Tending Grief, in a room with other people

I felt trepidation as well as relief as a group gathered for the first in person Grief tending indoors since before COVID dramatically changed how we meet, more than a year ago.

In the correspondence before the workshop I felt a new part of my role, to help figure out how to meet possibly different needs about COVID precautions, behaviours, proximity and contact in a grief tending space.

Grief is not a tidy and controlled process by its nature. Involving body liquids, loud noises, and often, the longing for touch.

Kind touch is one of the few ways we generate oxytocin – as well as singing together, giving birth and breastfeeding. Oxytocin helps us to feel a sense of bonding with others, of deep connection


I was grateful for all that supported us on Saturday to create a powerful shared journey. A warm sun that meant we could keep doors open and air flowing all day. All the teachers and teachings that were present in the room, not only mine and not only around grief. The sweetness of song, not on Zoom. The creating of shrines, together. The wisdom of the human body that is millions of years of evolution of living, dying, loving, birthing, ecstacy and grief, wired into unfathomably complex physical form.

I sometimes think of grief tending as a space which invites the meeting of life and death, of love, longing and loss. It is where the warmth and beauty that calls us into life meets the pain that is so great that we can find ourselves drifting away, or shocked into a place where it feels unbearable to continue. My teacher Maeve Gavin spoke of the banks of the river that we need to build before we enter the landscape of grief. Peter Levine writes about pendulation, between resources and pain. I find it a helpful metaphor for all of life. I need to continually pay attention to the river banks, to what holds and sustains me, what pulls me towards life when there is so much of being alive that brings fear, disappointment, outrage, sorrow, and more.

I can feel the extra importance of this practice in these times, when some of those banks are cut away. For these months of lockdown sense that a layer of nourishment that has been missing, and the slow ache, which sometimes erupts as grief, for hugs, for the simple pleasure of a meal out with friends, not having to negotiate how to meet up and greet each other. And the impact of continuing uncertainty, not planning trips away, not knowing whether to schedule face to face workshops, or stay online.. And the grief of witnessing the suffering of so many who are having a much, much harder time than me.

Eden Rise where we gathered – with real people

I spoke on Saturday about my respect for the place in me that knows when it’s too much, when numbness is wisdom, when to tune out, for example with escapist TV or books. I remember during one time that I would call a breakdown I watched videos of a long running TV show for more than 8 hours a day, getting through 26 hour long episodes in 3 days. It helped me regain enough balance to start to face into what was feeling close to unbearable.

I’m grateful when shared grief tending can shift the need to be numb. When the circle can help me to hold what is too much on my own. As more and more of the living web of life, the structures that hold me come under threat, there is plenty that can feel overwhelming. For me that means shared grief spaces will become more and more essential. So that we can feel that edge of overwhelm and reach out for each other, virtually or in person. So that we keep on saying “Thank you, thank you for your feeling heart, your longing, your truth and aliveness. Thank you for your grief, supporting my grief, helping sorrow, fear, anger, guilt, confusion and anything else to be medicine that holds us together instead of numbess, reactivity, pain that can drive us apart.”

We have a residential workshop planned at High Heathercombe in the wild beauty of Dartmoor, on the weekend of July 23 – 25th. We’ve called it Tending our Grief for the World, acknowledging how much collective grief there is at the moment – and all grief is welcome, whatever its source or expression.

Meanwhile half day grief tending spaces continue roughly once a month, and we’re looking to set more dates, including for an Apprenticing Journey in the next week or two.

May you find the banks of the river, the call and welcome to keep coming back to life, the kind gaze and loving touch that helps you to be present in these extraordinary times.

Author: sophybanks

living in south west England

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