Letting Grief / by Megan Hollingsworth

The boy is four years old. He has learned discrimination and hatred founded in a false border that's burning. He's learned revenge.

He hasn't learned how to grieve his father murdered along a burning border drawn on an island. He is mixed of color divided by degree noted by another long enough severed so that only division is imagined.

The boy's father, Melaneo (Eligio Eloy Vargas), a Dominican charged with protecting real social security, was murdered by a Haitian charged with harvesting trees for charcoal. Both of them pawns in perpetual war that ends when soldiers, official and not, like the boy, stop fighting.

To grieve and to pride is human. And grief looks like righteous anger in light of injustice. Pride coupled with splitting pain of traumatic loss is a deadly revenge. Though revenge will not resurrect the boy's father, anger says revenge honors his father's life and revenge will feel better than losing his father and his honor. Honor is worthy. Pride can be virtuous.

Unless he grieves, anger and vengeance born of wounded pride will be the boy’s undoing as he proceeds to undo everything and everyone around him. To end the war is not to strip the boy's pride, already compromised. But to allow him the anger expressed peacefully, yet fiercely. To let the boy wail so that he does not seek to revenge his father’s death by harming the one he has learned to differentiate from himself. Grieving fiercely, yet peacefully, the boy will realize the root of his pain, his likeness with other children, and wish his loss upon none.

He then fosters the power to end war. War can end with him.


The last one seen staggered in unarmed, three years lonely.

By then he had remembered to forget

the screams documenting babies
blown to bits. Walking the creek bed will do that to a man.

Cool water and smooth rock

will remind him of his mother and how she washed
his feet even after he bit her breast until she bled.

The last one alive
had lived long enough after to remember who he was before
the first one was killed,

and so, he walked into the corral politely,
anticipating every kindness.

The able studied one named him ‘man’

DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS,  a feature-length documentary film, relays at length Melaneo's murder, 'black gold' that is charcoal on the island of Hispaniola, and the calculated division that will ruin everyone eventually unless the ruin is grieved.

I recently attended a screening of DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS and wept...silently. After the film, I and other members of the audience rose and exited the theater...silently.

And that silence in response to obscene violence is all that enables perpetuation of such outrageous acts as clear-cutting forest, enslaving workers, trafficking women and children for sex, gunning down the unarmed, poisoning seed and soil, poisoning water and air, and killing birds to maintain 'friendly skies'. How alarming it would be to hear me wail in the theater, though a wail is the healthy emotional reaction to the violence told in DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS, a thousand other documentaries, and honest journalism. How normalized is the violence and the silence that if I were to wail, I would likely be deemed the crazy one. Fear of appearing such an oddity, cast out, keeps me from wailing in public.

But to remain silent witness to atrocities is to deny one's natural reaction is to experience depression. I imagine this is why in response to the work at Extinction Witness, many say, "That sounds depressing." or "That would depress me." When, having grieved thoroughly my personal trauma, the witness is a spiritual practice that actually keeps me from falling to depression because there is, for me, honesty in it. To embody the profound sorrow and creatively express of this is to embody the joy. 

Over-activity and avoidance behavior, including over-consumption, is a grief reaction. Unconscious denial that protects one from pain, though creates great suffering and eventually physical pain as the body tallies the cost. So, to criticize 'deniers' is akin to criticizing a natural resistance to experiencing loss. Understanding grief and then embodying grief rather than skirting around the expression, yields not only relief and restoration of gladness to the senses, but proper response to the loss. Action that is reasonably paced, frugal, and simple - ultimately helpful.

This is not to say denial is not unhelpful and actually very costly with deadly consequence. Denial is all that. And those who are in denial must be protected from harming themselves and others. Rather, this is to suggest gentleness with ourselves and others as we navigate dramatic loss, associated upheaval and unrest. Practicing kindness of thought, speech, and gesture. For there is no getting around that we are all in this together. Only all together can we address the root harms. And in acting together at least the practice in process is peaceful no matter the outcome of the effort. Death is certain, eventually. Living well - integrally - until death, a choice of practice.

