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  • Alisha Emerald

The Wild Edge of Sorrow

"It was through the dark waters of grief that I came to touch my unlived life. There is some strange intimacy between grief and aliveness, some sacred exchange between what seems most unbearable and what is most exquisitely alive"

I have a rocking chair in my office. It's covered in pillows and blankets, and I sit here and drink my coffee in the light of dawn, rocking back and forth, holding vigil for my grief. I am learning that if I want to live well, I need to learn how to grieve well.

These moments of holding my grief have come to feel sacred to me. I have been thrown deep into the waters, and while some days it feels overwhelming some days it feels like a gift. In a culture, a society, that prides moving on as quickly as possible, swallowing your emotions and mustering up the courage to press on, grieving is a rebellious act but oh how necessary it is.

I've had the privilege of learning recently from a number of different grief teachers. Yoga classes, breathwork, storytelling, photography, digging into my ancestral roots and my medical ones, attending support groups and solitary pilgrimages, observing and honouring the sacred presence of birth and practising alchemy rituals. Each one of them has given me something different as I navigate this path.

Grief in the transplant community isn't openly discussed. We'd rather focus on things like a second chance at life. But the second life opens up a portal for a canyon of grieving over the first life that is now over. I hold in my body the organ of someone who died, who's family no longer gets to see their face or hear their laugh, who no longer gets to run bare foot in the grass or have ice cream leak down their chin. The enormity of that loss and that privilege is not lost on me. And besides the physical holding of death, the acclimation of this new organ to the climate of my body, there are also the smaller physical griefs like having to relearn how to walk, or the loss of feeling in my abdomen. There is the loss of community, as being immunocompromised during Covid has taken away the collective experience that is so necessary to the healing process, the loss of home while we lived away for a few months, and returning to an environment that remains unchanged while everything about me is different. There are the smaller griefs, the daily blows of unstable lab work, another necessary surgery, another scan, another biopsy, each filled with the fear that this could all be taken from me in a moment's notice.

And somehow it seems that one wide grief opens up to another, and by allowing room for my body to bear the weight of this enormous grief others have risen to the surface. The loss of my child. The loss of my fertility. The grief of waiting for the all clear to begin growing our family, and for the babies I long to mother a world away. There is the grief of abuse suffered and my voice silent, of years of medical trauma. The loss of my grandmother, my cousin, every death I never fully mourned because I had to keep pushing through.

I lived in survival mode for so long, unable to stop and really process the grief I was feeling. And now I live on the wild edge of sorrow. Grief consumes me, most days. And I am paying attention.

In ancient cultures, the work of grieving wasn't placed on a time table. A griever was accepted in acute grief for over a year. During that time, the only job of this individual was to grieve. They were considered holy, being closer to the veil between life and death for the loss they had suffered. The ill, those who carried the grief in their physical bodies, were considered to be human shrines. Grieving was sacred. And my own soul aches to go back to that time. A time full of ritual, where the grieving process was honoured, where the entire experience was encompassed and one not just picked through for their parts. One where the work of the griever was simply to grieve, and there was no worry about doing enough or producing enough, where the community would gather around the weary soul and let them know that they too realized that everything had changed.

"We must restore the healing ground of grief. We must find the courage once again to walk its wild edge" Francis Weller

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