I Will Not Grieve for You: Bereavement Etiquette & Holding Space

The following discusses the death of a baby. My beloved sun Kali Ra Iman.  When you re-read the title of this piece, your knee jerk reaction may be one of disbelief and contempt for the statement "I will be not grieve for you."  How could a mother not grieve the death of her firstborn son?!  Deep breath, friends.  Rest assured my grief is alive and well.  In fact it has become my everyday reality.  Like Sting said, "Every move I make, every breath I take, I'll be..." grieving you.  The title of this piece requires that one step away from assumptions and open their mind to another interpretation of the title.  Here we go...

 July 20, 2016 facebook post: Twenty-two days prior to the birth of Kali Ra.

July 20, 2016 facebook post: Twenty-two days prior to the birth of Kali Ra.

     I love my vulnerability and intuition. Twenty-two days after writing the facbook post above, I experienced the most intense initiation of my life, both birthing my sun Kali Ra and learning of his imminent demise which would follow just days later.

 Photo of the altar I created in my hospital room the day life support was to be removed from my beloved Kali Ra.

Photo of the altar I created in my hospital room the day life support was to be removed from my beloved Kali Ra.

     Although most of those closest to me demonstrated what I like to call appropriate "bereavement ettiquette," simply holding space for all aspects of my process and NOT trying to be a "fixer," several people were "concerned" when I did not "break down" in the days and weeks following the death of Kali Ra.  Indeed, when my process did not look the way certain people thought it should, those same people went as far as to speak behind my back to others about how I needed to "grieve properly."  They wanted me to grieve their grief for them.  Their uncomfortability with death, especially as it concerned a 9lb 13oz healthy baby boy, was likely too much for these "proper grievers" to bare, and so they couldn't hold space for my acceptance or the unconditional love that birthed such a state. 

     My "proper grief" critics needed me to grieve for them... The way that they might grieve the death of a child.  But, as the title suggests, I refused.  I will not grieve for you.  I will grieve for my child in the exact manner I am moved by spirit to express myself. If that means singing and spending 3 hours adorning and organizing an altar for my beloved, that is how I will grieve.  If it means clawing into the earth with bare hands and screaming my rage at the betrayal that resulted in my sun's demise, that is how I will grieve.  And you should grieve exactly the way you feel moved.

     As much as I appreciate the vital and revolutionary work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there is no "one size fits all" blueprint for grief. We are all so different in how we perceive the world and understand our relationship to the lesser embraced aspects of life, like death, disease and disappointment.  What those who needed so badly to see me "break down" did not appreciate about my experience is that I welcomed the opportunity to reclaim and integrate my wholeness by any means necessary.  For many years now, starting weeks before I even knew I was pregnant with Kali Ra, my affirmation has been to "open to and accept the gifts of nature."  When sharing this affirmation with others I would always throw in the qualifier that when I said "gifts" I meant EVERYTHING that this life presented me.  The beauty and the tragedy.  If it was meant for me let me know it and call it by its rightful name.  MINE.

     This affirmation and soul intention prepared me well for an experience beyond my wildest dreams.  One that in all of the scenarios I had imagined simply never occured to me.  Much of my naivete died with the body of my beloved Kali Ra.  But the tears I cried in the moments, days and weeks following the birth and death of his flesh were not tears of sorrow.  I was held in love by the universe and I felt in alignment with creation, my soul and higher power.  This space most identify with turmoil and tragedy felt like home to me. It felt like peace.  On Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's "Stages of Grief" I jumped straight to acceptance. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  

 The  Kübler - Ross  model (otherwise known as the five stages of  grief ).

The Kübler-Ross model (otherwise known as the five stages of grief).

     I do not mention my experience of "acceptance" to flaunt my coping skills or suggest that my process was the "right" way for one to navigate the death of her most beautiful dream.  I share this about my process because it deserves to be spoken.  We are all capable of so much more than we recognize.  As Ram Das once said, "who you think you are can’t do it. Who you really are can do it. So that who you think you are dies in the process." Much of who I thought I was died in the operating room August 11, 2016.  As I layed strapped to the gurney surrounded by a hive of frantic medical staff I endured the forceful ejection of my sun... without anesthesia.

     I had had night terrors most of my life, starting around 13.  In these dreams I felt the pain of swords, knives and brute pressure focused directly on my womb.  I would beg for mercy, but the discomfort would not relent. I now understand the night terrors as invaluable preparation, manifest and bestowed through fierce love.  For what I endured in that operating room August 11, 2016 was many leagues more intense than all of my terrifying dreams combined. 

     I learned to navigate my sleep state as best I could so that when I woke in the morning I could function in my roll as middle school student. Generally this didn't work, but I definitely *should* have received an A for effort.  Alas, the educational industrial complex isn't set up to nurture wise women and child priestesses.  Academia has always been one of this life's biggest disappointments, when my honest attempts at "follow the leader" failed miserably and, instead of gold stars, I got detention. 

     I mention this because there will always be those who do not know your heart.  Who do not know your struggle.  And there will never be a shortage of those who are convinced they do, believing that "their wisdom," if applied to your life will "fix" you, right as rain...  But wisdom exists in a vacuum. It can't be xeroxed and offered as cannon to another. Wisdom is demonstrated when we honor another's process, even when that process challenges the narratives of our lives and lived experience.  Setting an intention to develop an open mind (and, more importantly, an open heart) will serve the collective far more than our naivete and convenient molds of conduct.

     And let us endeavor to learn and embody "bereavement ettiquette," familiarizing ourselves with what it really means to hold space for another.


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Kali Ra Iman
August 11, 2016 - August 15, 2016