“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” (Oscar Wilde)

Posted on April 4, 2024 by Rev. Pam Reidy under educating for grief and loss
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Ever since I began preparing for our recent Sharing Hope Bereavement Seminar I’ve been thinking a lot about sorrow. The content of the seminar was born from reading Francis Weller’s excellent book on grief and ritual, The Wild Edge of Sorrow. (https://www.amazon.com/Wild-Edge-Sorrow-Rituals-Renewal/dp/1583949763)

Weller views griefwork as standing before five gates, each summoning us to the sacred space in our loss. These gates do not offer passage through the grief journey with carefully designed stages, but rather are landmarks in an “apprenticeship with grief.” These gates are always before us, we are perpetually walking through. When we experience a painful loss these gates help us to right our relationship with sorrow. The gates are applicable to many kinds of loss, not only death loss, in fact, often a death loss raises other types of losses to the surface (marriage/divorce, loss of a job, loss of standing in community or a family, loss of physical health, loss of youth). Weller’s five gates give us a wider view, offer entry to our inner landscape, and allow a path forward. This blog considers the third gate, the one at which we meet the sorrows of the world.

While I have relished living my entire life as a planetary pilgrim with a robust communal identity, there are times when I need to tune down the world. This happens when the sorrows of the world overcome my broken, bursting or anxious heart and I cannot embrace any more of the world’s pain. Fortunately, it is not a frequent occurrence. I have come to recognize my need to pull back as a precious time to examine the influence of the sorrows of the world on me. When we grieve, the accumulated sorrow of the losses of the world can become fused with our personal loss. Simply watching the nightly news, which I dare say is nearly 90% bad news, can distort our emotions and compound our loss.

Weller considers healthy grief as communal. While sorrow is personal, there is always a public dynamic, sorrow is always shared. Every time I say, “I’m so sorry” to a griever, I silently berate myself for saying something so obviously trite and unhelpful. But after considering Weller’s gate of the sorrows of the world, I am re-thinking this greeting. Surely, the world’s sorrow, whether it involves a stranger from Gaza experiencing famine, or the 2018 summertime rescue of the football team in Thailand, causes me to feel a deep sadness. When I walk the rail trails of Massachusetts and see litter, or gaze over a pond with trash, my heart sinks.  When I experience the very real divisions in democracy or think about the latest siren call announcing an Amber alert, I mourn.  I grieve every time I hear of a mass shooting. I truly am sorry for all these things and more. I genuinely care about the pain another person experiences and I do mourn the community losses. Being a citizen of the world can be dangerous to the heart and I am ever mourning at the gate of the sorrows of the world. When I experience a loss in my life, when I share a death loss with people I know personally or professionally, I sincerely am sorry for their loss. My heart breaks because theirs does. I understand what it feels like to be sad, tired, or overcome with the ache that a death loss brings. I see they are in pain, and I am sorry for their loss, recognizing it is only one of many sorrows I meet each day.

I agree with Weller that we are all apprentices, not only with grief, but with sorrow. As apprentices we must become skilled experts, standing at the gate of the world’s sorrows and our own. We pause at sorrow’s gate to open to the pains of our planet. Here we learn to honor and hold anguish even as we move through it, recommitting ourselves to grief’s healing work. Personal loss and the world’s deep sorrows teach us, encouraging growth in compassion, mercy and kindness.

The next time I hear myself saying, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I will be a little gentler with myself, recalling I am an apprentice standing at the gate of the sorrows of the world.

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