Book Review: The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
Francis Weller (North Atlantic Books, 2015)
So many of us feel isolated and adrift in our depth of pain. Some may struggle to distract themselves from it, while others attempt to work with their grief only to find that they are ill-equipped and lacking the knowledge to enter into this endeavor. We feel disconnected from one another, from our beautiful earth home, from the ancestors and traditions that could be of great use to us during our heartbreak; and this lack of connection causes even further heartbreak.
Francis Weller’s The Wild Edge of Sorrow provides much-needed medicine for our times. This clearly written and engaging volume identifies the need for ritual in our lives, provides an invitation to us to utilize ritual for our personal and collective healing, and shares inspiration for the creation and continuation of a collection of ceremonies. Weller, a psychotherapist and “soul activist”, strongly believes that we each have within us profound wisdom that can help us as we grieve and can ultimately connect us with one another.
Weller weaves together stories of rituals enacted by his community and by others across the globe, encouraging us to utilize rituals in our healing and transformation. His clear descriptions of such ceremonies precisely illustrates his theory that we benefit greatly from becoming apprentices to sorrow. Rather than numbing out and distracting in our attempt to run from our depth of feeling, we are urged to turn toward this depth, to open and honor it.
The Resources section at the end of Weller’s book catalogs a wide variety of offerings that could each benefit us as we choose to consciously engage in this healing work, included are works of poetry, memoirs, film, and psychology. Weller thoughtfully includes practices and rituals that we can develop and use in our own soul care. This volume is a treasure chest of support and guidance that can support each of us to, as the author says is our birthright, “encounter this life with amazement and wonder.”
Terrible, Thanks for Asking Podcast
A podcast detailing some of the most heart-wrenching stories of loss that is both touching and humorous? An hour spent each week in the presence of regular, non-celebrity folks who courageously and vulnerably share their experience with a non-judgmental host? Is this something that anyone would willingly tune in to hear?
Absolutely. I do, every Tuesday. And I’m not alone. There are hoards of us who listen to folks as they narrate full answers to the question, “How are you?” -- much fuller answers than “Terrible, thanks for asking,” which is what most of them really want to reply when asked that question.
Nora McInerny created Terrible, Thanks for Asking, a short time after the death of her husband (and unborn child and father). The first episode is indicative of the raw honesty found in each episode:
For those of us in the depths of loss, listening to another’s experience may prove too upsetting. For others, though, this is exactly the connection we seek in order to remind ourselves that we are not alone. Listening, to me, feels like sitting in a grief circle filled with wildly insightful and quirky participants who bravely detail some of the worst moments of their lives. And, unlike a grief group, I can hit “pause” whenever listening becomes too intense or when my mind wanders.
Many of you, I know, have come to Passings not because you are in the midst of a great loss but because you are supporting someone who is. Terrible, Thanks for Asking might be useful for you too. As we learn to be present to and for others during their darkest times, we sometimes need help. One way to get better at showing up in such situations is to practice -- but not on those actual really-in-need loved ones we are assisting. We can build our capacity for presence, our “companioning muscles”, by engaging with true stories as a practice; TTFA provides a multitude of opportunities for us to become more loving and present support systems for those who need us.
The Book of Forgiving:
The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World
Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu (HarperOne, 2014)
Shelves in libraries and bookstores abound with tomes on forgiveness; there are memoirs about forgiveness, theological explorations of forgiveness, and scientific studies on the effects of forgiveness. And through a life-long seeking of guidance in this area, which continues to both inspire and challenge me, I have worked my way through hundreds of them.
Not one of them has been as useful as The Book of Forgiving. It is as practical as it is thoughtful. The first time I encountered it, I actually sighed aloud, relieved to finally find a way to do this thing, this act most of us were instructed to do since childhood but never instructed how to do.
Opening with a discussion of why we may want to forgive and of what forgiveness is not eases readers into the journey with forgiveness on which we are lead throughout the volume. The arguments that can arise in my mind when I consider forgiving someone or something are each addressed (But that will mean I condone those actions! What if doing this makes me weak? Shouldn’t I just be able to do this quickly and easily?). Reading these sections and knowing the forgiveness the Archbishop has done throughout his lifetime experiences with Apartheid and Reparation in South Africa encourages me. I feel less alone and more able to embark on the work that is to come.
