Ancestral Grief

I look back towards my last shore as I catch my breath upon this new land I’ve called Freedom and it’s there, on that shore I have left behind. A glimmer of something that pulls me to my feet. A calling that yanks at my core. It is something I can’t rationalize, but something I cannot ignore. I am feeling something bigger and grander than my mind can even imagine. It doesn’t have words and nor should it. Words belittle this deep ache.

My feet are sunk into the ground, the sand and soil and rock are holding me in place. They have steadied my foundation. I can feel roots sprouting from the soles of my feet and it is in this moment I realize I am not only being held by this place but I have been craving this for centuries. I am being told that there is something in this land I am responsible for. That inside this rapture, this oasis, this Freedom that I have found the power to remain.

My hands reach down into the ground to welcome it into my nails and into the creases of my knuckles and into my scars. The earth is nestling into me just as much as I am in it. This land is claiming me. It has told me I will belong soon. It is asking me to stay. It is vibrating and beating through me in a way that only ancestors could know. Not just my ancestors but all ancestors. It is telling me that everything I have been looking for, that future-proofing and opportunity has always been in the places I have continually left behind. That those beats and vibrations are coming in from every shore I have pillaged.

That the pulse of it is connected to me. That I am the ancestors, that these lands have been waiting for me to stop looking across horizons and to start feeling their bedrock. To place my heart on these shores, to courageously stay. To crack the core of my intellectual shell and trust what raw humility is buried deep in this fortress of opportunity.

I break open in a wild range of sorrowful wails. A lamentation and celebration happening all at once. A space that isn’t driven by purpose, but one driven out from my control. One that simply cannot yet be described and only felt.

The pulse fills my ears, the spirit of the experience is rising up through the ground and into my body. I am craving more…I’m starving yet surrounded by nourishment. And I am exhausted. It’s a desire so deep that I am losing touch. I cannot hold on no matter how hard or fast or slow I swim. Because I am just tired of trying. Trying to get more, be more, find more, discover more. I am tired of what MY ancestors called opportunity.

And I am finally realizing that my ancestors are tired too. My ancestors are tired of raping and pillaging. I sink into the ground and wrap myself in this realization. The smell of children’s blood on my ancestors’ hands. The wails of grandmothers, mothers, fathers, and children not only for themselves but for this land. The moments when my ancestors knew that they had gone too far but went on anyway.

When my ancestors chose me over everything else.

I live inside those years when my ancestors were driven by opportunity only. Where their ignorance and craving for more led them to be the nightmares of children today. Where we are still experiencing the results of all of their crimes. Because those crimes have become our crimes and our hands are bloodied as well.

I sink into the pulse of this land and I finally find them. They are telling me that this is not what it was all for. That they are grieving their ignorance. You see, they thought they were doing this for us when in fact they did this to us. They are grieving that in all of their drive towards opportunity, they failed to remember. That they actively chose to ignore the wisdom of their elders when they decided to choose opportunity over everything else.

They grieve the choice to have become heroes instead of elders. They are not only grieving what they have done but also what have they created. And they have created us. The future ancestors of this land and these people.

There will be no reconciliation with people or land until we can collectively claim and grieve for our ancestors. To grieve not only because of them but for them. Could it be that our ancestors need us just as much as we need them? Could it be that every missing Indigenous woman, every toxic spill, or every school shooting is a cry from our ancestors to wake the fuck up?

I am cracking ever deeper as the pulse shakes the fog from my bones and I find it there. A grief that started long before my ancestors decided to leave their shores looking for Freedom. A grief not only for everything they left behind but a grief for their ancestors who called and were never claimed. A grief that we are again not hearing their call.

Could this grief still be love? Could I grieve everything my ancestors forgot and still love them for the sake of everything they killed to bring me here? Could I honour what they could not? Can I do that for them and also despite them? Could all ancestors need us to collectively grieve all that was and can never be again? Can we earn belonging?

