Another Big Tool for Grief: Dagara Grief Ritual

When my life was suddenly turned upside down, I needed unconventional, and non-traditional ways to not only understand what had happened to me, but I also needed creative ways to help me navigate this new wild world. I felt as if I had been dropped into the middle of a bleak and complicated wilderness without a map, compass, or guide.

So for me with my unexpected and sudden loss, I needed out of the box ways to help it move;

I needed big healing tools.

One of those tools was walking part of the El Camino in France and Spain, (see previous blog).

And another big tool for me was the Dagara Grief Ritual taught to many and me by the amazing and heart-full woman named Sobonfu Somé. Sobonfu is from West Africa, Burkina Faso, and her name means “keeper of ritual.” She realized long ago while hearing a woman sobbing in a bathroom stall in New York City, that she needed to teach westerners how to grieve. As the woman came out of the stall, Sobonfu asked if she was okay, and the woman in typical western culture style, pulled herself into a smile and stated, “I’m fine.”  Yet, she was clearly NOT fine. I am grateful to this woman because Sobonfu knew then that she had to teach us how to grieve.

I was able to attend two of Sobonfu’s rituals before she died in January of 2017. She is now my guide and grief mentor from the other side of the veil and I will be forever grateful to her as she  taught me how to move my grief.

The first time I ever did this beautiful ritual I was with others who studied with Sobonfu. My experience was so deep…I felt as if I had done this before in another time and place AND I also had a clear intuitive knowing that I would be holding grief ritual in some way some day.

And it is so…as I recently led grief ritual at the Arise Festival and I’m also the wing-woman/co-leader with my dear friend Wendy Kaas. Wendy studied with Malidoma Somé (Sobonfu’s ex-husband). Wendy traveled to Burkina Faso and received a blessing from the elders there to continue to hold this ritual in the way that they do. It is such an honor to assist Wendy in this role.

So why do I consider the Dagara style grief ritual a big healing tool?

Like that woman in the bathroom stall, we in the west are experts at privatizing our grief-we keep it to ourselves and hesitate to let others see the negative confusing emotions that accompany such a devastating loss. Yet what else can we be when thrust into the bowels of grief?

I won’t go into the details of what we do during ritual. This is ritual, a sacred community process that cannot be explained here in this blog. It is sacred time that I don’t want to place here on social media, rather, it is a time to tune into a very different kind of technology-the one that reverently involves nature, the elements, and the ancestors.

I encourage you to experience it yourself. In fact we are hosting one on August 24th, a very special day for me as it is my birthday. So yes, I truly am the Grief Freak if I said yes to doing grief ritual on my birthday. And actually, I wouldn’t want to do anything else-this is how much I love the ritual. It’s truly an honor to be in community and help each other grieve in this very sacred way.

I am so grateful that I found this ritual. I did the first one 14 months post accident, so I was still in acute grief. (Acute grief according to Megan Devine can be anywhere from the 1st days to the first few years). However, this ritual can be done at any time post grief. One of the things that Sobonfu used to say is that we need to gather and do this ritual often in order to clean out the pipes of grief. It collects within us and gets stuck, so this ritual is a way to open the grief gates and make more space for the opposite side of the grief coin: love and joy.

And it’s true. Doing this ritual regularly since my loss, has helped me create more capacity for love and joy in my life. Yet, I still have grief, in fact, I grieve everyday. Thus, I really need to do this ritual regularly-to keep it moving within me.

It mainly gave me the opportunity to let those awful, dark and intense emotions move through and out of me.  I will never forget the first time I did this ritual with Sobonfu herself at the beautiful location of Breitenbush hot springs in Oregon. I was like a race horse held back behind the gate that was ready to run. Once she opened the ritual, I ran and placed myself at the grief altar where I spent hours letting out a large amount of rage, sadness, and utter confusion at why my partner’s able body was stolen away in an instant when he broke his neck mountain biking.

I was not only heard and seen in my grief, but I was held and witnessed by the village of fellow grievers that were there also to grieve. You would think it would have been overwhelming to be in a room of sixty people grieving. But it was not. By the end of those 3 days, we had deep connections with each other; grief bonds people together like nothing else.

There is so much more I could say here about why I love this ritual and how much I love my mentor and dear friend Sobonfu. But I will keep it short and hope you will join me. There is still room.

We will gather in a small group of about 20 or so on August 24th from 1pm-8pm.

If you are interested please go here to sign up: https://griefsupportnet.org/programs/grief-rituals/

Be well, and remember…keep your grief moving. And if you need big tools, come do grief ritual with me on my birthday.