On Sunday 10/29/23, Christy Darcangelo was a part of a 5-person panel on end-of-life care within kinky and polyamorous communities hosted by the Chicago Rose. The panel included Brooke Benjamin, a funeral care director with Inclusive Funeral Care, Valerie Nerini, a death doula and celebrant with Our Inevitable Death, Bella Bathory, a death doula with belLa Petite Mort, and Allison Forker, an attorney with the law offices of Robert J. Blyth. A version of this blog was read aloud and later adapted to be shared online.
Engaging with Death
Engaging with death elicits a host of physical, metaphysical, psychic, and psychological experiences. It is common to encounter a fractured identity or disrupted sense of relatedness. It is common to react and respond from defensive locations like denial, repression, or distraction. It prompts raw encounters with finitude, temporality, “bodyhood”, meaning, and purpose. Facing death initiates us into a kind of free fall with uncertainty and powerlessness. There are many points along this continuum where grief and loss are keenly sensed.
The soul knows – intrinsically, inherently – how to descend, how to seek what was lost, and how to ascend, bringing back that which can carry us on. Often considering the end of our own life, or the lives of our beloveds, calls us into a kind of encounter with these crossings. Such encounters can reveal deeper values, purpose, and desires which can support the emergence of a more conscious engagement with life and death transitions. Paraphrasing the existential psychotherapist and writer Irvin Yalom, “the fact of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us.”
Meeting Grief Through the Body
How we come to know the contours of our grief is by a loving process of exploration and expression, and the body must feel safe enough to engage in this process. Safety is not static. It is sensed dynamically, moment to moment. This means establishing a thoughtful connection with the sensations in our bodies which communicate safety or distress. Once recognized, practices which establish safety and containment – like active muscle relaxation, guided imagery, or some breathing exercises – can help us to remain present enough to explore our depths. Although this process can unfold independently, my work, as a therapist, invites me to co-create safety and a container into which things may fall apart, and to embrace the fall as an essential process on the path to transformation.
Making space for grief to be explored, brought to the senses, and expressed is a vital component of a more conscious engagement with death. Allowing what emerges to belong to the complex landscape that is loss; the shifting identity of the fall; the disorientation of the missing; and the destruction which precedes creation. Taking and making space for our grief liberates it from a colonizing culture which seeks to deny it. Disenfranchised grief often goes underground and can replicate systemic mechanisms which isolate, confuse, and confine. Recognizing and validating the many forms grief takes is an act which de-pathologizes and decriminalizes its expression, and reclaims that grief which the dominant culture deems insignificant.
A Journey to Wholeness
This process of emergence, shift, orientation, transformation, and recreation reminds us of our deeper nature. Sharing in this experience through collective ceremony and ritual “re-members” us to ourselves and to one another, restoring a sense of belonging and capacity for metamorphosis. Creating more robust meaning and recovering sensation for our life ongoing is the promise inherent in leaning into a more conscious engagement with death. Through a supportive, holding, and expressive process, we can reclaim our bodies anew, alive with new wisdom, centering healing, wholeness, and vitality.
Thinking about Psychotherapy?
If you are considering psychotherapy as a resource to your life, an LGBTQIA+ affirming and knowledgeable therapist can support you on your unique path of self-discovery, healing, and personal development. LifeWorks Psychotherapy Center has immediate openings for new clients.