'Tis the season, and a number of colleagues have sent me this useful piece about making this time of year more than a performative, almost competitive, excuse for the same kind of celebration people have at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year.
"The phrase “I haven’t allowed myself to grieve” comes up time and again. One friend hasn’t allowed herself to grieve for her mum for 11 years. Another drifted from someone she adored and never felt she had permission to mourn them. A pal describes her love and grief for her dog Buddy as tied up with her longing for a baby. We also share joy and memories. My sister brings my other hilarious, powerful granny. A friend shares the story of a grandad who brought him pure and uncomplicated joy."
The Western Christian church dedicates this time of year to the rituals of Hallowtide variously called All Saints, All Hallows Eve, All Hallows, All Souls, and all religions and cultures have a season when they remember the dead, it's a human need. Although many of these rituals are not as solemn as Hallowtide they all acknowledge Ancestors and therefore speak to something about identity, lineage, belonging and loss.
Most of us in the West have no idea what to do with our Ancestors. Samhain marks the beginning of winter, the return of livestock and the people who cared for them from higher pastures, the final harvest and serious preparation for winter, and organised events to reestablish living indoors with people you may not have seen for 6 months. "All is safely gathered in" includes the beloved dead. Now, we are allowed a couple of weeks off after our mother dies and then we get back to work as if nothing has changed. Indeed, work distracts us from what can be a cataclysmic loss. In the UK, the loss of a baby before 24 weeks gestation does not entitle the parents to any time off work, and the law offering parents of a stillborn child two weeks paid time off only came into force in 2020. There's something inhumanly mechanistic about all of this: 'entitlement' to grief having to be legislated for is barbaric.
Display pictures of your dead. Frame them if you haven't already. There's still time to ask for their names to be read out in your local church. If religion isn't for you then at the White Spring in Glastonbury names of the dead will be read out on 31 October and you can send yours in via Facebook, where you can also take a look at Death Cafes. You can, of course, simply say their names yourself.
None of us will escape grief, it is the price of love. The New Normal Charity is one of my favourite organisations supporting people who are bereaved. Free, peer to peer meetings "changing the way we discuss our grief, mental health and well-being in open and honest spaces. Nobody should ever feel isolated, and there is always somebody who will relate to your story."
You'll find many more bereavement support groups via the MIND website.