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The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief

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Noted psychotherapist Francis Weller provides an essential guide for navigating the deep waters of sorrow and loss in this lyrical yet practical handbook for mastering the art of grieving. Describing how Western patterns of amnesia and anesthesia affect our capacity to cope with personal and collective sorrows, Weller reveals the new vitality we may encounter when we welcome, rather than fear, the pain of loss. Through moving personal stories, poetry, and insightful reflections he leads us into the central energy of sorrow, and to the profound healing and heightened communion with each other and our planet that reside alongside it.

The Wild Edge of Sorrow explains that grief has always been communal and illustrates how we need the healing touch of others, an atmosphere of compassion, and the comfort of ritual in order to fully metabolize our grief. Weller describes how we often hide our pain from the world, wrapping it in a secret mantle of shame. This causes sorrow to linger unexpressed in our bodies, weighing us down and pulling us into the territory of depression and death. We have come to fear grief and feel too alone to face an encounter with the powerful energies of sorrow. 

Those who work with people in grief, who have experienced the loss of a loved one, who mourn the ongoing destruction of our planet, or who suffer the accumulated traumas of a lifetime will appreciate the discussion of obstacles to successful grief work such as privatized pain, lack of communal rituals, a pervasive feeling of fear, and a culturally restrictive range of emotion. Weller highlights the intimate bond between grief and gratitude, sorrow and intimacy. In addition to showing us that the greatest gifts are often hidden in the things we avoid, he offers powerful tools and rituals and a list of resources to help us transform grief into a force that allows us to live and love more fully.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

224 pages, ebook

First published September 15, 2015

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Francis Weller

7 books49 followers

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5 stars
789 (59%)
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115 (8%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 164 reviews
Profile Image for Paul McCain.
32 reviews23 followers
October 5, 2018
Reading this felt like a turning point in my life, where I will make a conscious effort to lean into my emotions rather than run from them out of shame. One of the biggest deathbed regrets people face is they wish they had the courage to express their feelings. Thanks to Francis Weller for publishing this beautiful book and encouraging me to live wholeheartedly and hopefully without this regret.
Profile Image for Kat.
Author 1 book26 followers
July 8, 2017
Deeply spiritual, affirming, and very helpful. This is one of those books to return to and share with others. It helped me process, integrate, and move through my individual experience of grief and it gave me insight into other types of grief my loved ones experience, leading to greater connection and understanding.
Profile Image for Susan Halvor.
170 reviews2 followers
June 11, 2016
I loved this book. I first came across Francis Weller when he was interviewed in the Oct 2015 issue of The Sun. He brings a lot of wisdom and truth to the topic of grief, which was balm to my spirit as a hospital chaplain. He talks about the importance of metabolizing our grief, particularly in community. "We need to create circles of welcome in our lives in order to keep leaning into the world; to keep moving grief through our psyches and bodies, so we can taste the sweetness of life." (p. 14). I also deeply appreciate the ways he draws on so many poets. Good stuff.
Profile Image for John Larrabee.
Author 3 books4 followers
October 8, 2020
This book was recommended to me by someone I respect, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

I'm just not into participating in ancient rituals like sitting in a circle of strangers and wailing about my troubles thru gushing tears and the beat of drums.

I was also distracted by the frequent use of flowery prose, which is not only unnecessary but counterproductive to covering such a sensitive subject with the seriousness it deserves.

I'm astonished by the number of positive reviews, but maybe that's because I haven't experienced the same level of trauma that many others have.
Profile Image for Katie Allen.
71 reviews1 follower
May 5, 2023
Top 10 best books I've ever read. A therapist talks about grief in a way that includes resources but reads like stunning poetry in a way I can understand.

This book is for you if you're interested in "soul activism" and changing habits and beliefs around numbing, avoiding, or burying pain and grief so that you might heal, grow, and live a richer, fuller, and truer life.

Yeah yeah, that was a lot of lists of three but I'm tryna get to the point.
Profile Image for Stephanie Barko.
187 reviews128 followers
August 16, 2021
This was the August, 2021 selection of South Austin Spiritual Book Group. With what Simone Biles broke open for us at the Tokyo Olympics, I had a feeling this book was going to be impactful.

Although you don't think of a grief book when looking for summer reads, I was surprised at how well written and compelling this approach to grief was. I actually found myself wanting to come back to the book and finish it because of the "Five Gates of Grief", which include ancestral grief and grief for what's happening to the planet.

If you are one of those people who has always carried an amorphous sadness with you that never attached to an event or person, this book explains why. You also learn why it's so important to do this work before you're on your death bed. Plus, Weller gives you some ways to process grief in the Resources section at the end.

