and talk or think together in the peace of natural surroundings.

For any further queries or to share a concern about buddying, please contact Mari or Peter via our website contact page.

Find out more…