Category Archives: Back to Roots

The ‘Power’ in the letter

If you don’t ask you can’t find out what you need to know!

The ‘Power’ was in the Letter

When I read the letter and took it to Guyana, I had a better idea about why I was researching my family heritage. And what I was seeking to find out about my ancestral identity.

Back in 1979 my mother wrote to her favourite brother Eustace and asked for more details about their family heritage. My mothers memory is poor now so I can’t ask her why she did that, but I can only guess that she was homesick and wanted something to remind her of her heritage? Or maybe because she didn’t grow up with her siblings she was looking to reconnect?

Details of Family Unknown!

For whatever reason he wrote back and gave her details about their maternal and paternal ancestry, back to their grandparents and great-grandparents.   I am eternally grateful to her, because that letter has been pivotal in many ways, in my own search for my ancestral family heritage.

I brought a copy of the letter for my cousin Emily who I met last year in Guyana for the first time . I didn’t think it would be useful as anything other than supplementary evidence.  But what I found when I went back, was that this outlining of our family heritage by her father, had also helped her to make sense of connections with other family members.

That letter was the Impetus for my Search

Letter from my uncle to my mother

I have reconnected to unknown cousins and there has been an opportunity for my relatives to find out more about their family history.  As a result, several cousins have asked for more information based on this letter.  I have found a sense of belonging to a community, even if that community was in another land.  And I have forged a stronger connection to my cousin Emily, who has introduced me to other members of the family (Emilys  father and my mother are brother and sister).

Connecting Parts of the Family Tree

When I took that letter to my cousin, she started to put the connections together to other parts of the family tree.  And as I was introduced to new cousins that I hadn’t met before, she was recounting to them how they were related.  “This was so and so’s father, you are his cousin through his marriage to…”

So there have been lessons for me, any piece of information that you can find can be a useful piece in your research. From this experience I am now going to start recording the names in a family tree, something that I had started before but couldn’t continue.  They were just names, without connection and meaning. Now that connection is alive, I can start to put the tree into place.

What you think is a small or insignificant fact or information, a letter, a journal, a picture. Look again and start to reconnect with your family, ask questions, seek advice on who that person is.  You may find out that it becomes a central part of your connection to family heritage.

Until next time!

A Healing Ritual for Grief

Life in Birth and Death

Last Thursday it was both my 59th Birthday and the one year passing of my father.  It was a poignant day, full of bittersweet memories of what I have been gifted from my father and the recognition that I won’t see him again, at least in this lifetime.

But he is on my ancestral altar and I talk to him constantly.  Those of us born and living in the African Diaspora who are RE-Membering, know that our ancestors walk by our side.  They are with us daily, we honour and respect them, we feed and water them.

On the Ancestral Path

For the past seven years I have been on an ancestral journey, it started long ago, but the day that I stepped into my first Family Constellations workshop I knew that I was witnessing an African Healing Ritual.  Since that day I have been learning and deepening my understanding of the ‘Ancestral in the constellation.’

It has been a long journey that has included reconnecting to my parental ancestral homeland and gaining my Guyanese Citizenship.  I travelled to Burkina Faso in 2016 on my first African Healing journey and worked extensively with the renowned Elder – Malidoma Some.  During 2016 I attended a 5 Day Ritual Healing Village with him in upstate New York and a 5 day Grief Ritual in Canada.

A Modern Grief Ritual

By 2018 I had done extensive family research and taken a DNA test.  I found my way to Benin and a Fa priest and community, undertaking a number of family rituals for the generations of my family who had been forgotten in the diaspora.  It was an intense and humbling experience.  When I returned home and told my father he said that he was glad “Darling, I knew that you were searching.” he said.

And so last week on this day of birth and death I pondered, ‘what would be a fitting tribute for my father.  How could I create a Modern Grief Ritual that would honour and respect him?  By evening I had decided and at 11.05pm, the moment that he transitioned a year ago, I posted to Facebook.

My Father – Reginald Edwin Riance Welch

In my tribute to him, I wrote……..

This is a picture of my father, he passed away a year ago today, on my Birthday today! I spent all day thinking about whether I should post in his memory, to FaceBook?? I wasn’t sure if it was OK and right.

And then I went online and found a dozen messages from friends wishing me a Happy Birthday and I realised that maybe this is just a Healing Ritual of the 21st Century!

My father was larger than life, he loved life! I think he would have liked to be remembered and celebrated. He broke conventions! He went to Fortnum and Mason’s in London in the ’50s and ’60s for his Christmas ham. He went to the Theatre and Opera. He loved Shakespeare and Classic Literature. He loved Nina Simone and James Baldwin.

He was proud of being Black and Guyanese and he didn’t let anyone tell him that he wasn’t good enough!! In the world that we live in today when it seems like we are going backwards in understanding our past and our history. I ask myself, what did it take to hold both of these ‘Ways of Knowing?’

Strength, Endurance, Pride!