And it is work. By methodically stepping our way through the volume, we are taken on the fourfold path of: Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Granting Forgiveness, and Renewing or Releasing the Relationship. Each chapter has a summary, a meditation, a ritual, and a journaling assignment. The rituals and writing build on one another, taking us step by step on a spiral of deep healing. We are guided gently and compassionately into and through some territories we may have been avoiding for years. And, I promise, if you give yourself over to this simple yet profound process, something will shift in some way.
This valuable offering is the workbook each of us needs as we learn to forgive and heal not only ourselves but our world.
Desmond and the Very Mean Word: A Story of Forgiveness
Desmond Tutu and Carlton Abrams; illustrated by A. G. Ford (Candlewick Press, 2013)
Little people, little problems; big people, big problems.
This is an adage often shared with parents. It indicates the complexity of challenges we face as we grow into adulthood; and there is a lot of truth in these words. However, there are many ways that the cruelties we encounter when we are young feel very much the same as those we experience throughout our lives. Indeed, when I endure unkindness these days, it often feels as though it is the child inside of me who is experiencing that. And she still struggles to know how to forgive. Frequently I wonder about the ways I may have benefitted from receiving a curriculum in forgiveness work during my earliest yeras in school; could I have been taught ways to approach forgiveness as I was learning how to count and recite my ABCs?
Desmond and the Very Mean Word: A Story of Forgiveness shows the relationship between these little problems and big ones and exemplifies how one wise mentor can help lead us into the work and the gifts of forgiveness.
A group of boys, jealous of Desmond’s new bicycle, taunt him by calling him a very mean word. He soon responds with a mean word of his own, confident that he will be made to feel better through this retaliation. But the word leaves a bitter taste in his mouth.
When he shares these events with Father Trevor, his trusted teacher and friend, he is met with understanding and compassion. The priest does not shame him or indicate any judgment toward Desmond or the other boys. He listens with patience, and he shares words that let the young boy know that forgiveness is something to be cultivated. It does not require an apology from the one who has hurt us, because it is about us.
With Father Trevor’s words in mind, Desmond continues to ride his new bike and to watch out for the group of boys. One day he happens to witness something that leads him to understand a bit about the boy who first called him the very mean word. He can now understand that the name-calling did not start with this one child.
And eventually he realizes that it can end with him. Encouraged by Father Trevor’s simple words about forgiveness and freedom, as well as by the priest’s understanding and acceptance of him, Tutu becomes able to both grant forgiveness and offer his own atonement. And he rides away free on that new bicycle.
This volume is a lovely one to use again and again as we remind our children (and the children inside of us) of the necessity of forgiveness, of its challenges, and of its ability to heal each of us. Like Father Trevor, we can, with very few words, offer lessons about forgiveness with compassion and understanding.
Here’s a lovely reading of the book done by Brenda Lee:
No Happy Endings: A Memoir
Girl meets boy. Girl and boy fall in love. Girl and boy get married and live happily ever after.
We all know the story. But no one has lived it, and Nora McInerny’s newest volume, No Happy Endings: A Memoir, is brimming with scenarios that ensure we never forget that.
McInerny lost her unborn child, father, and husband all in the span of a few months, as she shares in her first memoir, Hot Young Widow’s Club. Since those losses, she has remarried and now is mother to four children.
People who learned about her life sometimes express relief that she has created this new family, perhaps believing that this new life replaces the old one, that now the credits can roll as she walks into the sunset. But, although her family brings her great happiness, it does not provide a happy ending, she reminds us; because there are none.
Each morsel included in this feast of tragic/comic exploration of life contains both the happy and the sad, the serious and the ridiculous. McInerny’s somewhat satirical, often funny, and always vulnerable text reads as virtually identical to the voice we hear on her groundbreakingly courageous podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking. In fact, as I read her memoir, I felt as though she were sitting next to me, sharing her stories over a cocktail or cup of tea.
I have come to think of McInerny’s work as a grief group for all; indeed, she has started a community (Hot Young Widow’s Club; check it out here https://www.hotyoungwidowsclub.com/) that is an online grief group of sorts. Grief groups, the in-person kind where folks sit in a circle and share their stories, are not a perfect fit for every bereaved person for all sorts of reasons. But what is essential for every person experiencing grief is companionship, particularly that of someone whose beloved person has died.
We need to be allowed to be both sad and happy, we need to be given the invitation to share our stories in their full messiness without anyone judging us or giving us advice. McInerny’s newest offering both provides that invitation for us and is a touching model for how its done.