‘We are not meant to grieve alone’: Communal grief retreat explores importance of grieving

A blanket on the ground, covered with natural items such as antlers, flowers, and rocks.
An altar used in ritual at Saturday's communal grief retreat. Photo by Eddy Sweeney.
Edward Sweeney - CFFF - PeterboroughON | 30-11-2023
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

On Saturday, Mila Redwood and Michael McCarthy organized their first communal grief retreat in Peterborough at Camp Kawartha’s Environment Center, drawing 25 attendants from across the province. It was a day designed to help people process their own grief, but also embrace the importance and complexity of grieving.

“We are not meant to grieve alone. All of us come from lineages of ancestors who, in their own unique ways, have come together to grieve, for all of time,” says Redwood.

Redwood and McCarthy have taken inspiration from other cultures, and past cultures, to embrace communal grieving as an aspect of building community. The goal of their grief tending is to reintroduce these practices as a better way of engaging with grieving.

The communal grief retreat was split into two parts: the first was an introduction, intended to get people in the proper state of mind to feel comfortable sharing personal, and intense, feelings, while the second part of the day consisted of “ritual,” as McCarthy says.

“We engage in ritual. And I realize that is a word that requires a little bit of unpacking, but it is, essentially, we create a space where people can, hopefully, let go of their day-to-day mind and worries, and drop in to a more raw, and vulnerable expression of grief.”

Michael McCarthy and Mila Redwood at Camp Kawartha Environment Center, waiting for attendants of the communal grief retreat to arrive. Photo by Eddy Sweeney.

McCarthy says that everyone expresses their grief differently: some are silent, some cry, some feel rage, and it is all welcome at the retreat. They are cautious to make sure people are physically safe, but also feel comfortable and supported to express what they are feeling. An important part of what they do at the retreat is community singing, which Redwood has been practicing for over 10 years.

Another essential part of their work is the teaching of Francis Weller, author of a book called The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the sacred work of grief. Weller has a philosophy of the Five Gates of Grief, which they use in their retreat to explain complex ways of grieving people may not recognize.

This is the first communal grief retreat Redwood and McCarthy have organized in Peterborough, but they hope to continue running them. Their goal is to hold a grief retreat monthly, but it will start as a seasonal event.

Learn more about their work at their website.

Listen to the story below: