Weaving Grief Work and Healing Justice


I'm Oana (left), and this is Zaza (centre) and Lelo (right).

At the end of last year, Lelo and I applied and were admitted to attend Weaving Grief, the Body and Transformative Justice, a residential retreat to be facilitated by Camille Barton and Farzana Khan, in June 2021. We were looking for a space, in the language of the retreat's website, "to practice embodied techniques and rituals that explore how we can work with our grief in order to weave resilience, grow strong networks of community care and generate hope, in order to create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible." We applied together believing that we would better work towards our individual and community healing if we could share these learnings. For one thing, the retreat is in the UK, and we live in Ireland; there are significant, not always acknowledged societal differences between these two contexts. Being able to bring our learnings back to Ireland, and to continue to process and transform them into action together, would have given us an invaluable tool to facilitate healing here.

However, Lelo, who is an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, is not allowed to travel outside of Ireland. Even though she has completed all of the necessary paperwork and requirements for the Department of Justice, she and her daughter continue to wait for resident status while living within Direct Provision, a system established as a temporary measure in 2000, with some applicants waiting as long as 10 years to be "processed," while accommodation sites operate for-profit by private contractors. This system has been widely criticised by human rights organisations, and is in the process of being overhauled, but Lelo and Zaza, along with over 7000 asylum seekers continue to wait in limbo, with limited financial support (€38.80 weekly allowance) or access to employment, physical and mental health resources, and opportunities for integration. The average duration of processing time is 2 years, Lelo arrived in Ireland in 2018 -- we hoped there was a chance she'd have resident status by the time of the retreat, but no such luck (by which I mean justice).

I am a queer, white-bodied, cis-female, Romanian-born, US-raised, Ireland-based writer, researcher and facilitator, whose work is achored in critical feminist poetics, pastoral care, and creative arts practice. I have been facilitating regular in-person and online spaces since 2018, particularly around community-supported spirituality, reconciliation and belonging, and climate grief (I am trained in the Work That Reconnects, interfaith hospital chaplaincy, and ecumenical peace-building through the Reconcilers Together program). I am invested in building connection through poetry and poetic practice, and since 2013, I have had a specific interest in critically exploring Western Christian theology, ethics and aesthetics.

The full cost of the residential retreat is £1,500, and I have received a partial bursary of £700. I am raising funds to cover the remainder of the fee, travel costs and PCR tests,* all of which, in Euros, comes to about €1,200.
*when I posted this fundraiser originally, I did not need a specific private clinic PCR test on the UK side to return to Ireland. I allow that it is possible for travel regulations to change between now and the time of the retreat.

1. To the best of my ability, I will share my learnings with Lelo and explore co-creating a space of healing with her based in Ireland, addressing the needs of her community, as she defines it, and integrating the tools I receive (this might be a 2-3 part community reading series/ study/ practice group around a particular text, or it could be a single event that incorporates embodied and contemplative practices within the context of a poetry workshop). This would take place in 2022.
2. I will offer, in 2022, a pay-what-you-can 2-3 hour workshop in the framework of the Work That Reconnects, integrating tools and skills gained during the retreat.
3. I will document and report learnings and offerings to all funders.

(Any additional funds raised beyond this sum will be donated to support Lelo, Zaza, and their community. Should anyone wish to make donations directly to Lelo, please contact me for her PayPal information.)

The desire to undergo this training began with Lelo. Below is a video of our first real encounter (we met briefly once before, but this was the first communication of a friendship: no agenda, just sharing space and attention). We were on an artistic project together in the West of Ireland, and I asked her if she would be interested in having a movement conversation with me. Although this was not something I'd done before, I was exploring somatic therapies and practices, and this playful impulse occurred to me in that moment. She agreed. No explanation was needed! We both knew what to do, the way children know instinctively how to play. I really think of this as the moment we became friends.

This was also a week before my older brother's sudden death. A month before the pandemic started. Five months before a dear friend and mentor died, also unexpectedly, another bereavement a month after that, and another, in a year where my consecutive individual losses blended with a worldwide grief compounded by systemic inequality and oppression.

I agree with the writer and embodiment coach Prentis Hemphill that, "Trauma is inherent to life and being alive." What they said after this has reoriented my understanding of oppression: "What oppression ends up being fundamentally is the organization or concentration of traumatic experiences within certain communities, or with certain peoples, and the removal or reduction of the nets, supports, time or resources needed to heal from, or transform, traumatic experiences" (@prentis.h on the La Cura podcast).

Forced to leave Zimbabwe with her young daughter, Lelo currently lives in the Direct Provision system and works as a carer (advocacy groups such as Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland helped secure asylum seekers' right to work in 2018). If you are able to go to the National Gallery in Dublin before the end of June 2021, you can hear Lelo's story (among others') in the exhibition Something From There, a work realised by Dragana Jurišić, from an idea by Evgeny Shtorn, exploring the idea of home with people seeking asylum in Ireland.

Since first meeting in 2019, Lelo and I have continued to move together, in time, if not always in space, sending videos of ourselves dancing, encouraging each other to run and swim in cold water, and, for a few months, we connected weekly to dance in an online space facilitated by Camille Barton. Movement and embodiment have been important within our friendship, and I really wish we could do this retreat together. I am pursuing the retreat to continue my own personal/ social education in grief work, but it is also to heal from the notion that healing is ever just about the individual who grieves.

Losing loved ones suddenly is, of course, traumatising; enduring the events and conditions that necessitate seeking asylum, and then enduring exile and limbo while a state decides if you can stay, not to mention overt and covert racism, constitute trauma with a complexity I haven't experienced. I don't believe I have to have experienced the same griefs as others in order to be in solidarity with them. However, I do need shared spaces that explore grief, resilience and relationality, and this is why I need your help. Thank you in advance!

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Oana Marian
County Dublin

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