Could these pieces live together in this land? There was a time when they did. Where hatred, ignorance, grief, and love existed together. The bones of my ancestors are in graves shared by the Huron’s, the Lnu’k, the French, and the English. Could it be that together these ancestors are begging for us to stop?

And that this begging is their love song? A sorrow-filled song, a plea. A song sung in the pulse of this land, that smells of ignorance, blood, and death but also of acceptance, forgiveness, and love.

It is our grief song that the ancestors are longing to hear.

Sarah Hines
Sarah Hineshttps://www.ameaningfuldeath.com/
I met a man one blurry night in Manhattan, and little did I know, he would be the soil in which my passion for grief work was to be planted. He had been rejected by his family for his life choices and was preparing for death without them. Helping him through his struggle to come to terms with his love for them and in turn his forgiveness while going through treatments, rejection, and coming to terms with his own death and grief was an unimaginable amount of stress and it literally set me in activism mode. It was shortly after his death, I completed training in Palliative Care Home Hospice. I volunteered in men’s homes for 5 years before the medications became reliable and being gay wasn’t always breaking family ties. Some of the most amazing times I have had in my life have been in the homes of dying. Strange, yes.. but so beautifully honest and raw. I then completed the Children’s Palliative Care Training and dove into the heartbrokenness of dying children. It is in these years I really came to understand just how fickle death can be and how much we embrace death and our grief. It seems that in times of what we would consider the most unimaginable, we are able to find glimmers of beauty, cracks of light and the nourishment in tears. Over the last 20 years, I have carried on with my education in a variety of ways including Coach and Leadership Training, Orphan Wisdom School and Grief Groups. My connection into corporate grief has been slow. It’s something that most organizations do not want to think about. I am inspired by those that see value in bringing grief work into the way they lead teams through uncertainty and the trust this work builds.

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  1. What a powerful, riveting essay, Sarah. Thank you for offering this perspective of the ancestors, the grief that many people are now experiencing (if they hadn’t before this moment), the connections to the land, the past, the struggles, the desires, the costs of those aspirations. We must go backwards to heal the unhealed wounds and traumas that keep leaking out sideways in our culture now. Just like individual human beings can rarely move fully forward without sitting with, looking right, and then resolving their past unhealed hurts and traumas in their hearts, souls, minds, and bodies. Feeling the deep remorse, the impact hurtful words and deeds had on another human being remains an essential step in the healing process-in the commitment to alter the way we would respond in the future, to cultivating a profound compassion for ourselves and other human beings including the ancestors. Thank you so much for this essay that provoked much inside of my heart and mind.

  2. Thank you, Sarah.
    No matter how dysfunctional or fabulous our culture was before the pandemic, it’s forever disjointed now. There’s no magical going back. We need grieving to acknowledge it and to accept that pain will always find a way out, either in partnership with us or sideways through emotional discharges that seem disconnected from events.
    I’m engaged in a podcast right now, back2different. It’s people’s stories about how they see us pushing forward rather than pushing back.
    Be good. And well.
    mMac

    • Thank you Mac – I appreciate your perspective. I do think the Culture of North American is disjointed and I am grateful that it is all coming to the surface. I am going back – I think we have to. We have to go back to before our ancestors got on those ships and decided to leave everything behind for the sake of “Freedom” and for the sake of “opportunity.” We need to go back and grieve what was lost. Grieve what it meant to belong to a land, to a village, to our elders.

      We will never be able to fully reconcile, understand or feel like we belong without understanding what we lost.

      I look forward to listening to your podcast Mac. May your “forward” include a deep appreciation for the past.

      Sarah

  3. This piece is captivating, Sarah. Your ability to bring us on this insightful journey breathes a different perspective into thinking. Thank you for writing such a compelling essay that causes one to step back, sit back, and think about what and who connects us. I appreciate your point of view and will be thinking about this for a while.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

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