Well done!
Profile Image for daemyra, the realm's delight.
875 reviews37 followers
January 5, 2021
The Wild Edge of Sorrow is a supremely poetic book. It is a call to arms for us to take on our apprenticeship with grief and to walk through the five gates of grief. This has been is a life-changing read for me.

I’ve observed loud voices in the wellness community shy away from the darkness, whether it is dealing with racist belief systems, or simply being uncomfortable with conflict, in general. This book is not for the light and love brigade AND THANK THE GODDESS it isn’t.

Our cult of happiness as the only emotion to be proud of makes us uncomfortable with grief and sorrow. The pursuit of happiness and material gain puts us in a false homeostasis that is at odds with our true nature and with the soul of the world. Francis Weller eloquently argues that it is only when we can face our grief, a necessary part of our shadow work, that we can emerge from the half-life existence that modern society condemns us to.

Weller writes with precision and beauty, every turn of phrase so right, and every shared poem or quote well put for the occasion. Whether it is little descriptions like, "the fragility of flesh, and the immensity of soul", or sharing poems like "a holy thing to love what death can touch" (Judah Halevi or Emanuel of Rome), The Wild Edge of Sorrow is wonderfully well said.

I treasured each sentence, and it is a book that refuses to be skimmed. You cannot skim this, but allow each word to wash over you.

Weller describes 5 gates of grief we walk through. The first gate is the one we are all familiar with, everything we love we will lose. The second gate can surprise us because it is the places that have not known love. The third gate is the sorrows of the world. The fourth gate is what we expected and did not receive, and the fifth gate is ancestral grief, “the grief we carry in our bodies from sorrows experienced by our ancestors.”

Weller writes with compassion about the lack of self-compassion we can have for ourselves, about shame, and I enjoyed his discussion on ritual, the importance of ritual, and the benefits of it.

”Everything is a gift, and nothing lasts. This is a painful truth.”

Our grief is not a problem to be fixed in the way we think of fixing the other problems we have in our lives. And Weller is not arguing for us to wallow in our grief, but that we have relegated any grief we have to our shadow, and in the shadow, things become a primitive agony, and we become, in fact, haunted by the grief in our life. Weller states multiple times throughout the book that depression can be a symptom of sorrow: “Without an adequate time in the ashes tending the loss, sorrow mutates into symptoms of depression, anxiety, dullness, and despair.”

We cannot fix our subterranean feelings, but undergo ritual in community and take time with ourselves, to work through the darkness, because it is how we can truly grow, live, and love with true vitality.
97 reviews8 followers
November 14, 2020
I wanted to love this book. Lots of people love this book. I thought I would join them in their love of this book.

The basic premise and basic assertion that grief is important and necessary to human and planetary health and well-being is one that I agree with wholeheartedly and I was hoping I might find more tools to engage with the healing and transformational experience of grief both individually and collectively.

There was some of that. But, it was so weighed down by flowery prose, poetry that didn’t move me, “because I said so” logic, and cultural appropriation that it was hard to find. There were many many many more clips from rituals he has led than useful information about how you would craft such rituals. There was some of that information, but it was scant.

I think that this book spent more time trying to convince people that grief work is important (which I already believe and therefore did not need a book to convince me of) and on nebulous arguments about why it is good for the soul that, even though I agree, I wasn’t able to relate to, than on useful pedagogy for how to approach it.

