“We live in a culture that perpetually idealizes progress. We’re always moving forward. However, in the process we often abandon history. In a sense, we abandon the dead. But the dead are still with us. Much of the sorrow that’s in our bodies is inherited. There’s this new term, the “transgenerational transmission of trauma.”
We are the current curators of the sorrow. It didn’t necessarily begin in my lifetime, it began generations ago. It could have begun as a consequence of a rupture of connection to a homeland. Maybe our ancestors began to drink, maybe alcoholism became a way of coping. The wounding of that alcoholism didn’t stop in that person’s lifetime. It affected their children and they maybe became alcoholic or they learned how to cope with alcoholism by basically abandoning their own lives. And that gets passed on generation to generation.
So why is it useful to talk about the ancestors? Well, in part because we want to understand the depth and breadth of what it is we are being asked to face and to deal with.
There’s another part, too. We need their help. They need our help. In the ancient ecologies, it was understood very clearly that the dead are not gone. They are still living in our dreams and in our bodies, in our moods and in our feelings, in the places where we struggle. Asking them to participate in our rituals is part of reestablishing that deep ecology of the sacred.
We’re one of the only cultures that has a nearly nonexistent relationship to the dead. But it’s become a vital part of my personal work, and a meaningful part of the work we do around grief. It’s part of the repair. I also sense that the healing that comes out of the grief work goes in all directions. You know, it’s not just “I feel better;” it seems to somehow mend griefs and losses that were not addressed, including deaths. As Martin Prechtel would say, there are so many unwept ancestors who are crowding the streets and can we finally help them get to a place of ease? Then they might be able to become more active as beneficial ancestors.” - Francis Weller
Take it from me: memory is your greatest ally and your primary source material, because memory is your body as it was in the world and the world as it was and will be; memory is the people you have loved or wanted to love in the world, and what are we if not bodies filled with reminiscences about all those ghosts in the sunlight?
∆ Hilton Als, “Ghosts In Sunlight,“ The New York Review of Books (10 July 2014)
“We are ritual creatures. Watch children—they’re constantly generating rituals of some sort or another. We’re wired for it. It doesn’t have to be so grand as going to a grief ritual with somebody leading the way. It can be very modest and humble. What I’ve noticed over and over again is people are longing for the permission to speak about it. We’re afraid to talk about it because it’s become so private and whatever becomes private carries a certain mantle of shame around it.
It’s also a secret longing because if you walk down the street and look carefully, you can see it in everybody’s eyes. And if we stop anybody and say, “Are you okay?” and if they could really trust the question, they would say, “No, my heart is breaking. I’m utterly lost. I don’t know what to do. But thank you for asking.”
We need a place. It can be very simple and small: Invite a few friends. Serve good food and drinks. Light a candle, say a poem or a prayer. Ask for some support and help to face what, at times, feels overwhelming and dense and impossible to carry on our own. I’ve seen this literally thousands of times with people who’ve come to these gatherings. There is this sense of spaciousness that begins to open around the heart once we can begin to acknowledge fully the depth of sorrows that we carry.” - Francis Weller
The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll. Not only is there an impoverishment of our emotional and sensory life . . . but this psychic numbing also impedes our capacity to process and respond to information. The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies.
“The way to turn an ex-lover into a friend is to never stop loving them, to know that when one phase of a relationship ends it can transform into something else. It is to acknowledge that love is both a constant and a variable at the same time.” Gabrielle Zevin, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, 301.
Those lovers are mostly gone. My hands remain–: like altars.
∆ Natalie Diaz, from The Hand Has Twenty-Seven Bones — : These Hands If Not Gods
And we must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love; that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage, as the creatures we are. It’s no fault of mine or no fault of yours; it’s to do with being human. And the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.