Healing Grief Through Sacred Ceremony and Honoring Our Emotions
When the wind blows, can you hear the voices of the ancestors of your past whispering your name? Do you celebrate the memories of times shared and reach outward to feel their presence, knowing they have come to bring you healing and blessings?
As we journey through life we touch the lives of people around us, just as we are touched by them. Some of these connections are deep, meaningful, long term relationships, and others last only for a season. The relationships we experience with our family members and our friends each move us in different ways, filling us with stories of joy, sadness, regret, fear, and love.
When we are in right relationship with our loved ones, we are gifted with great healing. Our spiritual heart is nourished and we share a feeling of connectedness and joy. When life becomes challenging however, we can fall out of right relationship with one another. This is when we forget to forgive, love, and honor one another, and our emotions build as we suffer in silence in these poorly managed relationships. Regardless of their length or nature, however, each of the relationships we experience helps us to learn about ourselves and become who we are. We continue to carry the memories and our connection to that person with us through life even after they have passed into the spirit world.
This is the reason that we immediately feel their loss deep within, when we lose someone. And since we often see death as an ending and/or failure of the body to overcome a disease or injury, we perceive the loss as a reflection of finality where we can no longer connect with the person once they have expired. Consequently, we become burdened with worry about their state of being after they pass. We hope they have found peace and often wish that we could connect with them just one more time so that we can receive or give forgiveness.
Our grief, nonetheless, is often left unacknowledged or repressed because we have not been taught how to grieve, nor have we been given an accepted grieving protocol. When faced with our mortality we realize how uncomfortable we feel with the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that surface around our grieving process.
This inability to fully acknowledge and release our grief causes sickness to grow in our spiritual heart. Emotions such as fear, anger, and regret can take on a life of their own inside of us, making us feel disconnected from ourselves and others. Sometimes we start to avoid social connections.
If we were to honor our emotions, we would realize that we fear what has happened to our loved one, we feel anger at being left behind, and we regret the things we’ve left unsaid and undone. Furthermore, there is a silent wondering about whether our loved ones can hear us, and if they are still with us after they pass. There is much confusion and controversy about what happens during and after we pass into the spirit world, as much of this knowledge has been forgotten, hidden, or unacknowledged.
Yet the wisdom that modern people lack about death and dying is inherent in ancient Indigenous cultures. To Indigenous peoples, the spirit world is simply another dimension that exists alongside our everyday world. As such, it is believed that we can connect with the spirits of those who have passed before us.
This is possible because we are made up of three parts: mind, body and spirit. When our body expires it is returned to Mother Earth. As Mother Earth receives us, we become part of her natural cycles. Our body, in this case, is seen as a vessel that houses our spirit. Our spirit does not die. As it transitions from this realm into the spirit world it journeys back to our place with Creator. It is on our journey back to Creator that we experience a rebirthing into a state of peace and knowingness where we no longer carry our burdens and our mind is set free. This rebirthing takes some time as our loved one not only releases their burdens, but also moves away from their place in this world as they know it.
Considering this view may allow those of us who are left behind to navigate through our emotions so we can release our loved one into the Spirit world with an open heart and feel more peace during grieving.
Ceremonies to Aid the Grieving Process
In Indigenous cultures the mourning period is encouraged for at least ten days. During this time, a focused effort is made to come together as a community to support the grieving process through ceremony. The Pipe Ceremony and The Feast of the Dead assist with both the celebration of those who have passed and the healing of those who are still living. Solace is found through ceremony, celebration, and communication.
As the Sacred Pipe is filled, the ancestors of the four sacred directions are called in and the spirits of each direction are asked to offer their guidance and healing, both to the living and non-living. It is believed that, during this ceremony, the Sacred Pipe lifts our prayers and grief up to Creator as the smoke rises to the heavens. It is here that all prayers and messages can be heard by our loved ones. It is also believed that the Sacred Pipe allows messages to be sent from our loved ones to the living, who often need guidance and comfort in their time of mourning.
The Pipe Ceremony supports us through our grieving process by allowing us to send healing and prayers to our loved one while releasing our worries and honour-ing our grieving process.
The Feast of the Dead is another ceremony practised by Indigenous clans all over the world. Many clans prepare a feast in honour of the dead and offer time for story-telling, and connecting to their loved one. Ceremonial dancing and a sharing of belongings amongst family and community members of the one who has passed is commonplace. This sharing of belongings allows a letting go for those who are grieving and inspires support from community members. Although the ceremonial feast for each clan may differ based on the beliefs specific to that clan or tribe, the intention is the same. It is performed to celebrate the life of the individual who has passed and inspire healing for all involved by allowing a deep reconnection to one another.
In our society today, there is a lack of strong therapeutic or community support when we experience a loss. We have also forgotten the ways of healing ourselves through ceremonial medicines. Consequently, grieving can be a very lonely and arduous time for many of us.
Although the Pipe Ceremony is only performed by pipe carriers, the Feast of the Dead can be performed in a group setting or in the privacy of your own home, thus allowing you to heal through a celebration of your loved one, their life and what they meant to you.
The Feast of the Dead for Deep Healing
Prepare an altar in your home that honors your loved one. Items on the altar can include a picture, a meaningful belonging of theirs, and/or something they had gifted to you. Other items that strengthen the power of an altar include a white candle and aventurine. Some may also wish to add items that reflect their religious connection to Creator. The sacred medicines – sage and sweetgrass – are also part of the altar.
Smudge yourself and your altar with sage. It lifts away heavy energies and purifies the space. After using sage, light the sweetgrass. Sweetgrass invites the ancestors to come in so they can create a sacred space for you and your loved one. Allow the smoke of Sweetgrass to fill your space and then ask Creator and the ancestors to assist your loved to come forward. Leave the sacred plant medicines on your altar.
Prepare a meal with the intention of celebrating your loved one. Set two places at your table; one for you, and one for your loved one. Then invite them to join you. As you eat your meal, speak to your loved one in spirit about your feelings, regrets, and joys. Share your deepest thoughts and prayers with them. Speak from your heart and trust that they can hear you. When you feel satisfied with what you have shared, sit quietly and listen for their messages, which will come in many different forms. Some messages are heard, some are seen as visions, and some are felt. It may take some time to interpret these messages so it is best to trust yourself and sit through the experience until you have a sense that it is complete. It is common to cry during the experience as it brings great healing to all involved.
Take time to give gratitude to Creator. Place your loved one’s plate of food outside as an offering of gratitude to the spirit world for assisting with your ceremonial feast. Then while sitting in stillness, allow your heart to fill with peace as much grief lifts away.
The Feast of the Dead is a powerful Indigenous ceremony that brings deep healing to our heart. Celebrating and honoring our loved ones through ceremonial feasting offers a nourishing way to release regrets, sadness, and fear. It also allows us to dispel our personal fears around death and dying, thus filling our heart with a renewed sense of joy and serenity. For many moons, navigating through grief with ceremony and feasting has offered those suffering from loss a healthy way to cope with and release grief in a safe and sacred way.
Some of us may choose not to believe in allowing ourselves to grieve in this way because we have been taught that “it is not real unless we can see it,” and that we need empirical evidence for something to exist. When dealing with the spirit world, however, we have a choice in the approach we wish to take. We can choose to believe that we have to move forward without our loved one, or we can invite them to continue walking with us on our journey, while they whisper to us through the wind, letting us know they will always be with us.