Helping the Blind to See

To survive genocide, as to witness ecocide – the annihilation of the whole community - is to remind a wound that dates back to the first genocide. The first annihilation. Those blind to their own wounds are most dangerous to themselves and others.

The intelligent scheme behind colonization, cultural assimilation, and strategy that divides to conquer is an animal's natural survival instinct couched within a brutally competitive authoritarian social dynamic. This animal nature can be, as it has been, civilized by exposure to the elements and human healers, though such complete healing as self-appreciation threatens those who have learned that they must take in order to have, that they must hold power over others or be overpowered. Those who are enslaved by fearThose who, as children, were themselves robbed of self-appreciation along with their sensitives. To them, self-appreciation and trust in oneself and others be restored.

Despite the odds, healing is happening. The odds do not account for strength, courage, and endurance born of spiritual power.

Sobonfu Somé of the Dagara Tribe of Burkina Faso is among the brave humble healers of this age. I grieve Sobonfu's passing last month as her life is celebrated. Surely, I would yet half-exist, crippled by stagnant grief and associated chronic depression, had Sobonfu not traveled to teach in the States, in keeping with spiritual directive. Sobonfu sacrificed her own desire, as is often the case among those who are called. One among many she helped to liberate and yet didn't meet in person, boundless gratitude goes to Sobonfu, her immediate family, her village, and ancestors.

Alice Walker writes that Sobonfu was sent into "a poverty of spirit", a "deeply injured soul space...to heal a people / Who do not even realize / They are unwell!"

And so true that I am blind to my blindness until the cost is experienced. For, though the cost may be presented to me, until I experience the cost, I may choose to remain blind if I fear losing my assumed reality, however delusional. Particularly, if I'm given to believe that I am special or chosen, that somehow I am better than those who would threaten my existence and assumed reality by challenging my worldview.

"Prior to experiencing this ritual,                             
I didn't realize how much influence our ancestors
have on the way we work with grief. In the West,
we are taught to grieve quietly and politely;
most of our ancestors placed a high value
on being strong, stoic and independent,
...as a result, they ended up handing down
a collective inheritance of grief
that was never released or healed
in their own lives."

- Rev. Terri Daniel
Grief and the Afterlife

Central among Sobonfu's many offerings, is a grief ritual that actually resolves grief. Grief's total resolution may be rather foreign to those who have long forgotten how to grieve because embodied grieving was at some point and is still socially unaccepted in many circles. Thus, an assumption that traumatic loss yields a chronic lament. And the common associated response, to medicate through activity or substance, including pharmaceuticals. 

'Gather at the brokenness...'

- Leonard Cohen

Sobonfu passed just days before the Women's March, January 21st. I stayed in for the march, writing, praying, and weeping with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. In the days immediately following, I read reflections from women of color who witnessed and experienced grave disrespect.

This is not surprising given white fragility, cultural amnesia, and ignorance of intergenerational trauma glaringly apparent in a recent 1st grade performance of Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back. My son played baby bear in the Potawatomis’ Baby Bear Moon. The directors, the cast and the audience, all white. No mention of violent conflict at Standing Rock, historical and present-day global genocide.

Healthy guilt inspires grieving followed by acknowledgment with action to mend the harm if possible and carry on responsibly thereafter. If grieving is not allowed and part of the person's ongoing experience, guilt furthers depression followed by denial of responsibility and avoidance and/or judgment of victims.

After the March, a Native America woman tweeted (forgive me, I lost track of the tweet thread for reference) about how violated and disrespected she felt when a white woman interrupted a prayer circle with flattering remarks about her dress.


It’s what so many have been raised within.

Gawk and gossip.

The studious, as if proper, version of which is found amidst the field anthropology. So broadly accepted. A major blindspot. An innocent ignorance to the insult of their poking and prodding. A curious attention to diverse cultural practices as oddities with no foundation in reality. Thus, dismissible and disposable aside from being unique. Interesting enough so that what’s gathered in details, stories, and artifacts gets recorded in texts and photographs, and encased in glass boxes alongside bones and other specimens stuffed.

