By Rev. Amari Magdalena
A recent program that I listened to on NPR discussed the impact of loss and grief on the airplane crash victim’s families. It got me thinking about all of the large and small losses, and resultant grief, that we each experience on this physical plane over a lifetime. Some of our losses we more easily recover from under the old adage, “live and learn.” The big ones may take a lot more time and for those we may find acceptance on some levels yet may not ever fully recover in the sense of being the same person we were before the loss.
Years ago I wrote in a poem, “Or would the moment die its own fleeting death anyway ...As we are living and dying in moments.” This was not meant to be fatalistic rather a recognition that there are all kinds of deaths that we come to cope with over our time on this Earth; each in our own way. The path to coping and acceptance are as varied as the causes or conditions of the deaths.
There were two times in my life that I’ve felt overwhelming grief at death. One was the year that Martin Luther King, my cousin Patsy and Bobby Kennedy died in April, May and June correspondingly. I could not fathom such grief at loss of leadership and a young, beautiful cousin. It took a good year to find some peace with their individual and collective passing.
The other time was even more egregious. Within a period of three years, I lost a 3-year-old grandson, a 52-year-old sister and a 17-year-old nephew. I’d had a premonition that major grief was about to descend several weeks before the first death; thankfully I was given no idea whatsoever what was to come. And, the grief wasn’t over I sensed after our beautiful Diego was gone. What a roll-a-coaster ride those short years were.
Each of us must find a path through our grief and losses. What saved me with the latter griefs ultimately was the grounding that daily sustains me through earth-based practices and the medicine wheel of life. I feel extremely fortunate that I found this path as it has sustained me as no other in my lifetime.
In working with my personal grief, and others in my family and pastoral counseling, I’ve seen that there is no formula or time frame for processing grief. The ‘get over it’ mentality that so very many people espouse to avoid deep feelings, just doesn’t work. The degree of loss includes: the circumstance of the loss; the people or loved pets involved; the place one is in their life; the supportive environment or lack thereof; the time in life; etc.
For some people, counseling is effective; for others grief support groups. Others may take solace in their religious or spiritual practices. I believe there is no right way. Each of us, with some support, or help, can find a pathway that works.
I’m also struck by what I said in the poem, we are living and dying in moments. That knowledge, for me, means that I want to embrace my life in the now with appreciation for each day and the people who are now in my life. It also means that I can treasure what is presented to me today without worrying about what might be taken away tomorrow or what was taken in the past.
Dia de los Muertos ceremonies are a wondrous way to celebrate our friends and family who’ve stepped through the veil. At that time when the veils are thinnest between the material and ethereal worlds, we can bring into our presence those loved ones and celebrate them. At other times, memories and pictures help us keep a loving connection with our beloveds.
Birth, life and death are the triumvirate we all live with. Being gentle with ourselves, allowing grief it’s due, and coming to feel thankful for whatever time is allotted us and our dear ones, can move us a long way to acceptance and appreciation for the fragility of this wondrous play, Life. The key is living and loving.
[53 Past Blogs are in my book "Shaman Talk" available in softcover and ebook on Amazon.com]