Contrary to popular belief, time does not heal wounds. Healing rituals and community do.
In May 2017, Christopher was checking his mother’s vacant cottage in Wilmot, New Hampshire.
He saw something suspicious and went inside. As soon as he switched on the light, the house exploded and erupted in flames as parts of it collapsed.
His hands and face were badly burned, and he went into shock.
He used his virtual assistant Siri to call 911.
She saved him.
if you’ve been around for any length of time, you’ve probably heard about Siri – Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant.
The idea is a simple one: you talk to her as you would a friend and she aims to help and support you in your daily life.
She is not who I am referring to here.
SIRI is the name I gave for the four types of rituals that rescued me when my mother died.
Like the New Hampshire man, after the earthquake of death lives your Psychescape and your life in piles of rubble, SIRI rituals can act like your rescue and relief assistance in the aftermath.
These rite of passage rituals help you build an emergency shelter that can contain all the savage moods of grief and provide you with a roadmap through the dust and ash to the light side of grief.
Before I introduce you to SIRI, here’s her origin story.
My mother’s death was the worst-case scenario for my life
It was my scariest nightmare since I was about 5 years old.
It finally became a reality on June 25th, 2018, at approximately 4:00 am.
When I read that text message, it was as if a tectonic earthquake shook the city of my mind and razed its strongest foundation.
I slumped on the tiled floor at the front entrance of a friend’s apartment in Washington Heights, dawn still hiding in the shadows, strangely cold and distant.
No tears. No screaming. Just the sharp silence after calamity.
I was broken. I sat in stunned silence, surrounded by invisible smoke and rubble.
From that moment on, my hypothalamus declared a state of emergency initiating the flight-fight-freeze stress response.
Cameroonian funeral rites and rituals
In the next months, I floated around New York, disembodied, unable to laugh or cry. Had I known that the Cameroonian funeral with its centuries-old elaborate rituals held my salvation, I might have approached it like people approach a rescue team in the aftermath of an earthquake.
I might have dove into the wave of loud wails and mourning of strangers that greeted my family at the Douala airport when we landed in Cameroon.
Unbeknownst to my arrogant, Westernized mind, this “melodramatic” display of emotions that would continue for the next three days, the volume increasing each day until reaching a crescendo on the final day, was designed—in a manner of speaking—to break the seal on our grief, to create a safe space to allow my sisters, father and me to openly grieve, to release the valve of pain—that first wave like a tsunami, wild, crazed grief that without the right container, the right support, could destroy a person.
The next four days of funeral rites were a kind of rehearsal ground to experiment. To explore those big emotions, to take stock of their size, shapes, and sounds, desensitizing, and releasing the initial kick like the role of salt after a shot of tequila. So that by the time my mother’s body was in the warm soil, the emotions would have shrunken down in size; the grief would be manageable as we continued to grieve privately during rituals in the company of relatives, friends, and neighbors who would continue to drop in with pots of food and favors for months.
But I did not stay in Cameroon for months. I was back in the United States only five days after I’d left.
Time does not heal any wounds
2019 would always live in my mind as the year of tears. It was also the year in which I realized that the adage “time heals all wounds” is at best a cliché and at worst a handicap to the grieving process.
It is the same as sitting around after an earthquake and expecting time to rebuild all the ruined structures and buildings.
And if you have experienced the death of a loved one or experienced any trauma, the proof of this is the lingering ache in your chest that never seems to go away the panic attacks, nightmares, and a feeling of being stuck in an in-between place.
Grief Immersion rituals
About 6 months later, I decided to take matters into my hands, and scheduled time every day to just cry.
I finally realized that my Harlem apartment was not a “die house” as we call the house of the bereaved in Cameroon which is bursting at the seams with over 70 people - relatives, friends, strangers who are screaming in mourning.
Given that people were not coming to visit me daily for the next year with casseroles, consolations, and psalms and that my grief was still on tap, at 4:00 pm on the nose every day, I had an appointment with my pillow and playlist.
