Grief and Renewal at Solstice

This winter more than ever, Solstice teaches us that no end is ever final.

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Grief is also a process, not a fixed state. Grief begins with shock, sometimes with disbelief, and then with the sheer, raw pain of loss. We may attempt to bargain with the great powers, "Dear Goddess, let her be alive and I will never tell another lie," to prolong hope-think of all the "Missing" posters that plastered the streets of New York for weeks. Part of the process of grief is searching. Just as Demeter wandered the world searching for her lost daughter Kore who had been abducted by the god of the underworld, we look everywhere for our lost loved one, see her face in crowds, find a stranger wearing his familiar gestures.

Grief can lead us to create other losses. We put aside the pain of our lost friend, and then forget where we parked the car and spend hours in frantic searching. We hold ourselves together when we receive the layoff notice, and then cannot find our wallet, or become distraught over a forgotten bag of groceries.

Grief takes time. A life loss is not something we recover from in a day, or a week. A major loss will throw us into at least a year of acute mourning, for we must experience an entire cycle, every holiday and marked date, without the loved one, and grief afresh.

Grief can also be healing. Grief makes us stop, re-evaluate our lives, ask ourselves what is really important. Loss makes us aware that life is fragile and precious, that we are vulnerable, that we do not have infinite time to waste. And out of the depths of our pain can come renewed creative energy, new directions, new commitment, deeper values.

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This Solstice, we might need to do less, buy less, plan less, be less frenetic in order to have more time to integrate our losses. The greatest gift we can give our friends may simply be the time we can spend listening to their stories. Rather than flaunting our abundance in a time of want for so many, we can simplify our lives a bit, spend less and make more, celebrate the real connections of love and friendship rather than the trappings.

Let this Solstice be a time to honor our grief, to sit in the dark, to acknowledge the dead and mourn for them, to mourn our other losses. Let this Solstice be a time of purification: When loss is acknowledged, we can let it go, wash ourselves clean of sorrow. In my home community, we will plunge naked into the ocean at sunset. But you can also purify in a hot bath, or by meditating on a bowl of salt water, or in a sauna.

We sit vigil through the night, midwives to the Dark Mother who is laboring to bring forth the Sun Child. At dawn, we climb a hill to sing, dance and celebrate as the sun rises.

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