The Power of Fake Fires: How Journey Dancing Helped A Grieving Mother Process Her Anger
A Grieving Mother’s Retreat
All my life I dreamt of being a mother. I knew from the time I was a little girl that motherhood was for me.
As a child, I was the one who always wanted to play house. In my teenage years, I babysat all ages of children. During my college years, I volunteered at the elementary school that bordered our campus. Being around children woke something in me. I always felt that they saw qualities in me that I couldn’t see in myself. Perhaps this was merely because someone was paying them extra attention. For me, though, it cemented my dream of motherhood.
My high school sweetheart and I married in 2004. Just months later I began teaching first grade. It was not only a job but a passion. Given the chance to play a pivotal role in children’s lives made me feel like I was making a difference in the world.
My husband and I were on the threshold of beginning our own family and I could not wait. In December 2007, our first child was born, Christian. We brought him home on Christmas morning. He will forever be the best Christmas gift I ever received. We even had him blessed by our priest on the way home from the hospital. Surely, we safeguarded our tiny new son from the harm of the world.
It seemed to be true until the fateful evening of August 28, 2014, when a cement pole, improperly installed, fell on him. Christian’s death sent me into a depressive whirlwind. I didn’t know where to turn, what to do or how to find comfort. His death was a sudden, random, and tragic accident. I couldn’t make sense of losing my healthy six-year-old boy. From the start, I tried anything that would bring me peace: acupuncture, talk therapy, hiking, coloring, exercising, and journaling were just a few. I found refuge in all of them at one point, but as time went on and my shock faded, it was clear that I had to delve deeper into emotional release.
A little over a year into my healing journey, I learned about Borrowed Angels: A Spiritual Retreat For Grieving Mothers, facilitated by healer, Anna Raimondi. The agenda included activities such as “Redecorating Your Soul”, “Transforming The Stone” and “Journey Dance”. I was hesitant to register, but with encouragement from my husband, mom, and therapist, I decided that it had the potential to be quite healing. The retreat began with everyone sharing stories of loss. I could feel my own pain intensify when the other grieving mothers opened their hearts and spoke. I immediately felt a level of unprecedented understanding and similarity.
While the connection with others was a balm to my soul, it was crucial to find tools that I would be able to use outside of this nurturing environment.
Directly after a nutritious breakfast on the second morning, we dove into our activities. For the first activity, “Redecorating Your Soul”, we were invited to fill clear plastic globes with small, meaningful items that conjured connection to our children. We redecorated our souls with symbolic mini figures such as cardinals, beads that we used to spell out names or phrases, and we were able to write a message to our beloved children and place it inside. This was symbolic of the soul level connections we are all able to access, even with our beloved children.
For the “Transforming The Stone” activity, Ms. Raimondi placed rocks under each of our chairs while we had been redecorating our souls. Upon returning to our seats, she instructed us to reach under them and read the word engraved on our given rocks. She had placed them randomly and explained that whatever the message was on our stone, held importance for each of us.
My word was, “hope”.
She led us in a short meditation and then gave us time to journal about how the word on our stones was, or could be, transformational in our lives. As a newbie to meditating, I was shocked at how much insight it provided me within my own writing. I found hope in many ways during that activity.
On the second afternoon, we were introduced to Joanne Keane of Connecticut, a Journey Dance instructor. The name itself conjured up self-deprecating thoughts of me “dancing” through this journey. Our retreat leader shared research with us about how helpful it was for moving through emotions. Until that point, I was familiar with the activities we had done at the retreat. I had even tried all of them as a means of emotional release prior to the retreat. It was the journey dancing that I had never heard of and had yet to try.
Dance for Healing and Wholeness
Not knowing anything about journey dancing, I felt open to the new experience. The instructor began by sharing about her own personal trauma. For her, journey dancing had been a part of her spiritual journey and healing. As she began to explain what journey dancing actually was, nervous giggles could be heard around the room. She described it as free, expressive movement done barefoot to the sound of music. She then added we would have our eyes closed to keep us from feeling inhibited. She demonstrated what journey dancing looked like for her, emphasizing that it was the process not what it looked like. Her demonstration reminded me of how concert-goers moved at Woodstock.
Closing my eyes and dancing around a room with a group of women I had just met was not what I had planned on. At first, I was hesitant and had trouble moving freely. As the music filled my ears, my body became more limber. During that first dance I definitely loosened up, but tension still resided in my body.
The next dance had us using beautiful, brightly colored scarves. The calming rhythm of the music lilted through the air. My body swayed around the room feeling the notes. The free flow movement of the scarf gliding through the air helped me to relax. It mirrored my own grief journey. At times my emotions were buoyed by air and floating but then they would drop back down, gravity and grief tugging at them. Energy needed to be exerted to bring them back up once again. Though the scarf was light it felt like my arms strained to bring it back up.
After we were done with the scarves, we explored our chakras and did some chanting. Again, the chanting was quite soothing as we felt the vibrations move through our bodies. We moved our limbs, vibrated our vocal chords, and released emotion. The healing value could be felt in real time.
As the session neared the end, we embarked on an activity that I could never have imagined to be as spiritual as it was. Our instructor informed us that we were going to hold a fire of sorts. My misconceptions were present immediately. The instructor directed us to pretend there was a fire and throw all of our hurt, anguish, anger, and pain into it. I was skeptical.
Release Anger, Embrace Freedom
The music began and although it was a spiritual sounding song, it did have a more “aggressive” feel. Our leader detailed what the fire “looked” like. She emphasized the flames, burning bright and hot. She led us to grab hold of our pain and anger, to pick it up and truly feel its weight. Then she directed us to throw it into the fire. At this point, our eyes were open.
As I reached down, I could feel the enormity of my anger. It was massive in size and weight. My arms ached holding on to it. I dragged it to the fire and threw it in. Something in me was immediately released. I went back for more. Once again, I leaned down and picked up another armful of anger and pain. I was aware again of the strength it required to throw it into the fire. This time I felt even more satisfaction.
As the music continued to play, I seemed to go on autopilot. The more I threw into the fire, the more I wanted to throw in. My heart was beating furiously, and I could feel the heat rising in my body.
Prior to this, I had been unaware that so much anger was pent up in my body. I knew it was there but the sheer volume and weight that I had been carrying around was unknown to me and unbelievable. I could feel layers being shed. It felt so amazing to get some relief.
The music slowed and it was clear that the exercise was coming to a close, disappointment washed over me. What started as an activity I believed to have little value for me ended as the most valuable healing tool I had found yet! This exercise opened the door that I had kept tightly closed.
The final song of our journey dancing experience was a cool down. The music had a soothing melody and helped our bodies readjust to reality. It was a beautiful close to an intensely spiritual experience.
It had been some time since I had been that in tune with my body. Practicing self-compassion bequeathed nourishment to my soul. It left me feeling thirsty for more. Leaving the retreat that weekend, I was lighter, more engaged in life, and felt better than I had in a long time. My breath came easier.
Lifelong Transformational Tool
So many other emotions took the forefront after losing my son, but the underlying anger was eating away at me. Journey dancing afforded me access to my innermost demons. The weight of the anger that would have destroyed me had it not been purged, was forever lightened.
Now, as the creator of the non-profit, Love From Heaven — Christian Martinisi Memorial Fund, and as a grief coach, I often share this story with those I work with. Many people look at me skeptically. They are leery to believe in the healing power of free form dance and imaginative fires. I urge them to open their minds to anything that can help ease their pain. In the healing journey we walk after child loss, all resources available to us are valuable. Journey dancing is one of the most valuable to me.