Still Life by film maker and composer Sinead Finegan / An audio-visual piece inspired by Species Loss and in honor of International Remembrance Day for Lost Species. Images taken at the Natural History Museum and the Trinity Zoology Museum.

The Native American woman also expressed how dangerous it is for people of color to advocate for their communities. This as true here in the States as it is globally. January 2017 saw the assassination of yet another Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Isidro Baldenegro, a community leader of Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara people.

As a white woman, I do not begin to grasp the reality.

"We know white people have had to endure it thousands of years

and now it's come full swing..."

- John Trudell

History and my personal experience informs me that white people who attempt to break free of their family's normalized entitlement are often deemed rebels, depressed, or just crazy. Many white community advocates are watched, have their lives threatened, and some are murdered. 

Rachel Carson was shamed and threatened for her community health advocacy published in Silent SpringJudi Bari was maimed and nearly killed by a car bomb in 1990, the Kennedy brothers assassinated, white healers  - also known as witches - burned alive, and Jesus of Nazareth, himself a healer, nailed alive upon a cross.

Marches may gather many, yet not in solidarity until wounds are recognized and healed. At which point ongoing, the marches will be a thing of the past. There will be no resistance because there will be nothing and no one to resist.

There is nothing and no one to resist. Let there be no resistance.

To resist is to give away power. To strengthen that which is resisted and further the perceived distance between two who are not separate, but individual parts of a whole.  Like combating cancer with chemical therapy rather than changing the thought patterns and diet that gives rise to cancer.

The healing that's surfaced at Standing Rock is this wishing everyone well. Wishing no one away. This unconditional love and trust is the difference between two opposing world views determined by relationship between children and their parents, whether children are consciously raised or not.

Sobonfu Somé arrived to the States from her village in Burkina Faso where children are consciously, carefully raised, so they grow up appreciating themselves within the community context. There is will to sacrifice one's own desires for the benefit of the whole. There is trust that if I take care of you, I will be taken care of, so taking care of me is taking care of you. There is trust.

When this unconditional love can be received by all present, when there is trust, peaceful resolution to conflict is possible. Healing greed/entitlement, founded in a belief that I must take in order to receive and that I must have in order to be worthy of receiving, is possible. 

“I think that when understood fully,                                                             
righteousness and justice mean something very similar

Right living will lead us to the pursuit of justice.      
The pursuit of justice demands righteous living.    

They both are reflective of the character of God,    
and they are both dependent on each other.    

...You can’t have one without the other.”

-   Pastor Daniel Hill / The Biblical confusion between ‘justice’ & ‘righteousness’ 

As I watched white children enact Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back, I pondered the untold white indigenous stories and rituals. How keening practice was shamed out of my line in Ireland. How ritual was retrofitted to serve the interests of the Church. How missionaries, Quakers among them, forgetting what has been punished out of them, go out to convert and massacre others in an attempt to silence embodied grief and prayer.

I imagine my ancestor Valentine Hollingsworth no doubt arrived from Ireland traumatized and grief stricken having run from religious persecution. Mine feels a responsibility to ensure the inherited trauma and associated grief ends in my line with me. To protect myself and others from what harm in neglect and misdoing my suffering can do. And do so by nurturing myself with the basics of essential self-care and remaining mindful of my reactions. Mindful enough to process these reactions before action and, thus, avoid perpetuating unnecessary harm and loss. And, as I fail, to bow forward then pick my face up off the floor and try again.

In DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS, Melaneo's mother is seen lighting candles next to images depicting Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary on an altar in her bedroom. An interview with a nearby shaman also shows images of Christian figures framed and displayed on an altar. Melaneo’s mother expresses that she will have no peace until Melaneo’s murderer is brought to justice. She appears heavy with grief. She appears to not have grieved in keeping with what is allowed by the Church in response to traumatic loss. The lighting of candles. Silence. Perhaps a hymn. In silencing grief, the Church, I want to say unwittingly, invokes and perpetrates war.

