Gathering Our Medicine


Grieving Rituals


Tears have always been a symbol of human transformation (Ashenburg, 2002). As humans we are called to adapt to more things than any other mammal. Much attention has been given in the past decade or so to the study of tears only to discover what Indigenous peoples far and wide have always known. That life has changing seasons and with each new season we are called to adapt (Cajete, 1994). Adaptation requires expression of emotion, namely sadness, disappointment and letting go. 

It is a process of grieving that rituals and rites of passage can help facilitate. Tears are an essential ingredient which is why Indigenous peoples have always relied on rituals and rites of passage to facilitate the emotional expression necessary to adapt to life’s smallest and biggest losses (De Waal, 2009). Even the journey from childhood to adolescence requires grieving a childhood of which we can never go back to. A time and space which only will exist in our memory. The loss must be grieved and emotions must be expressed for us to maintain a healthy balance. 

We must be transformed by the things we cannot change of which there are so many in life. In some cases our youth have faced greater loss in their short lives than many of us ever will. They need our help and the support of cultural rituals to find expression in a safe and consequence free-way. Rituals that help them development the confidence to face life with courage (Campbell, 1990). Safety is required for tears and if we are lucky, we have at least one person with whom we cry. 

Ritual offers a safe container in which our tears can be evoked indirectly. We do not need to know why we are crying for the tears to be of benefit. Crying ensures that our most vulnerable emotions can be felt and this is essential for resilience and overall emotional development. 

Grieving Ritual

When our youth are able to cry, their emotions move them toward adaptation and birth of resilience. We mature through a journey of tears. 

A loss of tears is correlated with a hardening of the heart and has been linked to problems of depression, aggression, and anxiety (Panksepp, 2012). Many of our youth have lost their tears and as a result we see a “tearless and fearless” population. To work at this directly would only risk triggering defences and alienating ourselves from our youth further (Neufeld G. a., 2004). Ritual offers us a way through … gently, indirectly, and in the context of a warm, inviting relationship where needs for contact, closeness, belonging, mattering, warmth, and being known and understood can be provided and received.