Friday, July 15, 2022


 Once in the Rosebud Reservation, I was privileged to see a Wiping of the Tears Ceremony. In Lakota culture, there are traditional practices for mourning and grief. The Wiping of the Tears is the conclusion of a period where one has stepped back from the usual way of life, into an extended absence from the larger community. Grieving is understood as something that takes time and an important process for both the spirit of the departed and the one left behind.

The special ceremony I witnessed took place in the context of a Wacipi. The mourner sat in the dance circle as members of the community filed by, welcoming him back into their larger circle and symbolically wiping his tears. After some twelve months of honoring, remembering and grieving the lost family member, it was time to put the tears away and step back into the fullness of life.
I was reminded of this Lakota ceremony as I learned of the death of a friend’s mother in Nigeria. She is totally focused on the loss of her mother. In her culture, how one responds to the death of a family member may determine whether that family member becomes one of the ancestors. Funerals and the grieving process are of the utmost importance. Normal life and normal routines cease in the face of this important and momentous process.

In the U.S., we tend to view death and the mourning process as “get on with it and get over it.” Hopefully, the grief can be vacated during the funeral, so a person can get back to work and get back to living life as usual. We have maternity leave for those giving birth, but no grief leave for those experiencing a death.
One of the positive dimensions of the grieving process can be remembering times and events with the loved one. But in our workaday culture, the cultivation of personal memories is not highly valued, unless it has something to contribute to our productivity. Our usual depiction of someone “remembering,” is an elder by the window of the nursing home, lost to the present world and other people in scenes from the past.

A difficulty for a positive grieving process is regret. How do you tell someone you love them after they are gone? How do you ask for forgiveness from someone who dies? Can we be haunted by the spirit of someone wronged or comforted by the spirit of someone loved?
At a retreat with others from an Intercultural Education organization, I had a disturbing experience. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a knock on my door and a request from a participant that I join him in the hall. His wife, who was Lakota, had been awakened by an angry spirit in the room they occupied. She was huddled with their children in the hall.

They moved to a different room as I agreed to pray with them for understanding. In the meantime, pipes in the building, seemingly without reason, began banging with increasing ferocity. I prayed to
my father as intercessor, that he help this troubled spirit. As I finished my prayer, the banging slowly ceased, and my Lakota friend informed me she now understood the situation. This man’s spirit was trapped, unable to move on to the spirit world, as he had never expressed his love to anyone. He was never able to say, “I love you.”
In the morning, over breakfast, the Lakota woman said to me, “I wish you white folks would take better care of your dead.” When I looked at the picture on the wall of the room where they were disturbed, dedicated to the person who funded it, I understood. A stoic face; old school; tough minded; don’t show your emotions; saying “I love you” was not part of his vocabulary!

Regret can imprison us!

As can anger! I can’t imagine how the parents grieving the loss of their children at Uvalde, or Sandy Hook, or so many other places in this gun hungry country; how they can heal their grief without enormous reservoirs of anger; anger at the perpetrators, but also at those who allow the killings to continue with their excuses, avoidance and lack of courage.

Sitting with some younger friends the other evening and hearing their stories of melting glaciers in the Northwest and flooding in Yellowstone, I felt their grief for the passing of the natural world as my own. There was a certain level of acceptance in the conversation, as if it were an inevitable process of the human experiment that we would all together be born, live and eventually, die all together. Perhaps it’s pandemic thinking! Perhaps it’s a reality check about climate change! Perhaps it’s prophetic!

I recalled watching “A Life on Our Planet” with David Attenborough, and realized how I would grieve the loss of nature, the created world, more than the loss of humanity; supposedly the most intelligent of life forms.

I expect the Creator will be in deep grief, should we make our home uninhabitable; just as I’m certain the giver of life mourns our taking of other life; and endows us with the ability to heal with and speak our love, if only we will!  

Carl Kline

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