Updated: Jan 3
In honor of these last weeks before the equinox, before the Autumn comes around again, before the days of the opening that we associate with the underworld, the ancestors, and the dead, I want to honor the energy that we know as grief.
We all meet grief in different forms, at different times throughout our lives. There is no one way, no rules, no order or logic to how and when we spend time with grief.
Death is one of the strongest aspects we associate with grief, but we can grieve people who are still alive. We can grieve our past, our childhoods, our relationships.
We can grieve the end of an era. We can grieve a place, a concept, a thought.
The side of grief that is death, no one can escape. At least, no one escapes dying or knowing that everyone they know will one day die. And that is a comfort to me. It reminds me that I am not alone, that you are not alone. How we grieve is up to us, and to the collective.
I was initiated into grief at the age of four when my maternal grandmother, Nani, and my father died within 5 months of each other. I turned 5 two weeks after my father went off to the great mystery. I fell into a grief ceremony that I am still in.
At that time and place there was no grief container for me other than my body. Shortly after my fathers death, I contracted bronchitis.
Throughout my childhood and teenaged years, my grief went through so many waves: repressed, dismissed, misunderstood. Because it had not been fully witnessed, because it had not yet transformed, the grief stayed in the most agonizing places in my body and mind, in the throat and heart and gut. I still had not seen my grief or let anyone else. At the same time, I always felt a sense of connection with death and grief.
That I, without knowing how to articulate it yet, or how to comprehend it in my youth, had a special initiation-though hard and tragic. I had been handed a key early on, one that many don’t receive until adulthood.
When I was in my twenties, a friend whose mother had passed when she was a teen asked if it gets better with time. I said no without hesitating. But then I added, it doesn’t get better, it changes, it goes in waves. She seemed simultaneously disappointed and relived by my answer.
As the years went by, I began to seek out others who openly expressed and talked about their grief through interviews, books, documentaries, music, religion, spirituality. I saw more and more that the most universal experiences we have besides love, is grief. I deepened into suffering as life, deepened into the sorrowful mother, the mother goddess, the one who wears her grief and suffering.
And then I just sat in it, in the grief. I sat with it in every way. I saw it. I looked at it. I spoke, sang, and danced with it. I deepened into the elements, I deepened my relationship with the plants who my ancestors associated with grief. And I am still in it, still here sitting with my grief.
For years I have associated what we call Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) with grief. I knew that they were planted at and around Cemeteries and graves, and that they were associated with death, the underworld, and grieving. But I didn’t know much more than that.
This past June I found myself in Sicily, in the Madonie Mountains, co-facilitating an amazing pilgrimage, Botanico Sacro, something that had been in the making for 3 years with MaryBeth Bonfigilo of Radici Siciliane and Jade Alicandro Mace of Milk and Honey Herbs. When we arrived at the property we were staying at, we walked around and immediately spotted a circle of mature Cypress down from the main house. I was drawn instantly and said, "well, here is our grief circle".
We sat with these trees, and I very clearly heard "you are here to work with the cypress".
Shortly after this, I abruptly left, before the program began, due to a combination of a COVID scare and a reaction to a medication I was taking.
My grief swelled. I went to Catania to fly back to California, and wandered the streets crying. I let down people who I care for deeply. I abandoned a dream. I left a place that I never want to leave. I grieved an experience I had looked forward to for so long, I had been so honored to be part of this. We had dreamed it into existence.
My grief was at max capacity.
I thought of the cypress circle I had just sat with and their Greek Mythology origin story.
I, like Cyparissus had caused my own grief.
The Myth Briefly:
Apollo was in love with Cyparissus, and Cyparissus had a beloved stag who he accidentally killed. Cyparissus was overcome with grief-he had killed what he loved so much, and he felt terrible, awful, inconsolable. And so he was compelled to stay in mourning for his beloved animal companion forever, so he prayed to Apollo to grant him this. Apollo listened and he turned him into a cypress tree, and so became the Greco-Roman tree symbol for grief and mourning. The Cypress tree cries tears, a resin that drips down the trunk, showing the grief they hold. They grow vertically, constant movement between the heavens and the underworld.
They communicate with those of us who know grief. We recognize each other.
Van Gogh was someone who also was called by the Cypress. He compared them to Egyptian Obelisks.
In 1889, the last year of his life, Van Gogh entered himself into an asylum in Saint-Remy. He sought mental health support. During his months at the asylum, the last year of his life, he became preoccupied with the Cypress trees growing around. He painted 15 Cypress tree scenes during that time.
So this all brings me to this:
A couple of weeks ago, on the day that would be the 113th birthday of my Nani, I had a conversation about grief with my friend, the writer and ancestralist MaryBeth Bonfiglio.
She recorded it and you can listen to it on her Substack.
My latest upcoming offering:
If you would like to explore more chthonic world relationships join me for
Sotto: A workshop around the underworld and our relationship with it.
Sotto is deepening our connection with the underworld. We will spend time with deities, energies, the medicine and traditions of the underworld. This will center around Mediterranean cultures, but also will touch on the underworld thread that connects all.
More information and to sign up click below
Top image of me with Cypress circle, Sicilia
Photo by Jade Alicandro Mace
Other images found;
Etching from Fine arts Museums SF Apollo and Cyparissus
Cypresses 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh
Road with Cypresses and Star 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh