Ours is Just a Little Sorrow

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“ETERNAL TEARS OF SORROW” Interview by Santtu “Rebel” Kaskela

The problem with these secondary satisfactions is that we can never get enough of them. We always want more. Though primary satisfactions are rare in our culture, we do experience them. We can remember what that felt like and let our longing for that state become our compass, telling us what direction we need to go to get back to those satisfactions.

We can find them through our friendships, by spending time in nature, by risking being vulnerable with someone we trust. Soul invites the marginal, the excluded, and the unwelcome pieces of ourselves into our attention. Soul is often found at the edges, both in the culture and in our lives. Soul takes us down into the places of our shared humanity, such as sorrow and longing, suffering and death. Soul requires that we be authentic, revealing what lies behind the image we try to show the world, including our flaws and peculiarities. It cares about participation. Soul is revealed in dreams and images, in our most intimate conversations, and in our desire to live a life of meaning and purpose.

Does that mean they are part of how we evolved?

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Weller: Yes. Our biology and our psychology were shaped together over a long period of time to help us survive as a species. For the vast majority of human history we have lived in a tribal or village context. From the moment we are born, we expect to be a part of a tribe; to step out of our enclosure in the morning and see many pairs of eyes looking back at us; to find those people there to meet us and to affirm us; and to go and gather food with them and build a fire and perform the rituals the community needs.

When a child is born there, all the children gather around the house to sing a welcoming song. In the Native American Blackfoot tradition the welcoming ritual presents the newborn to the cosmos. There are many tribes today that have an active ritual life. Consider how different that is from going to see a private-practice therapist. Yes, we have, for more than two hundred thousand years. And then, within the past few hundred years, it practically disappeared. Weller: It takes us out of our familiar mode of functioning and into an altered state of consciousness.

Getting there is not easy, however. Before I learned to conduct rituals to help people express their grief, I had to participate in many such rituals myself. I carried an enormous amount of grief in my body from decades of shame, but because I was self-conscious, I worked hard to keep it under wraps. After all, I was a therapist. And letting go of it frightened me. At the third I was still feeling stuck when a man came up to me and placed his hand on my shoulder, and that was it: I fell to my knees and cried for hours. The dam had broken. The psychiatrist R. Laing said we arrive here as Stone Age children.

In other words, we inherit at birth the entire lineage of our species. During the grief ritual you go off by yourself to weep, and when you return, the group welcomes you back and thanks you for helping to empty the communal cup of sorrow. How many of us have ever been thanked for our grief before?

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We think of grief as a burden we lay on someone else. Of course, the tears might not come. In a circle of thirty people, perhaps only a few of us might really grieve. But the others can support those individuals and thank them heartily — because they helped everyone. And the next time it might be you or me. We have to learn to think like a village. And we also need to grant attention, to bear witness.

Call some friends together to share stories and simply listen to one another — not to offer any advice but to make room for the unacknowledged pieces of our lives. McKee: Are there any constructive ways to endure pain in private? Weller: Inevitably we will be alone much of the time with our grief, and that solitude can be rich, as long as we know we are held somewhere, somehow, by others.

Our friendships and our community enable us to go into that dark space alone. I think of grief as a visitation: something that comes to us. What if we treated it as worthy of our consideration and time? McKee: I had one of those visitations not long ago. My wife, our nine-year-old son, and I were creating an altar for deceased family and friends on the Day of the Dead. I went to bed feeling alive and full. When we shut off our grief, we forget that. To let grief work its alchemy on you yields gravitas, by which I mean the ability to be present with the bittersweet reality of life, which always includes loss.

Everything I love, I will lose. You either have to shut down your heart — and miss the love that is around you — or wrestle with that truth and come out the other end. There is indeed such a thing as joyful sorrow. The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible. And we must have compassion for ourselves, too. McKee: My son attended five funerals by the time he was five: those of his grandfather, his great-grandfather, his aunt, our neighbor, and the newborn daughter of friends of ours.

Some people found it odd that we brought him, but not to bring him seemed more peculiar to me. Do we shield children too much? The child may start to doubt his or her own experience. Funerals are meant to honor our loss and put it back into a communal context, where it belongs. Without a funeral, the child may carry the grief privately, as something shameful that does not belong. We deny death so readily.

