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Exploring the Many Facets of Grief: The Importance of a Safe Space for Expression (as inspired by the works of Francis Weller)

What have you been taught about grief / grieving? How have we learned to grieve in our culture? What happens when we don’t have space to grieve and mourn? What are other ways we carry grief that are not directly related to losses?

There is often stigma, judgements, and limitations when it comes to matters of grief. We are taught norms from our family, friends, and community around what is ‘acceptable’ when we are moving through a grief process. There can be limitations in the way we feel we are ‘allowed’ to express our grief as well as others ability to hold space for us and our sorrow. When we do not make space to grieve and mourn others concerns can come to the surface: vulnerability to mental health issues (anxiety and depression); sleep disturbances; withdrawal from work, school, hobbies; and addiction to name a few.

In grief we can feel unseen, invisible to the world that continues to go on while we may feel stuck in the feelings of mourning. This shines a light on the importance of being supported to mourn our losses to have our grief seen, acknowledged and witnessed by others, both in therapy sessions, in group, and in our communities.

To be a therapist we need to do our own grief work we need to know the territory to be comfortable to do this work with clients. I have been engaged in my own grief process throughout my life, but the most recent and profound experience of my own personal grief with was when I was attending the Kutenai Art Therapy Association and my professor Millie Cumming introduced us to the book by Francis Weller The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief.

This book shook off many of the limitations I had placed on myself and my definition of grief. It also helped me to name other ways I had been carrying grief that I had a felt sense of but was not able to put into words. The other important piece for me was being witnessed and seen by others in the group, being held in my sorrow in a safe space.

Francis Weller puts forward the concept of the Five Gate of Grief
The Five Gates of Grief:

  1. everything that we love we will lose
  2. the place that have not known love
  3. the sorrows of the world
  4. what we expected and did not receive
  5. ancestral grief

The first gate relates to the loss of people, animals, places, and things in our lives that have meaning to us. This includes illness and loss of experiencing the world the way we are used to

The second gate opens to the tender places within us that have know known kindness or compassion, the places the are banished to the fringes of ourselves and wrapped in shame.

The third gate of grief opens when we register the losses of the world around us. Much of the grief we carry is not personal but is shared with communities around the world.

The fourth gate holds within it what we did not receive, including the things that we may not even realize that we have lost: our ongoing to belong and have purpose. The narrative that we have told ourselves about what our lives will look like. The loss of feeling part of a community.

The fifth gate shows us the grief we carry in our bodes unconsciously that is the sorrow of our ancestors. Much of this may be unspoken, unacknowledged and passed down through the generations.

The Wild Edge of Sorrow explains that grief has always been communal and illustrates how we need others to witness and hold space for our grief, an atmosphere of compassion, and the comfort of ritual in order to move through and move with our grief. Weller describes how we often hide our pain from the world, and the importance of not fearing grief but instead turning towards it.

Find your people, the community you feel safe with and talk about your grief. Journal about your grief. Create art about your grief. Find a therapist you can connect with around this topic in a way that feels meaningful to you. 

Because of my own personal experience being in an art therapy group as well as professionally holding groups for 10+ years around the topic of grief and loss I know deeply as both a participant and facilitator the power of group and how being seen and held in a safe and sacred way can be transformative. It is for those reasons that I will be holding a group here at safe harbour exploring what we have discussed in this podcast; grief and the multiple ways it can manifest in us, how we experience it, the power of making meaning through art / journalling, and the healing that comes with being held and witnessed.

The group will be held at Safe Harbour 1-161 Stafford St. Mondays from 6:00-8:00 (with a 15 minutes break.) The group starts Monday May 25th and will run for five weeks with the final group being held on Monday June 22nd. The cost will be $250 per person and the group size will be limited to a max of eight participants. 

Please e-mail me at: for more information, to sign up for the group, or to book an individual session.

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