I have been around grief and loss informally since I was nine and my Grandpa Joe died, formally since 1996 when I became a hospice volunteer. I have spent the past seven years of my life devoted to dying, death, grief, and loss. I have notices something and it came to light very clearly during a teaching session I was leading at Rhodes Wellness College the other day.
I was setting the tone for a series of five evenings of training in dying and death, explaining the content and the ground rules for participation. Once done with the introduction I asked the learners to introduce themselves and say something about dying, death and grief they wanted the group to know. Five of the eight participants expressed with deep emotion grief they had been holding on to for in some cases decades.
I realized just how smart each of them were (all of us are). They stored away in their mind and body those emotions and thoughts they didn’t feel safe to express in the moment when the loss occurred. When in the past they attempted to share they were somehow consequenced for doing so. Not feeling received they (we) cleverly stored their emotions and content away until an opportunity to let go of their post loss emotions in a safe and respectful way presented itself.
Each of them shared their emotions as if the loss had happened only days ago. It was as if they were transported back in time and space to the moment they chose to suppress what they were thinking and feeling. The rawness, the authentic expression, though in some cases it was decades old, was seemingly fresh and new.
True healing took place and true relief was felt.
Emotions were expressed and felt because a community had gathered in the name of dying and death. It happened because we created a safe, inclusive, non-judgmental environment. Individuals let go because they were invited to be present and to be real. Healing took place because our hearts were open and receptive. Relief took place because we all trusted the process; we set our fear and judgment aside and paid attention to the person sharing.
Healthy, participatory community draws out our withholds out and gives us permission to be real.