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Practicing Grief

At the end of August, I designed a stained glass piece that now hangs along the south windows of my porch. The piece features two orca whales; a mama and her calf. Sunset colours outline the top half of the circle and the deep blues of an ocean, the bottom. Swirling blues, whites and transparent glass is in the center of the two orcas, whose mouths almost meet at the top left. I hung this piece in the evening of September 3rd as part of an intimate little ritual Ben and I planned to mourn the end of my time in ministry. Below it, along the outside, southern porch wall of our house, I dug a hole and buried a few mementos in an origami box I folded; a business card and some personal notes and trinkets I had collected over the years.

Before burying my paper casket, we sat on our back pavement around our portable fire pit, burning the stacks of unused donor cards that had piled up over the last 6 years. We talked about our journey. We reminisced about some of our favourite times and cringed at the mistakes we had made which seemed to bookend our good intentions. We drank one of our favourite kinds of wine, a Chianti Classico, as we watched the flames engulf my name over and over again. As we buried the little white paper casket and hung the stained glass that had cut up my hands over the previous few days, I played “Oceans” by Hillsong (one of the only “Christian” songs I’ll willingly listen to). I don’t remember crying during this ritual, maybe I had finished with my tears already by the time this day came. It had been a month since this decision tore through our lives and we have had time to find closure. This ritual helped with that too, though. And so did an orca whale name Tahlequah.

Tahlequah gave birth to her baby girl at the end of July 2018. The calf lived for about 30 minutes before passing. In an unprecedented display of grief, Tahlequah proceeded to carry the body of her calf for 17 days (a day for each month of gestation), across 1000 miles, before releasing her to the ocean. When this story surfaced on my twitter feed as I was in the midst of my own mourning period, I welcomed Tahlequah’s story as a salve on my raw emotions, and I gave myself permission to carry my grief until I was ready to release it. No, I didn’t lose a child, and the grief I experienced is comparatively minor (although, I don’t recommend comparing our stories of grief since it really isn’t helpful or healthy to do so). I suppose I consider my attempt at carrying my grief and intentionally mourning my loss “practice” for the big leagues. If I am unable to mourn and find closure for life’s “smaller” shit-storms, how will I ever deal, in a healthy way, with its hurricanes?

I believe that practicing grief is crucial for emotional and mental well-being. I’m not suggesting that we go out and find loss and death and change. I’m simply positing that when loss, death, and change find us, they come with opportunities for us to practice giving ourselves permission to be sad, to carry our grief, and to honour our journeys. I recently discovered that as a enneagram 4, I may be more inclined to melancholy (which is not surprising, at all!) and that this ability to engage the sad and heavy things of life can be a true asset.

In the weeks to come I hope to explore more with all of you, my dear readers, what this transition has meant for my life and my faith, but for now, I encourage you to remember Tahlequah when loss finds you. Carry your grief until, at last, you are ready to release it to the depths.


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