The Sacred Act of Grieving

By Kinde Nebeker

Growing older brings many surprises. We might look in the mirror in the
morning and wonder whose face that is looking back at us. We may notice the worries
and upsets that used to send us through the roof don’t bother us anymore. We may see
that having lived so much life has given us a perspective that can offer clarity, guidance
and hope to others.

Elder years also bring loss. So much of who we have known ourselves to be begins
to leaves us. The strength, beauty, and capacities of our physical bodies are lost. The
identity we enjoyed through our work evaporates. Our energy and ability (or motivation)
to ‘produce’ wanes. More and more friends die. The world can seem like it’s moving on
without us. All this loss causes grief. It is an intrinsic part of being a human who makes
it to old age.

It is not easy because grief does hurt like hell. And in our modern American
culture, we are not taught what to do with it. We think of grief as that awful thing we
hope to avoid at all costs; that nasty situation that interrupts our ever-forward-moving
life trajectory. Most of us had no understanding or modeling in our families or
communities about how to welcome and be with grief. When we first encountered it as
children, we most likely went through it alone and unsupported. If the emotions were
overwhelming to us, we buried it as deep inside of us as we could, so we would never
have to feel pain, confusion and aloneness ever again.

Today our culture is coming to understand the price of locked-away grief. Grief
buried becomes a weight in the body and a rigidity in the heart. It narrows our vision
and our ability to be creative and to love.

A major task for initiation into true elderhood is to do the work of grieving.
Initiated elders connect with grief as an ally and intimate friend. They treasure the gifts
that grief holds for them, and for their communities. Conscious elders are able call grief
forward to flow and cleanse.

The disconnection from grief is a relatively new phenomenon in human culture.
Before the rise of science and rationality, of materialism as the primary epistemology,
we knew how to call the Name of Grief. We could recognize and welcome it because we
were in somatic and cultural contact with subtle energies. We understood that grief,
when honored for its healing power, became Grief — a sacred force that the community
held all together. We knew how to communicate with and participate in Grief with each
other through ritual, movement, and sound. We respected its cleansing and
transformational potential.

But that world is not available to most of us now. So, as we come to times in our
lives where grief comes, or where grief needs to be unlocked in us in order to get
unstuck, what do we do? How exactly, does one grieve in a good way? How can we come
into relationship with grief and transform it into Grief?

Here are a few thoughts to help get you started to begin transforming grief
into sacred Grief.

Acknowledge the Enormity of the Task & Love Yourself Up for What You Are Doing.

If befriending Grief were easy, more people would do it. It is very challenging at
first. You must appreciate what an amazing warrior, what a strong sorceress, what a
beloved soul you are, to be undertaking such a thing. Take a moment to actually feel the
warmth of love in your heart for yourself, and practice feeling it regularly.
Maybe you need help? Call a friend to help you get into the mood of loving yourself.
Who is your greatest fan? Ask them to help you out, and receive the love they give.
Loving yourself is one of the greatest ballasts you can have in the storm of Grief.

Take Care of Yourself

Grief can be a massive and powerful energy. Take this process seriously and
commit to taking care of yourself, first and foremost. Loving yourself includes caring
for your body (healthy diet, daily movement, quality rest) so it can be strong enough to
carry the potential intensity. It also includes caring for your heart and spirit. Grief
comes primarily through the heart, so fortify that heart of yours with doing, thinking
and enjoying things you love. Grieving does not preclude activities that bring you joy.
Make a list of what lifts you up — inspirational reading, hiking a certain trail, listening to
music you love, making art, spending time with friends or family (especially
grandchildren!) — and do one thing every day that is not habitual.

Release Expectations

First we have to be clear that Grief does not pay any attention to our schedule. If
we are dealing with a present grief, Grief will appear whenever It sees fit. If we are
working with a past grief, we have more say about when we might open to the energy,
but still we are not in control. Opening to Grief is an exercise in abandoning any
agenda, utterly letting go of hope, completely relinquishing control. Grief will ask this
of you, and your consent allows Grief to do Its work on you.

