Grief Re-purposed; Reveling in Life at the Moment of Death

We continue to explore loss and grief with this third-in-a-series of four journal followup articles on Loss and Grief.  This piece refers back to 'Grief and Celebration; Twins or Pairs of Opposites'.

I just returned from a week-long visit to New Orleans.  The Big Easy is remarkably different from any place on earth.  Celebrations of life are blown out into extreme displays found only there.  Funerals (called homegoings) and weddings alike are known to have jazz band accompaniment through the city with the community of friends and family forming a Second Line parade.

Allen Toussaint tribute in New Orleans ends with a jazz funeral, a longtime tradition that unites communities, irrespective of class, color or background.

Of the major attractions in NOLA, tours of its' historic and storied cemeteries are among the most popular.  We were given a grand tour of three famous last-resting spots by a local haunting expert, photographer, and author, Kristen Wheeler. Our day-long adventure informed me that grief and loss are integral processes of life experience as opposed to an end story of death.

I have visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and many other solemn places of remembrance. But there is no place and nothing like the open experience of life and death in New Orleans.  The community, which suffered such catastrophic losses during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, has come back like gangbusters.  This is not to say that scars have been erased and pain eradicated.  On the contrary, they are both quite visible.  The resurrection of New Orleans is an effort in the making.  But joy and hope were never blown away into The Gulf of Mexico, starved in the lower parishes, or abandoned in the Superdome. The City Under Water would not drown in a sea of sorrow.

"When the procession hits the street, the songs are played as a dirge. Mournful, slow playing. Music that suits the sad mood of a loved one’s passing. But, a song or two in, the mood changes. The brass band plays the first notes for “I’ll Fly Away,” and everybody sings. Dances. Smiles and laughs. It’s celebratory. It’s a joyful noise. It’s Gospel. Blues. Jazz. It’s music."

Ray Laskowitz, New Orleans photographer

The lessons learned from New Orleans can allow us to re-purpose grief. 

What we can come to believe is that healing for loss and grief starts when we abandon dualistic thinking.  Celebration and grief do, indeed, share the same space.  However, it is more than that.  Along with them, abundance and scarcity, joy and sorrow, fear and love, are all in a kind of circular dance.  And what can be more full of fun than a dance? These things which seem to be opposites are really one and indistinguishable. This is essential to understand because when the dark hours of loss descend, it seems as if the light is no longer present.  Feelings of abandonment and hopelessness can be so overwhelming that we become frozen in time.  The truth that God is with us seems unreal. At these moments we must accept that the dance continues all around us.  We can allow the process of grief because joy and hope are not just coming back someday, they are already present.

Here is a mindful and gentle way to allow the celebration of life to commingle with grief. 

Choose a short sentence like "Love never fails" or "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" and repeat it several times during the day. 

The truth of it will settle into the center of your heart and darkness will begin to accept the dawn. Though this may seem simplistic or mundane, it will actually re-purpose your feelings of grief and enable you one day to dance again.