Playing Through Grief

Since we launched the Global Play Brigade in June, Marian Rich has been co-leading a weekly session entitled: Create Connection & Build Community Through Play. She co-facilitates the sessions with a rotating team of co-facilitators. Soon after Marian’s father died in mid-September, she was scheduled to co-facilitate with Kara Fortier, a new facilitator with GPB. Given Kara’s interest in ritual and spirituality and Marian’s recent loss, they decided to create and design a session playing with loss, large and small. This is their story:

In the last six months, all of our lives have been affected in some way by the events of 2020 – COVID, lockdowns, protests, political turmoil and climate crises. In our session, we acknowledged the losses we’ve all been experiencing, from the crushing kinds to the smaller losses we experience that often hit us with unexpected force.

We designed a session to play with processing loss and grief through ritual, which is a close cousin of imaginative play. We began the session with having people write how they experience loss in the chat. Some of their comments: “Sadness at the loss of the future I was expecting,” “losing touch with friends,” “can’t visit my young adult kids,” “aging /loss of flexibility,” “loss of hope and the shocking realization (again) that I’m not in control.”

We began by playing with and imbuing ordinary objects with extraordinary value in the Museum of Every-Day Objects where participants simultaneously grab an object and showcase it as though they are the artists who created these “works of art,” with classical music playing behind them. Then we played with our objects in ways they weren’t meant to be used. They playfully laid the groundwork for what it means to create a ritual. Then people went into breakout groups to create a ritual that represented either one person’s loss or encompassed the loss of the whole group.

It’s hard to describe the experience of watching each group perform rituals they collaboratively created. In every instance, the human need to imaginatively share grief with one another stood out beautifully. One person holds an object with great care as the others follow her lead – only they don’t have objects in their hands. They’re participating in her ritual even though it’s not their pain. In another the group held their objects and recited a line of their collective poem – the grief of each part became a whole. In another, they all let out cheers of joy.

The instinct to play is the same instinct that leads us to these creative ways to process grief, large and small. It was an honor for us (Marian and Kara) to play in a way that reminds us of our deep human connections – and that our playful imaginations can aid us in times of sadness, sorrow and joy.

Post originally on our October’s newsletter.

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