Your grief for what you’ve lost holds up a mirror to where you are so bravely working.
One hundred people stream into a large, elegant room at a Methodist Church in Minneapolis. The chairs are arranged in several large concentric circles. At the center is a huge elk antler surrounded by an elegant arrangement of colorful cloths, candles, stones and flowers.
We have gathered on this Father’s Day to sing through grief together. The work is being led by Laurence Cole, a wise elder and prolific creator of community songs. Many of the people in the room know and love his songs from singing them at my local song circles. Others have encountered him at singing gatherings in the region. He is a powerful presence – a vital septuagenarian with a booming voice and deep well of wisdom.
Our purpose for this five hours together is simple – to metabolize some of the grief we are carrying, individually and collectively, through song and story. Laurence developed this approach based on his experiences in collective grief with West African wisdom teachers, Malidoma and Sobonfu Some’, as well as Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow. He integrates what he has learned from these teachers with his own gifts of reflective listening, storytelling and community singing.
I am still sorting out all I learned about community grieving from our time of singing, storytelling, weeping, laughing and moving together. Here is what I know so far:
Grief is singular and universal at the same time
The details of another person’s grief story may be vastly different from our own but hearing the truth of it can help us recognize our shared humanity. Listening to these stories reminds us that everyone is carrying burdens.
Song and sound can help metabolize grief
Singing together gets us connected to each other on a visceral level – through breath and vibration. It also awakens our emotions and softens our defenses.
There is also great power in giving voice to our tears. Many of us weep silently if we weep at all. We train ourselves to do so as young children. Hearing others cry out or wail can be uncomfortable at first, but it can call forth our own grief songs.
Deep listening is medicinal
A fundamental wound for many of us is the belief that nobody else understands the grief we carry. The dominant culture in the United States creates deep isolation for those who are grieving. They are pressured to “be strong” and “get over it” quickly. To speak your grief story into a community and have it reflected back to you in words and song breaks that isolation for both speaker and listener alike.
There is solace in beauty
Stepping into the territory of grief can be frightening. There is mystery in there….and for most of us, a backlog of unshed tears. Seeing beautiful things gathered from the natural world – flowers, stones, feathers, a pottery bowl of water – can help us remember the larger community of life in which we abide.