Why do we grieve? Because we love.

In a meadoMandala of flowers and images on sandw beside the Clackamas River, I stepped into a huge circle of red rose petals. I wasn’t alone.

Entering the circle with me were 70 others, including the parents of Hunter, the 20-year-old who had accidentally died one year before.

I was invited to this ritual to honor the grief we all shared, from knowing Hunter or his parents and holding our own grief from the pathways of life.

The ritual flowed through the cottonwood trees, with music, drawing, writing, crying, holding the space for Hunter’s parents to share.

The circle of rose petals held the space. That circle, said the moms, was their world of devastating and profound grief—wailing, depression, regret, anger, loss.

Islands of comfort

But inside this large circle were smaller “islands” where they gained support and comfort.

One was a mandala of flower petals surrounding pictures of Hunter, representing the felt presence of their son. One had a water vessel, bowl, and seeds, to heal the regret, rage, and shame. Another represented the community of known and unknown humans who held them in the timeless grief process—it was filled with candles in glasses. Another held pictures of the parents together, for both the healing and reconfiguration of their marriage.

The parents reminded us that deep grief is a form of love, not something to get over, as our culture continually reinforces.

Grief is part of life

At the ceremony, I was also honoring the death of my 29-year-old friend who was scrambling up a bluff and lost her footing. Grief has been on my mind… or more accurately in my body. It’s part of loneliness, news, climate and this amazing planet, missing my late husband and close friends, visiting my aging mother. Sometimes I’m big enough for the grief I feel, and sometimes, it’s bigger than me.

At night, I use the 7 Pathways, for which I am grateful. But during the day I’m “too busy” or hide in eating or the computer. What does help is reading—what I call bibliotherapy. Hunter’s mom suggested a deeply truthful book about grief called It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.

In it, Megan Devine says this:

Grief is part of love. Love for life, love for self, love for others. What you are living, painful as it is, is love. And love is really hard. Excruciating at times.”

We may not have the energy to manage grief each moment of our lives, but we can hold ourselves with kindness and love—even holding the part that doesn’t want to be feeling it.

Because last I checked, hating ourselves doesn’t make much difference. Hold yourself with kindness, even if it’s the only thing you can do for a nanosecond. That grounds us in the tumbles and opens us to the joys of life.

This is one of the powerful poems by Luna Jaffe, Hunter’s mom, helping us hold both.

When Grief Speaks

When Grief speaks
It is not with a dainty voice
and a pinky in the air

When Grief speaks
It sounds like old growth trees
crashing to the ground
severed from their roots
branches splintering every which way

When Grief speaks
it can be as raw as molten lava
flowing blood red from the
belly of the earth
killing everything in its path
covering roads, houses, lives
with fiery transformation.

Like it or not,
when grief speaks
it doesn’t sound like you.
Who is that woman raging,
wailing like a wounded coyote?
Who is the one
that lost her words and has
only moans to convey
a thousand feelings
of emptiness?

When grief speaks

When grief speaks
with your belly.

Only your belly can
translate pain into truth,
sorrow into wisdom.

Only your belly can hear
beneath the lashing crashing gnashing
of teeth bared and sharp.

Only your belly knows
this too is love,
this too is love.

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