Death and Grief, the somatic and the ritual, and somewhere in between

We’re going to talk about death and grief in this blog, so if these topics are triggering for you I suggest you either skip past this one or seek the correct support if and when needed.

Death. Loss. Gone. Passed. No longer with us. Grief. Grieving. Stages of grief.

When my Grandmother died 15 years ago she tasked me and one of my cousins to, “please look after your grandfather.” In October of this year my Grandfather passed over to the other side and I could not get to him, I wasn’t there, I couldn’t be there.

He was in Perth, Western Australia and I live in Queensland. COVID had closed the borders months earlier and there was no end in sight to the restrictions placed on travel. My soul and knowing understood the restrictions and the new world in which we are now living since the pandemic was declared, but my brain has struggled to comprehend the inability to be there and has grappled with losing my last grandparent.

We coped. We planned the funeral, of which I was heavily involved in helping with and putting together many of its parts. Collating old photos and movies, memories and moments from a well lived life. Then watched the funeral on my iPad from my living room.

An experience that I know so many of us have had to navigate in 2020, a foreign and somewhat surreal experience. I am both grateful for being able to attend in some manner, even if that was through a tiny screen, and deeply unsettled by how unnatural the process felt to me.

I am a trained Death Walker and Ancestral Medicine Practitioner. I am well versed in the meaning, the ritual and the stages of death and grief. Everything about the process of not being able to get to the funeral and having to watch it on an iPad was wrong. So, on top of the grief that was kicking in, the ancestral guilt and shame of not being able to uphold my promise to my grandmother, the restrictions on not being able to be physically present at the funeral to go through the motions that come with mourning ,compounded the pain that I was experiencing.

But although mine, and many others grief is attached to the death of a loved one, it’s not the only grief that has been experienced this year. Every single one of us has experienced grief in some form or another throughout 2020. Whether that be grieving the loss of our freedom, or our ability to travel and see other places to have reprieve from the daily grind. For many of you with children you’ve had to grieve the loss of your sacred alone time and personal space that comes with kids being at school or visiting friends.

We have lost, and have had to subsequently grieve, our ability for personal sovereignty.

Regardless of where your grief has come from, there’s an important thing to know, as much as it is emotional, grief is also physical.

One of my clients unexpectedly and suddenly lost her brother in 2019, 4 months later her hair snapped off and thinned out, her digestive system started to wreak havoc on her body and adrenal fatigue kicked in.

For me, I had times where I would turn down the wrong street when I was driving a route I had driven without thought hundreds of times before. I’d push the wrong button on the lift up to my apartment, a home I’ve lived in for yonks. I’d walk around the shops aimlessly, unsure and unaware of what I was there for, even if I knew it before leaving home.

There are many ways grief can enter our life, some you may not recognise as a form of grief:

  • The loss of a pet 
  • Loss of family or friends
  • Moving
  • Divorce
  • Loss of job or career
  • Ending of a friendship
  • World events
  • Leaving school or university

There is only one certainty when it comes to grief and that is that everyone will experience it in some form, at some stage in their lifetime.

Signs of grief can include: 

  • Nausea
  • Feeling run down
  • Insomnia
  • Exhaustion
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability and anger
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

So how do we navigate grief? There are many different ways to work through your grief and I suggest connecting with a talk therapist or grief support group if you’re navigating the loss of a loved one.

But in between, one of the best things you can do for all kinds of grief, regardless of where it’s originated from is to connect with your body.  Feel into your aches and pains in your tired body, feel into the exhaustion you feel just thinking about getting out of bed. Feel the fear in the pit of your stomach when an anniversary or holiday is approaching. The absolute worst thing you can do for grief, is to ignore it in your body.

Listening to your grieving body and how is manifests physically is a kindness and self-care practise you can extend to yourself.

After my grandfather died I allowed myself to cry every day, sometimes for hours. I allowed the release and relief that came with crying tears. Nothing in particular would set me off, grief was everywhere and when I felt it rise in me, I allowed my body to feel it, and then release it. Weeks after the funeral, my body moved into feelings of anxiety and a hazy, cloudy stupor that left me feeling outside of my body.

Had my grief stopped? Or had my body stopped grieving? The crying had alleviated my headaches and panic, and after the tears stopped I had feelings that had nowhere to go. I started to carry tension again instead of letting it flood out of me.

Crying is essential for your mental and physical wellbeing, it’s importance when it comes to releasing tension cannot be overemphasised. Crying is also a way of honouring your ancestors and activating ancestral healing. Staying connected to your ancestors and engaging with your loved one that has just left their physical body is a powerful way to stay connected to, and to heal your grief. It is literally an outpouring of love and a connection to the love and physical affection that existed when they were alive.

Staying connected to your ancestors, to your body and to your breath is an essential way of processing grief. Bereavement is an intrinsic way of honouring the dead. Many cultures have grief and mourning built into their value systems and religious beliefs, one in particular follows the custom of wearing only black for 40 days after the loss of a loved one and refrain from dancing, celebrations and events for a whole year.

I really want you to explore the topic of grief in your life with curiosity, knowing that you are safe in the feelings and that it is a natural part of being human and of healing. I often tell people who are experiencing grief to start journaling these three things:

  • How does my body feel and where am I holding grief today?
  • What does my body need today?
  • If my grief had a colour today, what would it be?

If the grief you are experiencing is from losing a loved one, there’s an additional two questions I want you to explore:

  • What does the person wish to let me know today?
  • What can I do today, to honour (insert name)?

Recognising your grief, feeling into it both emotionally and physically and then setting a physical action or ritual is a really powerful energetic exercise in honouring your loved one passed.

Grief is complicated. It has its own agenda and there is no right or wrong, and no manual to explain how. Grief isn’t linear. It ebbs and flows, it comes in waves. Sometimes it’s all at once and other times it’s a gentle hum. It’s a labyrinth into the heart and soul. You can feel wonderful one moment and the next you’re walking down a supermarket aisle where you spot your grandfathers favourite chocolate covered ginger and you’re rummaging for a tissue in your bag to soak up the tears while trying to steer the trolley straight.

I’m sending any of you experiencing grief a big energetic hug and healing.