This was the birth of one of my immersion rituals which I called my “dance with grief” – a ritual that made me an apprentice to grief.
I spent the next few years deep in grief and after years of digging and rebuilding, I realized that over the centuries, while the West focused on the outer world for structure and order – making technological advancements, Africans have taken a different path. We have been plumbing inner space and have further developed spiritual technologies which we use to explore the subtler dimensions of life.
One of these technologies is rituals.
Africa has always been called the Dark continent and those who coined this term meant it to be derogatory and, in the past, I always took the bait.
But today, I can agree that indeed we are.
We have mastered darkness and chaos.
We have rituals and rites of passage artfully engineered to help the dead move on and to help the living not only go on living but understand that the aftermath is a balance, shifting between human connection through community and immersing in deep pain.
And through the process of using rituals to enter the healing ground of grief, I was able to reconstruct a new identity as a grief advocate and activist and reconnect with my African roots and the power of ritual technology to offer a safe passage through the wasteland of grief.
SIRI – African Ritual Technology
In the Western world, we live in a culture that is grief adverse, and the American culture, for example, pushes against the reality of death.
There are public rituals like funerals, but they are usually quiet somber events that don’t give the grievers permission to wail out their sorrow.
The stigma associated with expressing big emotions helps people put death in the closet to maintain a veneer of order which in turn creates systemic avoidance and intolerance.
As a result, you find that many friends who cannot tolerate the weight and fear that death imposes disappear from your life. The first wave vanishes at the news, the second wave after the funeral and they progressively all disappear back into their own lives.
For those of us who have been visited by death, we find that we are now alone on the same side of terror.
For us this new reality remains to haunt us as we flounder in the void, constantly ambushed by grief in crowded subways and supermarkets.
Since I did not have the healing support of the community and funeral rites of my culture in America, I created SIRI to survive and it is my hope that anyone inhabiting a culture that does not have the support of the community for their grief, can be empowered to tap into the healing offered by these rituals.
SIRI is rooted in my personal journey through grief as well as rituals and rites from my tribe (Metta) in the grasslands of Cameroon. I also got inspiration from different cultures and traditions like Buddhism, Jungian dreamwork, dream yoga, a master’s in clinical psychology, and 5+ years of spiritual healing and constellation training with my root teacher Ron Young.
Siri stands for stabilization, immersion, restoration and interconnection rituals and she consists of 4 main ritual types which I created to support and empower the griever in the Western world who does not have community.
1. Stabilization rituals to turn off your fight-flight-freeze response and bring your body and mind into homeostasis with roadmaps to navigate the daily hazards of grieving.
2. Immersion rituals that help you turn towards difficult emotions and traumatic memories so that you can start rewriting your story, integrate the loss into your life, and find meaning and purpose
3. Restoration rituals to nourish, nurture and replenish your depleted resources as well as offer you space and distance from the intense emotions associated with grief so that you have time to recover and rejuvenate.
4. Interconnection rituals to help you remember and honor your loved one’s memory, connect with other grievers and transpersonal energies and intelligences' for support and evolve your relationship with your loved one by reuniting with them through dream visits.
Rituals as your roadmap
When you are called to bear the unbearable when death comes to your door, there are two roads you can take—a culture where we fear and hide death in a closet leads to alienation, anxiety, and in most cases, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) where the person grieving is further traumatized by a culture that shuns and isolates them.
If we cultivate another type of culture in which death is viewed as part of the circumference of life, as a transition, an invitation to expand into larger selves like a Matryoshka doll unfolding inversely, then there is the possibility of post-traumatic growth (PTG)—a realization of innate genius.
It is through this container of community that one gains the courage to plunge into the darkness, to enter conversations with sorrow, where we teach our bodies that instead of the three ways evolution has taught us – fight, flight, freeze—there is a fourth way—to free fall, to take a leap of faith and be caught in the arms of belonging, inducted into the halls of wholeness.
To experience the light side of grief and SIRI Rituals can get you there.