The Power of Sacred Grieving

Rev. Mary Murray Shelton

I hold grieving as a steep, sacred walk. It’s a walk that no one is immune to. No one else can take it for us; it’s a required walk in every lifetime. But although we must walk it ourselves, others can walk with us, and that provides a measure of comfort. Grief is unpredictable and uncontrollable. It washes through us in waves, sometimes completely unexpectedly in inconvenient places at inconvenient times.

Do you know someone who died from COVID? Or perhaps you have a friend, colleague or neighbor who does. More that half a million people from the United States have died, many of them without being able to see anyone they loved in the period of hospitalization as they were dying.

Grief is a real, normal, human response to loss or trauma, and it can be collectively experienced, not just individually. So, even if we haven’t personally experienced the loss of a loved one due to this pandemic, our country is experiencing mourning collectively, and that affects us all.

If you’re grieving the loss of someone from physical or mental illness, suicide, disability, or old age; or if you’ve released a loving furry family member in the past year, you may be feeling lost yourself. Personal grief, immersed in a river of national grief, submerged in the ocean of global grief, can feel heavy and confusing. You may feel depressed or sad or apathetic and unmotivated without understanding why.

Nature path

As a world, we are immersed in a time of sacred grieving, and this affects us even without personal losses. How shall we acknowledge and memorialize our collective experience to help us with the process?

Dan Rather reminded readers in his blog, Steady, of the traveling AIDs quilt, and how moving it was to be in a space with it. At the time the AIDs quilt was traveling, everyone I knew had lost one or more friends and/or family members in that epidemic, and seeing the quilt helped us feel, remember and honor the enormity of what had been lost.

It’s difficult to grasp half a million COVID deaths with a sense of the magnitude of the loss. These U.S. cities have a population of 500,000 or fewer: Atlanta, GA; Kansas City, MO; Omaha, NE; Raleigh, NC; Miami, FL; Oakland, CA; Minneapolis, MN; New Orleans, LA; Cleveland, OH; Honolulu, HI; Corpus Christi, TX; Des Moines, IA; Salt Lake City, UT…and the list goes on. Imagine one of these cities becoming a ghost city in a single year because all of its inhabitants have died. 

500,000 is about 100,000 more U.S. deaths than in WWII, the greatest loss of life in war the U.S. has experienced with the exception of the Civil War (low end estimate: 620,000 deaths).

candles

How shall we acknowledge, honor, grieve those who have gone and the families, friends and colleagues who are grieving them? 

I saw an article about planting trees in their memory. Creating a national tree preserve with a tree for every person who has died from the COVID pandemic might also demonstrate to future Americans the massive loss that can happen in one country within a single year. (The Vietnam Wall had that effect on me, and it contains nearly 10 times fewer names than people who have died of COVID in the U.S. so far.)

leaf

Perhaps trees can be planted for each person whose passing we grieve from this past year. As a community, we can gather–virtually, if need be–for prayers, music and candle-lighting for the families of all those who’ve passed. 

I’m thinking Memorial Day weekend might be a good time for this. What do you think?

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