Written by Joanne Zerdy for Inviting Abundance
In her book, Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore – founder of the MISS Foundation, researcher, and bereaved mother – relays stories from her work as an educator and counselor alongside accounts of her personal journey of grieving her daughter Cheyenne. As with Wolfelt’s and Glenn’s work, Cacciatore’s writing underscores the multi-dimensionality of grief and its many contours that change shape and intensity over time. Her discussion of “the practice of being with” resonates with Wolfelt’s “companioning” in terms of the bereaved accompanying (sitting, walking, talking with) her emotions & thoughts as the grief ebbs and flows. Cacciatore too believes in the power of ritual and “microritual” to help us remember and, indeed, enact our ongoing love for our loved ones who have died. One such ritual that has traveled from Japan to the United States is mizuko kuyo, which stars Jizo, a helpful bodhisattva in Japanese Mahayana Buddhism who acts as a guardian and guide for children who have died before their parents. In our workshop, we briefly reflected on how we might begin to create communal grief rituals that align with our specific populations and belief systems. Garden of Hope & Healing at Hatcher Garden in Spartanburg, SC. Friends of ours made a donation in Finlay's memory to Hatcher Garden, so it's a special place for us.
Undoubtedly influenced by her work as a Zen priest, Cacciatore sees grief as an ongoing invitation to learn, to grow, and to open into a more conscious and conscientious way of living. She writes, “Those who have deeply suffered understand life in ways others cannot: they know the only way to attain authentic and lasting contentment is to turn their hearts outward in service to those who are suffering as we have suffered. I am present with life because I am present with death. I know joy and peace because I am present with grief and suffering” (176-177).
The women who took part in Amy Wright Glenn’s workshop – doulas, nurses, midwives, counselors, and facilitators – are all clearly committed to providing support and comfort to those who grieve and to those who are dying. In her own way, each is answering a call to serve. Some are mothers to living children; some (like me) parent both living and dead children; and some may have no child of her own yet she comforts or teaches like a mother. The ever-growing circle of mothers and fathers who are grieving for their children require an equally growing number of compassionate, patient, skillful, and resourceful care givers if we are – as a society – to find healthy and heartful ways of overcoming the alienation that can result from death, dying, and grieving. In actively participating in this dynamic network of love and compassion, we act as meaning-makers in holding space for healing individual sorrow and suffering as well as for processing communal and societal grief.
This is the kind of work that Inviting Abundance cares about deeply. As grieving parents and as educators, we feel the need to help those who are suffering to find ways to develop a sustaining and sustainable grief practice and to navigate obstacles to emotional wellbeing in society.
Will Daddario is a historiographer, philosopher, and teacher. He currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina.