My friend Peter Gilmore invited me to Sandpoint to address the local Hospice volunteers regarding the subject of grief and healing from a Native American perspective. Of course, I only represent one of thousands of possible viewpoints, but I hoped that our conversation would create greater awareness regarding a diversity of cultural experiences.
In my view, grief and healing is an organic process that requires time, patience, and community support. Unfortunately, our modern reality often forces us to disconnect from the natural rhythms of healing. When our loved ones die, we surrender their bodies to strangers who dress and prepare them for burial. We then gather for an hour-long funeral service, after which strangers take the body away and bury it. The whole process is brief, mechanical, and largely scripted. It hardly allows time to truly honor the memory of the deceased. Even worse, our jobs may allow two or three "bereavement days" and then expect us to return as to work as normal. We fail to recognize the basic healing process of grief and we wonder why we encounter so much dysfunction in society.
In contrast, most Native communities recognize the importance of personal and community grieving. Our traditions have given us extended rituals for communal mourning and support. We engage the process in a deeply personal way, and as a result, I believe we have the opportunity for a healthier relationship with death.
In that sense, Hospice helps to fill the gaps left by the dominant culture. I support their work and encourage them to develop their own rituals for honoring the mysteries of life and death.
After my presentation, Peter introduced me to the Healing Gardens. What a beautiful place!