Noting these words by author Jamie Anderson, Bernadette Pleasant, founder of The Emotional Institute, said, “What Jamie Anderson says resonates through me and helps me to understand grief better.”
Pleasant, along with Sara Nics, is co-creator of “Grief Ritual,” a virtual event, which takes place on Sunday, May 23, 2021 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The two women began having the recurring rituals in March 2020.
“Sara and I had the opportunity several years ago to attend a grief ritual,” said Pleasant. “It was a fascinating experience. I had been doing grief work for years prior to that, but to be a student was a breath of fresh air. Sarah and I met at the event, which was lifechanging and beautiful. She felt that the world needed more events like that and suggested that I do specific work dealing with grief. I thought it was a beautiful idea.
“We planned to do it in person before the COVID-19. But after the pandemic hit, we felt there was an even greater need because there was more grief present. The pandemic brought it forward more vividly. More people were grieving and having to push through.”
Pleasant approximates the upcoming Grief Ritual is number 12 of the ones presented thus far by The Emotional Institute, which she describes as a safe, inclusive place to learn about emotions in theoretical, practical, and embodied ways.
“Ideally, it’s done in person,” said Pleasant who facilitates the Grief Rituals. “There are some things you can’t do hands-on, such as hugging. There is healing that comes with the human touch, and a soothing nature that humans do when someone is grieving. Doing this virtually meant making some adjustments. We were pleased we went on and did it because there was such a need. We realized Zoom could only hold 100 people. I had to expand it because more and more people kept coming.”
Pleasant draws on the tradition of African American women as natural healers, and conducts private coaching and public speaking.
“The Grief Ritual draws all ages, genders and ethnicities,” she said. “It creates a space where people feel safe to come. They can be on screen, or not be on screen. They can rave and howl as long as they are muted and not a distraction. Anyone who joins us can do it their way in a community. There is something about being witnessed. It means making dedicated time and being in a community of people and acknowledging ‘I am not okay.’ It’s an act of courage to show up in that Zoom room.”
Pleasant described the Grief Rituals, which she says run 90 minutes. “We invite people in— all parts of them by welcoming them into the space. We welcome them in whether their hair is straight, kinky, bald or whatever. We invite them to say the names of ancestors. If there is someone a person has lost, they say that person’s name. We do it in unison. We pour them in and bring them in our space because they are in our hearts. We also use water and fire.
The water holding the tears— and the fire representing burning away. It creates a new.
“We also have movement. Grief tends to lock the body, and that holds on to grief. We keep the body moving. We also share suggestions of aftercare, how to take care of themselves, eating, journaling, taking a slow walk, and talking to someone about their grief. Many of our rituals end in celebration. When expressing grief, you have space for celebration. Through the tears there is room to move and celebrate.”
Pleasant said at its height, the online sessions drew more than 200 people, with the median age for most participants being 40s and 50s.
“The numbers are tapering off with the world opening back up, but we will still offer these rituals,” said Pleasant, noting that while free, donations are accepted. “This is a space for all people. We all feel something whether you have lost a special person in your life, a job, a pet, or something else. It’s our desire that if people make time for themselves, it makes for a kinder world. If they see another human grieving, they make time for them.”
For more information or to register, visit https://www.theemotionalinstitute.com/grief-rituals.