So, I give the premise a 5 and the execution a 3. That would usually make for a 4 star review, but it was really a slog to get through, so I’m tilting my rating in favor of my actual experience.
Profile Image for Christy.
Author 1 book5 followers
July 8, 2017
Wow. Beautiful book that touched my heart over and over. Very much recommend!
Profile Image for Nathalie Daudet.
35 reviews2 followers
March 5, 2022
This poetic handbook to grief - both in our own lives but also grief for the losses we all experience in our world - was incredibly healing to read. "Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground" - Oscar Wilde
Profile Image for Candice.
15 reviews
September 26, 2020
I can’t begin to say how beautiful and necessary this book is, not just when you’re grieving, but as a way to understand how we can go about dealing with the heaviness of life and all it’s difficulties. There is so much we neglect to acknowledge and process in this modern world, and it takes a toll on us in ways we can’t even comprehend. Our modern society has forgotten how to grieve, how to live with various heartaches and traumas, which tends to compound and manifest in very toxic outcomes. This is not a book about dwelling in sorrow, or “getting over it”, but how to fully embrace it and give it the attention it deserves. In honoring and experiencing grief, through presence, ritual, community, we can also fully appreciate the joys in life, which often elude us when we are running from stress and turmoil. The wisdom of Francis Weller’s writing is soulful and nourishing, ...and accessible - not just for the ‘spiritual’ types or therapy-junkies. It goes into the ‘Everyone Should Read This Book’ category, and I will likely gift it to many people in years to come.
Profile Image for Candace Whitney Morris.
188 reviews53 followers
December 10, 2018
Stunning. This is such a grounding and necessary book when you are grieving or if you want to understand what it's like for someone else who might be grieving. Mystical and Jungian, the words ring ancient and true and I've underlined nearly half the book. It will stay on my nightstand to keep company with other books that I use as references time and time again...along with "Care of the Soul" and "Women who Run with the Wolves."
Profile Image for Allen.
82 reviews
May 25, 2020
An in-depth introduction to the important process of grief work. Lots of good resources at the end. The book brings shows you the layout of the land, the course, the meaning, the ways, and places you at the starting line. The rest lies on you to begin to grieve so you can heal deep wounds and losses and live alive again.
Profile Image for M.j. Radosevich.
96 reviews5 followers
October 22, 2017
This is book to ponder page by page. If you are grieving and mourning deep loss especially of personal circle then you will resonate with his insights and find comfort in his perspective. The mourning is both individual and collective for us to continue to choose life.
Profile Image for Benjamin Lawrence  Walker.
50 reviews1 follower
May 5, 2020
I did not no what to expect heading into this book, and I was not disappointed. As a Christian, I had to read this book with discretion but it truly is one of the best books of grief I have ever read. It has a depth to it that only comes from an author who knows what it means to grieve.

However, the last chapter left me saddened. Weller has a deep connection to the Earth and that is seen throughout his work. In the last chapter he argues that the ending of the world will be destruction of the Human species so we should have the best manners possible on our way out. It left me sad that this is Weller’s ultimate view of the world: destruction not redemption. He works from the assumption of the cessation of human life– when the truth is the world, and humanity will be redeemed, not destroyed. We are running toward redemption, not away from destruction. We do not sit with grief but travel through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, led by the Good Shepard, to green pastures, still waters, and a feast.

True grief ends in hope and you will not learn that from this book. But you will learn of grief.

Weller’s work is beautiful but incomplete.
Profile Image for James Wheeler.
164 reviews14 followers
September 9, 2021
"When i work with groups on the topic of self-compassion, i often begin by describing our time together as a project in 'non self-improvement.' So often our efforts at change in our lives mask subtle and not-so-subtle acts of self hatred." 151-152

Weller is helpful for those who are struggling with undigested or unprocessed grief. This comes in many forms. However i am most interested in the area of complicated grief that is based on growing up with an abusive person. His way of thinking through and expressing the questions of self (and shadow self) that arise from a painful childhood, is a breath of fresh air.

I appreciate the way he normalizes grief and also in how he explores the shadow self and wounds.
If you grew up with conditional love based on performance or some sort of strangulating self denial to gain acceptance, this is the book for you.

This is also the book for those with "undigested grief." What a world we live in. Grief is everywhere. And there are few outlets and acknowledgements. Its toxic to breathe it all in but have no where for it to go. Weller helps one to normalize and exhale the incredible stress of living in our modern world.
Profile Image for Ryan Perkins.
45 reviews1 follower
August 1, 2022
Francis Weller, I wish I could hug you.

This book was recommended to me by someone I trust very much. I had just experienced something’s that shook my foundation of self and uncovered some disturbing and deeply insightful thoughts. I did not, and still do not, have a strong diverse coping toolkit.

All of this said I took the advice and read this gem. One-sitting, cover to cover. It took a while because I could not read through my tears at points, but the beginning of a healing process this book delivered.

My relationship with grief will absolutely change and so importantly I feel as though I can understand grief more and am less ashamed of the feeling.

