Grief and gratitude

This year I’ve spent a lot of time walking around my neighborhood crying. The more I research the history of the place where I live, the more pain and loss I uncover. Processing that pain has become a central part of my life. “You’re feeling the grief of all the people who have been displaced from that land over the years,” my friend Marisol Jiménez observed. I am. 

National Day of Mourning

Last week we commemorated the National Day of Mourning, which has been held the fourth Thursday of November since 1970 to “highlight Native American perspectives and remembrance of loved ones who suffered as a result of the arrival of the pilgrims and European settlers in the United States.” Related is “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow,” a website with a land acknowledgement and “history of Cherokee land cessions and the formation of Buncombe County” which was recently posted by the Register of Deeds.

With Elder Hayes, 2017

Also this year treasured beloveds in my circle transitioned. Elder John R. Hayes, Aunt Jill, Betty Jean Hamilton, Henry Ligon, Jr., Wanda Redmond, and, most recently, Queen Mother Maggie Belle Gladden. Incredible souls who will be intensely missed. More grief. 

In addition to the unfathomable number of lives lost thus far in the pandemic, I’ve been grieving opportunities for in-person connections. I’m acutely aware of gatherings that cannot be held, of folks I’ve lost touch with as a direct result of the adaptions we’ve made to COVID-19. 

Then there’s the grief (and rage) of witnessing ongoing injustice.

And, of course, I have been experiencing what herbalist Janet Kent, in a recent poetic and medicinal essay, calls “The Big Grief,” or “the pervasive underlying grief of this era, the grief we experience living on a planet with cascading extinctions and collapsing ecosystems, where more and more people are displaced and forced to flee to hostile countries that are currently less affected by the climate crisis. Deep sigh. To love and cherish our kin, both human and more-than human is a practice simultaneously deeply rewarding and devastating.”

A tree that used to live near me.

A profound conversation about grief (and more) can be found in season 2 episode 6 of the essential Finding Our Way podcast. In it, host Prentis Hemphill interviews indigenous activist Rowen White who speaks of, as Prentis describes, “the possibility of seeds and the grief we have to contend with when we are rediscovering our relationship to land and place.” 

Relationship. We don’t have grief without relationship. In a video clip of an interview that adrienne maree brown (someone from whom I continually learn how to grieve) shared, actor Andrew Garfield described grief as “all of the unexpressed love” we still hold after loss. He talked about how feeling that love through the pain of grief is beautiful and valuable. 

This is where gratitude comes in. I am grateful for love. I am grateful to love enough to grieve. 

I am grateful for beloveds who are still around me, for nature that still thrives. 

I am grateful for neighbors who are willing to engage difficult stories and move towards repair and healing. I am grateful for all of the good in my neighborhood, for there is plenty. 

I am grateful for everyone cultivating justice and liberation. For those who believe water is life.

I am grateful for you, reader, and being able to connect in this way.

There are so many sacred tears and tender hearts in this world. So much courage and joy.

Here’s to all of our grief, gratitude, love, love, love, and again – love. 


Sunset over the cemetery

p.s. I am grateful for subscribers and patrons who have been patient as I have published less online in order to have the necessary space in my days to create and collaborate offline. Your trust motivates me.