Saturday, 13 December 2014

The ritual of grief - remembering those who died at work

My last post was in early October. I've been pondering why I have not been feeling the compulsion to write. It wasn't that I was "blocked", I could still write easily and freely when required. Fellow writers and regular readers kept telling me how much they hoped I would start to write again. This was lovely feedback and support, but still the desire wasn't there.

A few weeks ago I realised what had happened. I had so much going on in my life that I just couldn't talk about publicly. The filtering was so much harder. After the filtering, the sifting through what was left to see if there was anything available to spin a story of interest to readers. There wasn't.

So much of my writing is based on observing the behaviour and interactions of others and thinking about the encounters that I have out in the world. When many of my interactions became confidential or deeply personal, I could not filter enough; or filtered so much that there was a mere speck of a detail left. I may as well write about the dust on top of the fridge!

This week, all of that has been shaken out of the way with two experiences. The first experience I can't write about just now, the second one happened today.

Today I sang as a member of vocal group Mood Swing at a service to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have died from work-related causes. The annual remembrance service is conducted by the Uniting Church's Creative Ministries Network, GriefWork and I knew that it would be a sombre, sad occasion. I also know that sometimes my empathetic nature makes it hard for me to be in this kind of situation without being emotionally moved.

Families, workmates and other members of the community came to share a ritual of grief with their community. As I listened to the reflections, prayers and personal experiences I was moved by the courage on display. Death is part of what it is to be human, but it is so much worse when that death was preventable and far too early. I was struck by the open way in which tears and grief were discussed in the coolness of the church. The summer sun illuminated gloriously the stained glass windows, their stories reminding us about death and sacrifice. These workers who died because of something at their workplace were not martyrs for a cause or a better world. They were innocent people, going about their daily lives and earning a living to support themselves and their families. To work is one of the most revered activities in our contemporary world and it has so many casualties.

I was shocked to hear so many of the deaths were suicides caused by workplace bullying. How can this happen? How can it be so severe as to go unnoticed, with the victim left unsupported with only one, terrible solution available to them? I could feel my anger stirring.

Woven stories - the commemorative quilt.
© 2014 divacultura
Candles were lit, illuminating the photographs and mementos bringing lost loved ones into our hearts. A memorial quilt was unfurled and hung beneath the big window. Names of those lost were read. Each new gesture renewed my tears as grief and anger swelled inside me.

One woman, Olive, spoke about the loss of her husband 10 years ago. He was shot at work. Their son was 6 months old at the time. Olive is an amazing woman. She showed courage as she spoke about the deeply personal relationship she has with her grief and her struggle. She spoke about thoughts being the language of the mind and feelings being the language of the body. On the subject of forgiveness, she spoke about the challenge and how she has recently realised that forgiveness isn't for the person who pulled the trigger and it can't change the past; it's for her. Through forgiveness she acknowledges she can become a bigger, stronger person. We all can. I examined who in my life I need to forgive.

After the service, I thanked her for sharing and acknowledged her courage in speaking the way she did. She looked uncertain and asked me if it was "all right". I responded: "You are extraordinary and what you did today was an amazing privilege to witness." Tears filled her eyes. Tears filled my eyes. She hugged me.

The inclusion of music in such a service is a beautiful and inspired choice. The songs we sang today were all part of our repertoire and I can regularly sing them without tears flowing. Today, a new poignancy was discovered in the words. The program promised songs of "justice, sorrow and hope". We sang:

He's Sweet I Know
Waiting on an Angel
Don't feel no ways tired
Come and stand in that river
Lean on me
Irish Blessing.

At the end of the service we stood in a circle and were invited to say something about our experience of the service. (Such an inclusive act, not just the  priest or designated authority allowed to speak!) A woman standing next to me patted my arm and asked me if I was all right. Unlike me, she had lost someone and was enquiring into my well being!

Thoughtful, simple rituals, can be so powerful in helping us express and come together to share our feelings, whether they be sad or joyful. How I miss them in daily life.

I left the church thinking about the death of cricketer Phil Hughes who suffered death in his workplace. The simple act of the community at large placing cricket bats outside, bears out the power and importance of ritual to help us heal.

© 2014 divacultura

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