Thank you Francis Weller, your words were what I needed in so many ways.
Profile Image for Mary.
1,327 reviews14 followers
July 28, 2020
After losing my joy bird, my dog Milagro, I’ve been interested in grief....how to hold it and use it to open my heart and make me more alive. This book offers so many resources and thoughts to ponder.
July 17, 2022
An interesting dive into not just sorrow, but grief. All kinds of grief. Both the micro losses we experience everyday to a more existential grief humans experience. This book not only seeks to illuminate these areas of exploration and inquiry, but also gives practical suggestions for addressing said grief and moving through it. It feels like the kind of book people need now more than ever.
Profile Image for Mark Goodman.
17 reviews4 followers
December 26, 2022
Wow. What a tender, beautiful book. Pure soul poetry. Speaks directly to what is most challenging and most beautiful in a human life. This book will stay with me a very long time.
Profile Image for Renee Z.
185 reviews1 follower
March 8, 2023
Incredible gives actual tools to help deal with grief really puts you into a new perspective on life
54 reviews4 followers
August 14, 2020
This book has helped me immensely in navigating the terrain of grief. Francis Weller is a wise and kind man.
Profile Image for Kate.
242 reviews
March 2, 2021
Probably the most powerful book I've ever read about grief. Grief can be such an isolating, disorienting experience. This book gave honest, real words to that experience, and treats grief with such honor and even reverence. It felt like a gift. We'll all experience loss beyond words in this lifetime, and this book is one of the few that seems to meet that moment. It speaks to all kinds of grief and loss. There's a lot about community and ritual that didn't connect with my experience or with what feels available to me, but it piqued my curiosity anyway. And the parts of the book that did speak directly to loss I've experienced were more moving than I can express; thus, 5 stars.
Profile Image for Erica.
47 reviews1 follower
May 9, 2022
A very poignant read that I will be referring back to again and again. It is absolutely everything my soul has been needing. I would love to practice and implement these rituals with others in my community one day.
Profile Image for David.
80 reviews4 followers
October 25, 2022
“Grief enfolds our lives, drops us close to the earth, reminding us of our inevitable return to the dark soil.”

I liked that.

My own experience of grief was closer to having tons of sand dumped on me from a dump truck. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I was completely stuck and unable to move. Grief was geological for me, the scale of it. It was like an earthquake, an avalanche, a tidal wave. It didn’t feel like an emotion. It felt like a fly swat would for a fly. Grief was a person swat. It swatted me good. Thwap!

Francis Weller talks about the massive scale of grief. He describes how his mentor, at their first meeting, pointed to a rock on his desk, and said, ‘This is my clock. I operate at geologic speed.” He goes on to say, “…if you are going to work with the soul, you need to learn this rhythm, because this is how the soul moves.” He points to a clock and says, “It hates this.”

Why does the soul hate regular clocks? Surely because the soul hates life generally. The soul probably also hates spit-roast chickens, hula-hoops and kangaroos. The soul is anti-life and is focused only on oblivion and forgetting and the lovely warm water of Lethe. The soul is of course just an idea (or many ideas), but in depth psychology, at it’s most interesting, it’s a way of bringing value to all things associated with this anti-life quality.

This definition of the soul is also paradoxically embued with a life-giving quality. This is sometimes co-opted, especially by Jungians, as a kind-of metaphor for a follow-your-dreams, you’re-worth-it capitalism. Framed as an exciting early-retirement plan for professionals. Is your job as a lawyer, doctor, successful business person, etc not fulfilling you? You should listen to your heart and follow your souls-journey into painting, music, poetry, or whatever the hell. This opportunity to follow-your-dream is not so available to the financially insecure whose own bitter experience of life is much closer, you imagine, to that of the soul.
To his credit, Weller deals with the kind of grief that hits all classes of people, including home repossession. His view of grief is not rose-tinted. I admired how he described crying on a daily basis during his depression. I appreciated that he talked at length about shame as a component of grief. I agree with him about the power of ritual, and loved the suggested rituals at the end. I like that he focuses on the importance of community experience as opposed to individual reflection. This is refreshing in any book on psycho-analysis. However, his description of ritual often falls back on cliched ideas of a ‘noble savage’ society. He also fails to see ritual as potentially problematic. Let us not forget that the Klu Klux Klan rely on ritualised forms of bonding.
Also, when he talks about soul-activism I feel myself clenching in irritation. Quite possibly this is my own problem, but I feel political activism should be directed in practical measures outward. I’m still digesting this. I guess it’s not an either/or thing. You can have your personal grief about the environmental disaster, but you can also contribute to alleviating it in practical ways.

The soul can also apparently be found in nature. But it’s nature generally seen from afar, like David Caspar Friedrich’s Wanderer. Not the kind of nature that would freeze your nuts, give you hypothermia and slowly shut down your heart and respiratory system. Or even the kind of nature that would infect you with a deadly bacterium.
There is an element of the soul that has always been attractive as an expression of aristocratic grief. Think of the fin-de-siecle decadents and Romantics. However, if you forget the self-flattering, too-good-for-this-world vibe, then I think the image of the soul can still have meaning. Perhaps even political meaning. And, although I have reservations, I loved Weller’s book
Displaying 1 - 30 of 164 reviews

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