In order to fully express grief there must also be mourning. Cultural, religious and societal expectations help us with
this expression. Going through the motions can elevate grief
to the surface when one is emotionally stuck or numb. For
some, grief and mourning are akin to the relationship bet ween
heart and head. Culturally, some choose to focus more on the
outward community experience of mourning than on the
personal feelings of grief in their bereavement.
If you break down the personal realm of grief, you see that
your physical body plays a big role: you have a heart, you have
a brain, and more recently scientists have even added the gut
onto the list of organs involved in the chemistry of emotions.
Each of these can be affected physiologically by loss. For
some, using pharmaceutical agents to soften the depression,
anxiety and sleeplessness that often attend grief is a helpful
option. It is known that the physiological response to grief
can wreak havoc on the neurotransmitters serotonin and
dopamine. Antidepressants and antianxiety medications
as well as sleep aids have been beneficial for many, particularly in the acute phases of loss. Although medicating in such
instances is controversial, as some believe drugs prevent
grief from attaining its full expression, this palliative is generally accepted and widespread.
Whether we rely upon the cultural and faith-based
mourning rituals we were raised with or create our own, the
attention we bring to the process is an opportunity to gently
and organically begin our journey through loss to a state of
acceptance, comfort and even transformation.
It is important during this period to remember what
Buddha said: “All that is born dies. All those who gather are
eventually separated. All is impermanent. Nothing lives forever. This is the Natural Law. Embrace it and flourish; resist
it and suffer even more.”
The Bottom Line
No matter how you grieve and mourn, one question must be
addressed: what to do with the body?
The national median cost for a funeral in 2012 was
$7,045. Burial rates have been on a steady decline since
the 1980s and as of 2012 were at 48. 7 percent versus cremation rates of 46. 7 percent. It is projected that by 2030,
cremation rates will surpass burial rates at more than 70
percent (according to the U. S. Census Bureau and National
Funeral Directors Association). Although some mortuaries and funeral homes are religion specific, many cater to
diverse segments of the population.
Mill Valley’s Fernwood Funeral Home focuses on combining burial rituals with land restoration. It’s a full-service
funeral home and crematory that welcomes “people from all
religions and spiritual traditions, including one entirely your
own.” But Fernwood is not alone in encouraging people to
craft their own traditions.
BJ Miller, executive director of Zen Hospice in San
Francisco and a longtime Marin County resident, is a strong
advocate for intention and creativity in the experience of
dying and grieving. The hospice has developed a ritual of pausing in the garden when wheeling a body out of the gate after
death. Anyone who wishes can share a story, a song, or perhaps
even a bit of silence while flower petals from the garden are
sprinkled over the body. Miller believes this brief ceremony
creates a sweet, simple parting image to usher in grief and
warmth rather than repugnance. He observes that the drivers hired to transport the bodies to the mortuary have also
started to participate in this ritual.
“In short, I don’t think in the U.S. we honor grief well,”
Miller says. “We don’t see its vital relationship to love. We
don’t give it space. Grief smells like depression, and depression
isn’t OK. The ‘get back on the horse’ mentality is rewarded
here in the U. S. Not sitting quietly petting the horse with tears
running down your face. It’s a shame, because there is a lot of
beauty and respect in the latter.” M