It makes me sad to remember the sound, but it was also beautiful.

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Weller: There are few human expressions more genuine than a cry of grief. It is the soul revealing itself: Right now I am just broken by this loss. Many cultures, but not ours, have keeners whose job it is to sound the note that opens the gate, so that we can all enter sorrow together.

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McKee: Can you give an example of what we might gain by embracing grief? Weller: I remember one man I worked with who struggled with depression and addiction. He was married and had children but felt separate from his family. He also carried a degree of shame that made it difficult for him to make friends or let his wife get close. He told me that his parents had divorced when he was young, and he had rarely seen his father after that.

I could tell that the grief had made a hole in his heart, and he had no way to heal it, so feelings of unworthiness had rushed in to fill the empty space. One day, as we were working, the man reflexively placed a hand on his chest, and I suggested that he pause and notice what was happening there. He said he felt a tightness. I asked him to listen to that tightness and see what it might be about. After a few moments he told me that he saw a young boy in the woods playing hide-and-seek, and no one had come to find him.

He was able to tell the boy that he was there and that we had found him. And he was able to bring that experience home and share it with his wife. Weller: The number-one cause of death in this country is heart disease. Physically that has to do with our diets and our lifestyles, but I also see it metaphorically: our hearts are hurting because we do not metabolize our grief. Instead we avoid it, neglect it, push it into a corner.

There was a study done beginning in the s of a town in Pennsylvania called Roseto, an Italian American quarry community where extended families often lived together under one roof. Researchers were interested in Roseto because the heart-disease rates were much lower than in the surrounding towns. They looked at smoking, exercise, diet, and environmental factors but found no obvious cause for the reduced rates. Then in the seventies more Roseto residents started moving into single-family homes, and young people left town for college or the big city.

Slowly the social fabric began to unravel, and heart-disease rates in Roseto rose to match the national average. Weller: We were raised in a culture whose systems — educational, familial, religious — declared parts of us to be unacceptable. In my family, if I wanted to earn approval, I had to cleave off anger, sensuality, enthusiasm, and sorrow. They all had to go! When we are made to feel ashamed of our feelings, we lose our connection to those vital parts of ourselves.

Shame is a rupture in the connective tissue that joins us to the people who matter in our lives. I knew right away that I had shamed him. And we hugged. When I first went into therapy, I said I had parts of myself that I wanted to get rid of. Thankfully I failed miserably at my objective! It was difficult: lots of backpacking in the cold and snow. On the last night the counselors and teachers built a bonfire and asked us each to find a stick and say something as we tossed it into the fire.

Most of us spoke earnestly but superficially. Every person whose turn came after hers spoke from the heart. By the end all seventy-five of us were crying. Weller: She broke the spell. Weller: Yes, we have to be careful where we share these more painful parts of ourselves. That takes great discernment. But shame keeps most people from sharing at all. I just need to talk with someone. But if you are silent about your suffering, then your friends stay spiritually unemployed. This week was bad for almost everyone I know. Some more than others. For me, it felt like the past 12 months have started to catch up.

Then this song played. And for five minutes things were okay. What is happening to me? Crazy some say Where is my friend when I need you most?


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Made me realize that I have to be a better friend. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. Choosing a coffin or casket. Find out more about our range of cremation urns and the types of urns available for your loved one's ashes.

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    In this guide: Popular funeral poems and verses Happy and funny funeral poems Short funeral poems Non-religious funeral poems Popular funeral poems and verses The following verses are among the most popular for a funeral. I cannot speak, but I can listen. I cannot be seen, but I can be heard. For if you always think of me, I will never have gone. Margaret Mead Don't Cry for Me Don't cry for me now I have died, for I'm still here I'm by your side, My body's gone but my soul is here, please don't shed another tear, I am still here I'm all around, only my body lies in the ground.

    I am the snowflake that kisses your nose, I am the frost, that nips your toes. I am the sun, bringing you light, I am the star, shining so bright. I am the rain, refreshing the earth, I am the laughter, I am the mirth. I am the bird, up in the sky, I am the cloud, that's drifting by.

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