Call In Support

Remember that Grief is not meant to be engaged alone, ever. You do have
support, so call it in.
~ Are there people in your life who can support you in the right way; support the strong
one in you rather that try to ameliorate the suffering through soothing or activating the
victim part of you? Let them know what you are going through, and ask them for what
you need.
~ Who are your ancestors? Are there particular ancestors that you feel kinship with?
Call them in through your active imagination and ask them to stand at your back, or
whatever you sense would be helpful. Sense them and listen to anything they might
want to tell you.
~ Do you have other-than-human allies and guides that have shown up in your life?
Actively call them in to be with you, during intentional meetings with Grief, or whenever
you need help.

Feeling is Healing

Grief becomes present to you through your body. It you can’t or won’t feel your
body, you will not be able to receive what Grief is giving you. Emotions create bodily
sensations. Feel deeply, with full attention and presence. What are the textures,
movements, locations in the body of your emotional responses to Grief? Be curious and
notice. Does this Grief burn? Is it jumpy, sharp, dull, heavy? Grief will change and
respond to your open attention. What do you notice about the movement of this Grief?
Is it slow, or fast, jittery or is it still and unmoving? It is the very act of being willing to
feel that contains the medicine of healing.

Ritual and Ceremony

Grief contacts you through the body. And, like all archetypal energies, Grief
understands the language of ritual. Learn to speak this language. What rituals can you
create, as an inherently creative human, to be in authentic relationship with Grief? Your
creativity delights It, and It will respond in kind.

Respond and Engage

Sacred Grief is not something that happens to you. It visits you, inviting you to
come into relationship with It. When Grief arrives as sensation in your body, you are
invited to respond to what you feel there. Movement, breath and sound are some ways
you can go beyond the story of your grief and have a conversation through the body
with Grief. Scream, cry, throw things, whirl around, crumble up on the floor. Do
whatever your body wants to do, and do what you need to do to not feel self-conscious.
Don’t listen to the ego, which wants to keep you safe and looking good in the eyes of the
world. The ego will be obliterated by Grief, so It will do everything in its power to stop
you from engaging fully with It.


If you notice closely, you will find that what causes the most pain is your
resistance. So give in. Allow yourself ‘die’ of Grief. Let it burn, come in waves, crush your
heart. Don’t turn away. Allowing Grief is allowing the situation to be. You can’t change
it, so wishing it were otherwise only clogs up a cleansing and wise process.
We may resist falling down into the well of Grief because we sense it will drown
us forever. Perhaps you’ve known someone who suffers a loss that drops them so low
that they never feel happy again. But notice — after the alive energy of Grief has
subsided, is that person holding on to the story of that grief? If we allow the energy of
Grief to MOVE — that is, we don’t capture and contain it in a story — it is free to do its
work, and move on. The inner core of our Self is untouched.


Loss always changes us. After loss, we are not the same as we were before. If grief
is left to accrete in our psyches and bodies, we get smaller, more afraid, rigid, withdrawn
or angry. Our health and our relationships are compromised. However, inviting Grief to
come dance with us, letting It move through and with us, we become bigger, more
compassionate and wise, and more spacious inside. Instead of cordoning off the loss we
suffer and burying it in a safe space in the basement, we can integrate the loss
consciously into who we are now. We can choose to make new meaning of our loss and
grief, to re-frame it in a positive way that creates more love, more gratitude and more
depth in our lives.

In this way, Grief is sacred. It takes us out of our small selves and drops us into a
larger space. It reams us out, stretches us beyond where we would ever choose to go, and
so shows us a deeper dimension of human experience. When we approach Grief as a
sacred act, we find that we are more than/greater that we thought/ever realized.
As you experience losses, may you allow Grief to bless your life.

Kinde is a certified Integral Coach and wilderness rites of passage guide. She
offers community grief-tending rituals biannually in her community, and is
available for coaching — in developmental work and in ritual for grief and other
aspects of personal transformation.
Learn more at
Email her at

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