By Julia Hartsell
nWhen I was five, my first cousin Kimberly died. She was just a few weeks old. While I didn’t have much time to bond with her, I was very close with my aunt and uncle whose lives were forever altered. Thus the energetic impacts on the entire family system were palpable and they persisted. Ripples from this event eventually brought me to ancestral lineage healing and grief tending work.
There is much to say about this heart-breaking loss; the inadequacy of our systems to support people in these traumatic events; communication between the realms; and how grief and trauma can lead to physical pain and addiction. For now, I’ll simply share that the loss was so painful, especially for my aunt, that it will likely impact multiple generations. That event began my apprenticeship with grief.
Looking back over my life, I can see that I’ve been looking for ways to express and manage the grief of being human (or at least being human in this culture) most of my life. Music has always helped me. Also dance. My favorite childhood activity was playing records and dancing. Even before I could understand the support I gained from these practices, they were helping me to both express the pain and experience the beauty of being alive. Because, even amidst all the suffering and grief in the world, there’s also exquisite beauty.
For the past decade, I’ve been more consciously working with grief. Like many of us who choose a path of feeling and healing, life events have forced me to find ways of tending my own pain and loss. Undoubtedly, it’s the ritualized communal spaces I’ve cultivated and attended that have offered the most insight, resilience and transformation for me. We need the support of the collective nervous system to bear the weight of grief, especially grief that’s relational, familial, ancestral, cultural.
As an adult, I can reflect on the layers of grief and generations of unprocessed trauma I could sense as a child, not only in the family system but the culture at large. I can distinctly remember looking at the skyline and the power lines at a tender age through the car window as my mom drove.
A voice inside me asked: “Why did they do that to the sky? “
In the grocery store I heard: “What have they done with the food?”
When I asked my dad about the meat wrapped in plastic, I remember feeling profound confusion and sadness. My body continues to feel discomfort in large super markets.
At an early age, it was as if my ancient self or my ancestors were seeing the world through my eyes and were lamenting what had happened here, as if something had been lost.
Passing folks on the street I remember heartache at the felt sense of suffering and despair. Despite the financial struggles of my parents who worked multiple jobs when I was young, I had an early awareness of and confusion about disparity, especially an awareness of and sadness when I could tell there was even more struggle elsewhere, even in our own neighborhood.
At an early age, while I had no name for it, the pain in the cultural body was palpable.
There’s more reflections to come on my path with grief, trauma, ancestral healing and cultural repair perspectives. These are just the early conscious memories of grief and sadness from childhood which still inform my work today.
After 8 years of developing shorter form Grief Ceremonies and continuing my personal learning through various practices and teachers, I’m honored to offer my first full weekend Grief Ceremony. This has been a long-time in the dreaming. My sense is that the longer form allows for building layers of safety and offers time for participants to engage in an array of practices. There are many ways to grieve. Thus, multiple practices can offer greater range of support the deep processes that arise from grief, loss and longing.
If the collective ritual container appeals to you, I hope you’ll consider joining. Goddess knows, there’s a deep well of sorrow to tend.
Given the times, the ceremony will be online, in the virtual temple. While I intend to offer these group ceremonies in person again one day, I have found that the online format is well suited for this type of exploration. Many feel more freedom to express physically and vocally in the privacy of their own homes. So, there’s a dual benefit to being able to both be in the collective container and in one’s private sanctuary.
Respect to all that we are grieving in these times, at personal and collective levels. Compassion for the ways our hearts are continually stretched and torn. May leaning in to these deep processes lead us to ever greater compassion and resilience.
Photo: A community grief bundle from a ceremony at The Flowjo in 2019. This bundle was then laid to rest in the earth along the Haw River.