Overcoming grief with connection and community at 2021 Death Faire

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PITTSBORO — The year and a half of the COVID-19 era has been unprecedented in many ways, not the least of which has been the losses so many people have experienced.

The 2021 version of Death Faire, Abundance NC’s annual exploration of grief, addressed loss in unique ways Saturday at The Plant in Pittsboro, inviting community members to gather together to help one another with grieving processes in sustainable, connective ways.

Ally DeJong, Abundance NC’s executive director, said she worked this year with other organizations to create an inclusive safe space for people to process their grief and loss.

“With the busy nature of our society, it doesn’t really set us up well to be able to take a lot of time really for ourselves, but especially not our grief,” she said. “Anyone who has gone through a process of loss knows that the two weeks that you get to grieve when someone immediately passes away is kind of taken up by all the logistic work, so there’s not really much time at all for us to really focus on these things.”

This year’s Death Faire featured several spiritual workshops, including meditation, writing and journaling sessions, visual art sessions, as well as house music and a New Orleans-style funeral procession complete with beads and parasols. There were also booths offering things such as selling crystals, tarot readings, promoting the American Wildlife Rescue and more.

The purpose of all of Death Faire’s activities is to allow people to process their grief in a way that connects them to others and to connect to the world around them.

Aubrey Griffith-Zill, the founder of the Living Arts Collective, has participated in Death Faire every year. She said she got involved with the event through her organization’s relationship with Abundance.

“We’re really all about helping people access deep emotions that are inside in their body, whether that be grief or joy, and finding embodied ways to express that,” Griffith-Zill said.

Griffith-Zill also said she thinks connecting deep emotions among an inclusive community allows for people to grieve in a more beneficial way for themselves and others.

“Connection with community, connection with each other, connection with ourselves, connection with this land is so important,” she said. “This is a safe place and intentional place to talk about death, to embrace it, to think of it in a different light in a way that I think a lot of our culture does not think about here in America.”

Death Faire also looks at various perspectives when it comes to processing death or loss.

One of these ways is through teaching about sustainable burials such as green burial, deep sea burial and more. DeJong said Death Faire’s session on green burials mostly focuses on pine casket burials, which is when the deceased are placed into a pine wood casket, which will eventually decompose over time.

“It’s a very beautiful, handmade casket and you’re buried in it, and eventually your body in the casket itself decomposes into the ground,” DeJong said. “That’s really what were we are meant to do; go back to the earth. We are nutrients — our body, our decay, our decomposition — are all nutrients, and it’s just the cycle of life.”

This year’s event took a different focus from the green burial one the event normally has. This year, DeJong said prior to Death Faire she wanted the event to take a deeper dive at the connection people have with each other, most specifically with their ancestry.

“Our ancestry is another way I feel we feel a little less alone,” she said. “It goes from your parents and then you have four grandparents and then it literally keeps doubling every step you take back, and so to think about all the humans and all the lives and all the hardship that got you to this point, it’s really liberating.”

Griffith-Zill said for her, the movement and meditation Death Faire offers creates a space that helps people to go through the grieving process in a unique way.

“Co-creating a container where people are able to be curious, vulnerable, courageous and tap into a place for those feelings to be felt and expressed — we feel that helps heal the grief in a way that allows for the stored emotions to be moved, to be expressed and to be felt deeper,” she said.

Griffith-Zill said this year’s event was special to her because she feels Death Faire allows for people to come together after all of the emotional turmoil the pandemic has brought on.

“There’s a deep sense of collective grief after all of this we have been through the past couple of years together,” she said. “Having the privilege and opportunity to be here together in itself is a celebration, and then getting to hold death and grief in a way that we get to bring it to the surface and get to honor it collectively feels really special.”

Community is a common theme present at Death Faire. From the circles of strangers gathering to share their stories of loss and sorrow, to the room full of friends painting and drawing together, Death Faire provided an outlet for people to come together and process their emotions as a community. According to DeJong, that’s what makes Death Faire so special.

“Grief has many faces — it’ll turn into anger and rage and depression,” she said. “Once we like can approach and nurture our relationships and just look at death more as a transformation and less so this like finite ending, we’ll be able to attend to each other’s needs more and tend to our own needs more and really heal.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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