2 logs for the fire…Processing death & dying

 In Counseling

I’ve been thinking about death lately. Within the space of two weeks an uncle and cousin of mine have died. This has raised the question for me of how would I help people process the loss of their loved ones either during the final days of life or after death has occurred?

fire2 logs for the fire

There is a tribe that has a special ritual for when a person dies. At night they build a fire and gather the community around it. Each person brings two logs to the ceremony. They will all take a turn going around the circle to talk about the deceased.

The first round of talking is devoted to saying everything about the person that they did not like or how the person hurt them. When they finish talking, the speaker throws a log on the fire. The second round is devoted to telling all the good things about the person who passed. What that person meant to them and how he/she impacted their life. When they are finished, the speaker throws the second log on the fire.

Most of us are neither complete saints nor complete sinners. We reside somewhere in the middle having lived lives where we have both hurt and helped others. In the story above, the intention is to create a true picture of the deceased. Not one where the person was either completely wonderful or completely bad. A balanced accounting. This allows people to air their hurts and acknowledge their love and respect, which makes it easier for them to grieve and accept the loss of the departed.

What is death/dying?

In my mind, there are two parts to death. There is the person and how his/her life impacted those around them. And then there is death itself. What is it? What happens when we die? Is that it, or is there something more?

These questions are answered in various ways through religion, spiritual practices and personal belief systems. Even if someone believes in a specific religious or spiritual explanation, there could be infinite variations on these beliefs when it gets down to the level of personal interpretation.

What this all adds up to for me is that death is not only unknowable but also inexplicable. There are no words in any language that can fully explain it. And so to help process death, whether it is impending or already occurred, I would want to help people put into words what the person’s life means to the loved ones and to help them understand death in whatever way makes sense to them.

What’s next

In part 2 I’m going to talk about a way of giving a gift to the departing or to those who remain that can be healing for everyone involved.

What do you think?

What happens when we die? Is it OK to say things about the departed that may not be flattering?


Showing 4 comments
  • Tzaddi

    Christine, I’m so sorry for your losses. *hugs*

    That sounds like a beautiful tradition to me. I don’t think of it as accounting so much as a way to heal, as you also say. I think it could be difficult to share all the hurts in a very public setting… But maybe it would be more healing that way than if you did it on your own… Not sure.

    I’ve been fortunate enough so far to have had few deaths to heal from. I’m going to try remembering this idea for when I need it. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Tom Tiernan

      Hi Tzaddi

      When I used the word ‘accounting’, I meant it as giving the whole picture of someone’s life. Not so much of putting items in a good or bad, right or wrong column. To give people the freedom to express themselves freely and fully.

      While I have never participated in the 2 logs ritual, I gave a eulogy at my mother’s funeral in a similar vein. In writing it, it was easy for me to, at first, focus on all the negative things. Believe me there were plenty. But in order for me to fully talk about my mother I had to come to a place where I needed to acknowledge some of the positive, because there was some. It wasn’t easy and yet I came away from the experience feeling good about what I had done and that I had done a little justice to the whole person my mother was. Many people made similar comments to me after the service.

      I’m not saying this to try to talk you into using this approach. That is very specific to an individual or group and has to be weighed carefully. Taking a good look at the intentions I had in writing my piece was also paramount to insuring that I was acting with integrity, which is important to me.

      Thanks so much for your response.

      Best, Tom

  • Tzaddi

    Doh, I just noticed this post was written by Tom. My condolences still apply 🙂

    • Tom Tiernan

      I’m a big Homer fan too. :>) Thanks for your condolences.



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