Grief and the Afterlife: A Relationship Made in Heaven
"Pain that is not transformed will be transmitted."
I recently had the honor of attending an African "community grieving ritual" conducted by a spiritual teacher from the Dagara tradition named Sobonfu Some'. This ritual is conducted whenever a village has experienced trauma or loss, and in Sobonfu's words, it helps us "regain a lasting sense of connectedness with ourselves and with spirit, and to find a proper place to release our grief about the loss of loved ones, the loss of our dreams and the loss of our connection with the ancestors."
What does this have to do with the relationship between grief and the afterlife?
Prior to experiencing this ritual, I didn't realize how much influence our ancestors have on the way we work with grief. In the West, we are taught to grieve quietly and politely; most of our ancestors placed a high value on being strong, stoic and independent, and as a result, they ended up handing down a collective inheritance of grief that was never released or healed in their own lives. By participating in rituals like Sobonfu's and finding deeper meaning in our losses, we have the opportunity to break the cycle of suppression so that we don't bequeath a legacy of unresolved pain to our own descendants.
In African tribal life, the idea of personal independence or self-sufficiency is unimaginable. A village experiences everything as one, and grieving is done communally... fully, fearlessly and publicly. In the grief ritual, the villagers cry, wail, dance, drum and sing for two or three days as they discharge their grief onto sacred objects that are part of an altar, which is dismantled at the end of the ceremony and ritually purified and buried.
Suffering without community and grieving without a mystical connection can deprive us of the great lessons pain can offer. If we grieve only within the confines of our three-dimensional understanding of the universe, we risk missing out on true spiritual healing and the unity that binds us to our collective responsibility to build communities that know how to heal. Our pain should not be denied, dismissed or defeated. It must be lovingly cared for and honored as a sacred messenger.
God, Grief and the Afterlife
A self-empowered form of spirituality says that we are not separate from God, but are equal parts of the collective energy that IS God, an energy with which we work as co-creators. This work is done “on earth as it is in heaven,” as our souls create their own healing and continue to seek growth and expansion, in and out of the body.
The growth work we do during our earthly incarnations carries over to the other side, where we evaluate and create new and effective situations to bring forth the very experiences we seek for our continued exploration. In this way there can be no tragedies, no here and there, no them and us, and no death.
Death should be as fearless and accompanied as possible, and grief should be as honest as possible. If we sidestep any of the process, something will be destroyed in us. But if we embrace death with boundless leaps of faith, we can honor innate knowledge, inner gifts and the positive experiences available to us in both physical life and physical death.
An Honest Relationship with Death
An honest approach to death and grieving is the key to tapping in to those gifts and shifting the experience of life-threatening illness or emotional trauma from terrifying to transcendent. An understanding of our own divinity and the perfect journey of our souls, supported by guides, angels and loved ones who have passed before us, helps us understand death as simply a journey to another room, where life continues in a different form. Prayers and meditations for opening the heart to gratitude and inner guidance can help us ultimately see all deaths as pathways to healing.
Copyright 2015 by Rev. Terri Daniel