I grew up going to a Waldorf school, where at the end of September, we celebrated Michaelmas. This is a festival that honors the light and dark within each of us, where we don’t try to slay the “dragon” or darkness that lives inside, but rather to meet it with our awareness. As a myth, it’s powerful, and as an adult I found solace in recognizing this time, as it now coincides with the time my father took his life, defeated by his inner demons, or maybe meeting them.
As a society, we are lacking in how we honor both birth and death. A friend recently lost her child. She felt lost as she struggled to make her way through the grieving process, without rituals to lean into, without powerful guideposts for how to be present, and honor, and grieve.
I felt the same after my father died. It felt wrong, not the way life was meant to play out – as if the normal ‘rules’ of losing a parent did not apply to me. Losing a child feels unimaginable, unsurvivable, though my friend and her husband are remarkable, sharing their journey with raw honesty and courage.
Kate Inglis, an author and photographer, gave birth to twin boys prematurely. One lived, the other did not. In her book Notes for the Everlost: A Field Guide to Grief she offers words of wisdom for those who are suffering the rawness of recent loss:
- Don’t apologize. There is no reason to apologize for being sad, or for making those you love worry about you, or those who know you uncomfortable, unsure what to say. You can speak to the dead; you can be a total mess. You get to.
- Let your imagination handle the dragons. Your mind may be swirling with faces and voices, and nameless, faceless fears; honor them all. Inglis writes, “your dragons want you to remember how significant we all are, and how insignificant we all are. They are not against you. They bring a heat that will become the core of some of the very best of you. They are made of love. They reflect how badly we need to give and receive it.”
- Forgive. Most people don’t know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one, especially a child. “Forgive people for not knowing what to say,” writes Inglis, “for filling the vacuum with every wrong thing.” They may make awkward comparisons for their own loss or wonder why you can’t just get over it and move on. Forgive them.
- Your normal may never feel whole again. Life is filled with landmines: relationships, grief, failure, abuse; none of us are immune to every painful reality of being human. Your unique response to your loss is normal, however you honor it. “Your rage is normal,” Inglis insists, “your speechlessness is normal. Your running-off-at-the-mouth is normal. Your inability to know what you need is normal. You’re falling out with faith- that’s normal too.” Just because you aren’t whole doesn’t mean you are broken.
I struggled with moving forward after losing my dad. My friend is in the core of grief for her daughter. We can only do what we can do. Maybe, like my friend, we can be open and curious, wondering where our rituals are around birth and death. And maybe with that wondering we can someday find a place to bring rituals to those who find themselves buried in their grief, searching for a lifeline that will help them to continue on.
- by Kalia Kelmenson