top of page a Year of Grief

Just as the bears and bees crawl into hibernation, so this month my energy for the outer world wanes and withdraws into my inner cave. Some days I slow to a crawl and some days sadness simply overtakes me. November has always felt sad, not only from the loss of the colorful leaf crowns from the trees and shrubs, the fall of flowers, the loss of voluptuous bird song, and the fallowness of the garden, but also the waning of our Elder Brother the Sun. As Kahontakwas Diane Longboat explains, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) say that if we live in tune with the daily work Sun does—getting up every morning without fail, moving up and across the sky, and setting to rest for the night—then we too will feel the slow dying of the light with Sun’s shorter work hours.

In a society that pushes through tasks and busyness no matter what, we do not take time to feel the slowing

rhythm, the depth of sadness, the cold and dark pressing in. Since children, many of us were told just to ‘get over it’, push through, move on, replace the loss, stay busy, distract yourself, stay strong for others…you will feel better in time. The noise and messiness of grief is somehow immature, unacceptable, uncivilized, leading to what some call an emotion-phobic society. We then need to grieve in private, if at all. And yet, grief, death and dying are as much a part of life as joy, life, and living. Western society has made it an iron clad principle to ignore and suppress anything to do with darkness, sadness, and vulnerability, preferring to celebrate light, happiness, constant growth, new and improved, never ending progress and profit. Yet, it is within darkness that stars shine, seeds sprout, rest and restoration occur, grief is composted, beliefs are let go, pain is felt, and silence lives. This is an essential human experience, and what November can teach us.

Theologian Matthew Fox calls this the via negativa…the necessary stage of “letting go and simply letting silence be silence, letting pain be pain, and sinking into nothingness”. Anyone who has been through a powerful transformation process—via death, divorce, life-threatening illness, or some other major loss—recognizes this experience of brokenness, loss, and emptiness. As many spiritual leaders have said, the heights of joy are only possible when matched by the depths of grief. We need to feel both, to be whole.

This emptying is necessary. Nothing new would ever find fertile ground otherwise. We must undergo the dark night of the soul and the listless loss of meaning and purpose, the implosion of our beliefs, identity, and/or life structure. Only then do we experience the time when tender seedlings take root, ideas tenuously show their faces, and embryos of the new grow. This is a very difficult, but vital, aspect of the spiritual path. If we as a human family are to make it through our current existential crisis, we must return to a cyclical understanding of life that allows for, and brings meaning to, darkness and grief, as the ground of potentiality. We would then see that some of the depression, serious illness, and addictions that grip so many of our human family, is unexpressed, embodied grief from a multitude of sources.

Certainly, this year of 2020 has been one of heightened grief. The deaths of so many globally from the Covid crisis, the many different peoples asking that their lives matter in a white world, the war and violence of one person or group against another, and the doubling of natural disasters displacing growing numbers of people (UN, 2020) is unprecedented. Fires and floods have taken so many living beings. But it is the dying of our planet, which is hidden in plain sight.


When I was mourning the loss of water in a wetland I regularly visited, providing connection and solace, my 80-something Dad said, “the water will return”, familiar as he is with natural cycles. The waters of another favorite lake, a stopping point for multitudes of migrating birds, could not even be seen from the viewing platform anymore. Each of these visits were filled with increasing trepidation as to what I might find. While he was right,15 years later the wetland water suddenly was higher than it had ever been…yet the birds were no longer there. Displaced for so many years, with shrinking alternatives for habitat, many died. The unpredictable variations in these cycles will become more and more insurvivable.