Innocents Burning


And it was not the countless corpses flowing downstream
in muddy water. It wasn't even the petrified
bodies at the museum. It was the young one,
Mweza, who having been caught in
and rescued from the poacher’s trap,
was lost on the drunk tyrant
you were enslaved to. 
Mweza would teach you what it means to be shattered by love
as if, this, her only reason for being in the world.

Mweza’s sole offering bestowed upon you in the feeling of what it is
to watch a vulnerable delight die
while thinking
you could have kept her alive
had you been fearless as she

Those who have not been saved from the grip of inherited traumatic loss unhealed are mostly not human babes like Mweza, a young mountain gorilla. They are the innocents most vulnerable and caught in the crossfire of human suffering and pride's revenge. They were bison slaughtered by the U.S. Army to less than 400 and bison slaughtered still today as they cross false borders burning. They are bears and wolves running from helicopters carrying men holding loaded guns readied to fire.

And my thoughts are with everyone. In the moment, particularly with Standing Rock water protectors forcibly removed, surviving family members of those murdered as they serve to protect real social security for everyone, those unable to run from danger, those killed when they run, those detained and deported based on their heritage, those denied entry based on their heritage, those shamed for their sex and pleasure, and those who will blindly remove, murder, detain, and deport others having forgotten themselves in anger and fear. My thoughts are with everyone.

Melaneo, like all community advocates, enact their responsibility to protect everyone's rights of existence, also known as 'the rights of nature'. More than protecting their right to water, water protectors are acting responsibly in relationship with water. Water exists freely for everyone. And as a human being capable of poisoning water for everyone, my responsibility is to prevent that possibility.

Theses are certainties. Pipelines leak. Infrastructure fails. Fossil fuels have served the short-term, shallow desires of very few, including me, while compromising everyone's health.

To pride is human, so let pride be virtuous and unafraid. To resolve grief is to grieve, so let there be grieving when there is loss. And let none feel so isolated and threatened in financial and material extremes that they forget real social security and seek to dominate rather than collaborate with fellow community members.

Sin, an archery term, means 'to miss the gold' at the center of the target while hitting the target, to miss the mark, to error'.

Failure is to be. What matters is a willingness to admit failure, grieve associated losses, and learn. 

Let none punish themselves for choices made simply because they learned it's what they had to do to survive. Let none be punished for their blindness. 

Let none be punished and everyone teachable.

Let us move beyond forgiveness to no blame.

Oh please, let the grief that keeps the peace.

Donations can be made to Wisdom Spring in honor of Sobonfu Somé's service.

Please see Extinction Witness Sanctify page for links to sources of soul/grief support.

Poem Notes

ISHI: Born around 1860, Ishi is the last known living member of the Yahi, a small tribe that lived near Mount Lassen in northern California. Theodora Kroeber tells Ishi’s story in her book Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America (1961). In his 2014 SF Gate article, one in a series devoted to San Francisco’s history, Gary Kamiya reflects on how Ishi (‘man’ in Yahi language) acquired a name. Ishi lived through the climax of genocide in California. I want to say that Ishi, “the last ‘wild’ Indian”, was the last peaceable man of California to be recognized by those who would worship without knowing the Prince of Peace.

MWEZA: Mweza, loosely translated ‘can do’, is a young mountain gorilla rescued by Bill Weber and Amy Vedder, and Dian Fossey. MWEZA is informed by memory of a film documenting the 1994 slaughter of nearly one million Tutsi men, women and children in Rwanda and a reflection on that genocide along with the story of Mweza’s death authored by Bill and Amy (In the Kingdom of Gorillas, 2001). By Bill and Amy’s account, Mweza could have recovered from a festering wound had Dian facilitated proper treatment. Annihilation of forest communities by members of one primate species has pushed a majority of other primates and species to the edge of extinction.