I want to offer an incredible breathing exercise my co-worker Alejandra shared with us.
Get out your wiggles in your fingers and toes. Settle into your sit and loosen your body. Hold out your hands in front of you. In one hand, imagine a flower. Think about what this flower looks like. What colors do the petals have? What are the shapes of its leaves? Think about how it feels, the weight of it in your hand. What does this flower smell like?
In the other hand, imagine a candle. Again, think about its shape, its weight. Think about what it might smell like. Now, inhale the scent of your flower. Breathe deep. Exhale and imagine blowing out your candle. To your delight, the candle relights. Again, breathe in the scent of the flower. And, exhale to blow out your candle. Envision this and breathe until you feel calm and steady.
I don’t feel good telling you that 500,000 of our loved ones, friends, neighbors, and community members across the country have died from COVID-19. When I read that number, my throat feels tight. I can feel my heart beating faster. I think about their faces, the curve of their smiles. I think about the extraordinary lives they lived and the people they might have loved. I am Hmong. Hmong culture has strong rituals around death, grieving, and loss. We are a culture deeply grounded in spirit and the spiritual world. The body is dressed by family members. When a person dies, the family opens their home for mourners up until the funeral. Family members and friends come with offerings that will support the funeral, like money, rice, or animals. This is to help feed and sustain people up until and during the funeral. During this time, people grieve, share memories, and funeral preparations are coordinated. The family might think about which family members will take on which day of feeding mourners, or which people will play instruments to walk the person through the afterlife and help ensure a safe journey. Funerals last around three days. Mourners come to grieve. Close family members and partners sit by the body to ensure its safekeeping. The family provides food for mourners. There is chanting and singing. This is to guide the person’s spirit to the afterlife.
Like mine, many cultures and communities have strong and special rituals around death and grief. With COVID-19, my community and others like Robert Gill’s have had to shift our rituals. Because of this, physical isolation, and the immenseness of 500,000 people dead, I feel a swelling in our country.
We are bursting at our seams, unable to release our grief in community, in ways that honor our loved ones. The release we do have isn’t satisfying. The trauma we’re enduring due to layered crises is colossal. Our healers are tapped out, in need of healing themselves. The ways we used to energize and sustain ourselves don’t exist anymore.
I believe our purpose here on this Earth is to care for and love each other and our planet, and to experience a lot of magic. COVID-19 has been a barrier to that, and we have to create new ways of being with each other and finding joy. It’s so hard.
Our grief moves us to action, and we can build a future where a loss of this scale doesn’t happen ever again. Here at TakeAction Minnesota, we’ll be building People’s Memorials, creating art for them together, and being in gentle and tender community with each other. If this sounds like something you need, join me at our community planning and art-making gathering on March 4th.
In the meantime, I invite you to create a candle, using any medium you’d like. You can take a photo of one you already have, paint one, create a digital one, whatever feels right. This candle will be an offering for our People’s Memorial. Share your candles with me at email@example.com. You can also collect lessons, poetry, learnings, and art you’ve made for our digital zine, which seeks to share collective insight from our year of being in a global pandemic together.
Together, we will remember these precious lives.