“How do we stay in affectionate relationship with an unwelcome guest?” mused Francis Weller. The unwelcome guest he was referring to is COVID-19, and Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow, was speaking on the opening webinar of RadJoy’s daylong Global Day of Mourning on January 10. He and actress and activist Dr. Marty K. Casey, founder of UnGUN Institute, which helps Black youth heal from violence, talked about how the pandemic has affected them personally and their communities, and each emphasized the importance of accepting our sorrow so that we can move through it. Weller identified himself as “an advocate of grief,” since sorrow, when it remains unexpressed, stifles creativity and compassion as well as more painful feelings. “When we live in denial, the grief lives louder in our heads,” said Casey.
This discussion ended with suggestions for how participants could spend the day with family and friends commemorating the people, opportunities, and daily pleasures that they have missed during the year of coronavirus. Participants could also choose to join facilitated online “sharing circles,” small breakout groups in which they were able to express what the pandemic has meant for them. People who had never met one another in person spoke openly and often tearfully about the loss of a spouse, the inability to visit an aging mother, and the stress of managing daily schedules with school children and working parents at home all day.
The time for individual observance of mourning was followed by a presentation by Artley Skenandore, an educator and tribal leader of the Oneida Nation, who renamed this traditional ceremony of condolence an Encouragement Ceremony, since, he said, “Everyone needs some encouragement these days.” He spoke of the importance of community in times of grief and of recognizing that when we are able to dry our tears, we can step forth into life by making bright new footprints. The Day of Mourning ended with a DJ’d dance led by fashion and celebrity photographer Daryl Henderson. The dance, which was featured live on Facebook and on Zoom, brought people to their feet to move, as if together, from grief to joy.
You can watch the discussion with Francis and Marty, the ceremony by Artley, and the dance on our Facebook page. Already, only two days after the event, more than 1.3 thousand people have watched the Global Day of Mourning.