For the fathers: tools for male grief work by Stephen Jenkinson

People shared ideas on death and an afterlife in their words of solace: Sasha is in a better place, she put back on her angel wings, she is at peace, she is no longer in pain. We achnowleged Sasha was dying and accepted and then embraced her return home after councelling at the Temmy Latner Centre. We all struggled to articulate Sasha's death and engaged in a discussion on the Alagille Board: how could Sasha be in a better place (ultimately) when she was no longer with us? We flipped back and forth throughout the decision to cease blood transfusions. Were we only thinking of her life quality or of our convenience? Had we done enough, not enough or too much? Many people gave us a lot of support. One person gave us permission to grieve and specific ideas to work with her life and death and I recently reread "On Grief: A Workshop for Men", one of many useful sharings traversing grief work, money, inheritance, relationships, shamanism, souls, hand-made objects, wilderness, life's tasks and more. They encompass notions of the veil in at least two ways and offer a relevant strategy to anyone who has lost loved ones, particularly fathers and brothers. Rather than summarise as is customary, I wish to place Stephen's words directly on Sasha's blog as we place little stones when we visit Sasha's grave.

"Death is a rumour for most of us. It is something we hear about second hand. All kinds of institutions are set up whose unacknowledged purpose is to shield us from the direct experience of death, loss and the diminishment of life, whether it be our own or that of a loved one, friend or neighbour.

When death comes close, most of us who are otherwise competent adults become stumbling, inarticulate amateurs. Approaching death deliberately and consciously is very hard to do. For a lot of reasons, this experience is a particularly punishing and humiliating one for men. We become strangers to the people around us and to ourselves, and often we are deeply disappointed in our responses. We think women grieve better.

Grief is work for all of us. It is part of a life's work...In grief rituals we are practicing behaviours that consciously and intentionally move us out of our ordinary awareness and into the experience of the pain of grief. The important aspects are that you do it consciously and that you in some way honour and acknowledge your grief in the process. Men in our culture grieve through task.

For a man to share his grief, he needs to know that he is respected. For a woman to share her grief, she needs to know that she will be related to. The work of talking about their grief is usually put off until the men know that they have the respect of the other men. They see their grief as a burden ... that their grief has no purpose or meaning.

...A common thread in the world's wisdom and shamanic traditions is the identification of forgetfulness or amnesia as a threat to spiritual wellbeing, individual, communal and cosmic. Knowing about good and evil was an iffy proposition in the Garden of Eden, but once known, the story goes on to show, the consequences endure. In the West, we tend to have an unexamined, undisciplined, untested and unconscious view of the dead. Typically, we nurse along the conviction that those who have died somehow know more than we know. Their passage out of this world has bestowed upon them this 'higher consciousness'. They know everything, and this knowledge has been bought with their life. In that respect they join God and share in God's omniscience.

A subtler piece of this conviction is that those who have died have passed beyond the experience of need. They have been taken up by the Shepherd and no longer want. Having no needs, no desires, they are free and they are at rest. They live far beyond this veil, subsequently, and their achievements in death remove them from us. When a loved one dies and leaves us behind, our experience is typically an awe-ful, sharply felt need for the old companionship, the old attachment, the old assurances that came with the deceased's presence. Part of our suffering comes from the inevitable conclusion that we are alone in needing this attachment. The need is from one direction only.

Many men have told me of the grim, defeated experience of trying to retain some furtive presence of the loved one, somehow, and of how futile these attempts seem, how impossible, and of how mute the other side is, and of how unpresent. There is a lot of anger in this experience, and under that a lot of sorrow, and under that a lot of psychic and spiritual poverty....

Martin Prechtel says that "every Tzutujil started out in life as a sincere amnesiac who spent the rest of his or her life putting back together his or her memory of the other worlds, enough to serve the greater good of the village and the World". That is a beautiful phrase - sincere amnesiac - because it brings very well the wobbly intention that is both good and errant: the Tzutujil person commits himself or herself to try to remember something they don't at present even know - for what purpose they were born. Part of life's project for these people is to discover that they have a life's project, and what it is. A hint is to be found in the stories that tell of the world the soul has come from, into this one.

To redeem the rememberer in his or her wobbly pursuit, Mayan spirituality proposes a perfect symmetry. The gods, the spirits, the ancestors - Those Not Here Now - depend on this very remembrance as their food and sustenance. A little remembering of them makes them present, brings them near, encouraging the memory of them a little more, bringing them nearer still, everyone in the circle nourished by the passing around of this gift.

Death is a very good teacher. Someone else's death has a great deal in it for you, and your own death even more. The imminence of death rattles the old patterns of automatic thinking, involuntary obedience, unconscious suffering. It dares you to find them still meaningful, purposeful, necessary."

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