Grief Rituals: Finding Peace Through Communal Grieving

Develop a sense of connection that will leave you with new vitality when you welcome, rather than fear, the pain of loss with grief rituals.


| April 2016


The Wild Edge of Sorrow (North Atlantic Books, 2015) by Francis Weller provides an essential guide for navigating the deep waters of sorrow and loss in this lyrical yet practical handbook for mastering the art of grieving.  Through moving personal stories, poetry and insightful reflections he leads us into the central energy of sorrow, and to the profound healing and heightened communion with each other and our planet that reside along side it.

To find more books that pique your interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

"To and from the Soul’s Hall Embrace your grief, for there your soul will grow." — Carl Jung

We are gathered in a room, about thirty of us. We have come together to work the ground of grief. For two and a half days we have been together, turning over our sorrows like compost. The stories we have shared are moving and powerful, often bringing the entire circle to tears. There are stories of loss, death, abuse, worthlessness, and rage. We have been guided to these depths through a writing practice taught by my friend Kim Scanlon. And now we are ready. It is time for the grief ritual. For the last few hours we have been preparing the space, creating a grief shrine full of photos of ancestors, beloved friends who have died, images of species and cultures that have disappeared — the cumulative losses of the world — in a space made beautiful by boughs of fir, colorful cloths, and flowers. Everyone knows it is time to start, and there is tension in the air as we circle.

It begins quickly. Almost as soon as the invocation is complete and the drumming and singing have begun, a few of the participants rush the shrine. Their grief is brimming, pouring over the lip of the cup. We are now in the full flow of the ritual. Gradually the shrine fills with men and women in various postures. Some are standing, gesturing strongly toward the shrine, shouting their protests for the things that have happened in their lives. Others kneel with their heads in their hands, bodies shaking and heaving as the grief ripples through them. A few are on their bellies, unable to hold themselves up any longer; their sorrow hits them in wave after wave. It is beautiful. There are few things as genuine as a person grieving. There are no questions to ask, no wondering what someone is feeling. It is self-evident. We are revealing the heartache we carry, the sorrows we have shouldered for decades. We are in the tumult of releasing our tears. This is a holy night, and we go on for hours.

No one is alone at the shrine. Every person pouring grief from their warehouse of sorrows is being attended by another. This is not a time to go it alone. Attendants are there to witness and to provide whatever support is needed. Sometimes this means simply holding space for their deep work. Sometimes it means placing a hand on the person so he can feel that he is not alone. For others, the attendant becomes the lap into which the grieving person can crawl to weep her most bitter tears. This display of compassion is an essential piece in our ability to truly lay down our sorrows.