Give him alike! Give him a Love, I miss him. R.I.P Reginald Edwin RianceWelch 1929-2018

Community Spirit

It wasn’t the 78 Likes that moved me, it was the 43 comments from friends who knew him and some from those who only know me through Facebook.  I was amazed by the many beautiful comments.  From my friends reminiscing on their reflections of meeting and talking with him, to comments about his photo and the ‘twinkle in his eye’.

Writing this I feel deep emotion because my mother and father left Guyana in 1953 and I wasn’t able to gather a community a year after his death to celebrate him.  And so this Modern Grief Ritual on a social media site that I have never much cared about, has shown me that I have work to do to expand my thinking about what constitutes community ritual in 2019.

Ashe!

Family Research a Systemic Lens

Start before it’s too Late!

We often only start family research later in our lives.  Maybe we take for granted the cultural traditions that we grew up around.  We may have embraced them or thought that they were old-fashioned and not worth paying attention to.

Later in life, as ageing parents come closer to the ‘transition’ we are forced to look at what is being left behind and how connected we are to our ancestral past.  Reconnecting to your family heritage, its ancestral heartland and cultural traditions can be a wonderful way to honour, those who have gone before us and those that we are still in a relationship with.

A Growing Desire for Knowledge

This aim to reconnect with family members across generations and within the wider community of which they are a part is a common and growing phenomenon.  It points to the part of our life or history that we know little about and makes us want to fill the gaps in our knowledge.

When there are family difficulties in the present, we increasingly look for what hasn’t been resolved in the past in order to create a better future.  What we often find when we look, are untold stories of family exclusion and secrets that have been kept down the generations, thereby creating the gaps in knowledge that we seek to fill.

Another way of seeing this is as recurring patterns within the family system, that are usually not clearly understood but often taken by a family member as their own. When we seeking a resolution to a family problem, it usually involves a relationship to another person, a friend, a substance, sometimes something that isn’t known but can be viewed as dynamic negative energy that hangs over the family.

Restoring and Reconciling Patterns

 

The goal is to find and work with all the relationships and energy sources so that difficult issues can be resolved and the flow of love starts to move naturally through the family system. One way of looking at this past-present dynamic is as an ‘entanglement‘ in the family.

This can be challenging because revealing or speaking about issues in your family or community system that have been forgotten, hidden or excluded is difficult and sometimes very painful.  However, it is also a powerful way of bringing about change and healing in family patterns.

  • For example, two family members may not have spoken to each other for years, but nobody knows why.
  • A sibling may feel that they are the peacekeeper or mediator for a whole family in conflict and yet have nobody to talk to when they have a problem.
  • An excluded relative that nobody talks about because they have a mental health problem an addiction or a history of violence somehow seems to intrude when there is a family gathering.
  • Or it may be a painful transgenerational community history that is taboo to speak about because its effects have been so traumatic on family members and the wider community.

The Family Constellations Lens

One way of uncovering our ancestral family heritage in more depth is through the lens of family constellations.  This unique method is a way of exploring present difficulties in a family or community, by looking to the past, so that we can understand how to make changes for the future.

The aim of constellations is to restore the ‘flow of love within the family’ and help us separate from entanglements within the system. We can strengthen the ties to our ancestry, by making a conscious choice to delve deep and free ourselves of patterns that create pain and suffering.

This may mean both revealing and speaking about difficult issues and relationships or people that have been forgotten and are hidden in the past.  When we find a place in our hearts for everyone in the family, even those who have been excluded, we can heal the trauma that is passed down the family line.

To find out more go to my Ancestral constellations website here

The Excluded Conversation 

Starting From Your Own Back Door

All communities have to start ‘from their own back door’ if they wish to heal because only they know what is needed and required for change to take place.  In many diaspora communities, we have to start from the inside and heal out and one way of facilitating that healing is through Family and Community constellations that Include the Excluded Conversation. 

The Excluded Conversation is one that focuses on the difficult issues that impact our communities and cause distress, dis-ease and dis-harmony.  I am interested in how to support families and communities to look at the ‘deep roots’ of difficult conversations and relationships.

Conversations on Historical Legacy

In many of our communities, the family is indivisible, both impact on the other.  This is what can make it so difficult for individuals in families to explore their African or Asian heritage, often questions about identity and belonging are taboo or painful to discuss so they are avoided or ignored.

We can seek to explore these conversations on history and legacy and trauma through the mapping process of a systemic constellation. When we fear the taboo, the unspoken and the unknown and keep silent, there is a danger that others in the family or community may take them on and recreate the family patterns from the past.

Why don’t we Talk about Difficult Things?

There are many issues that we know exist in our communities, that we do not speak about. Often these conversations are suppressed and kept within our families and communities for fear of shame, guilt, judgement!!  My cousin told me a story about a young woman in America who entered her boyfriend’s house and looking at a picture on the wall enquired “why is my grandmother on your wall?”

We do not speak of this, or the fear of or other losses, the missing brothers and sisters in our clan, those we have heard of but never met.  And those that we have never met and are suddenly presented to us later in life.  There are other issues that are a left-over legacy from slavery and colonialism like ‘shadism’ that still exists in families and communities.

Transgenerational Anger

There is also much transgenerational anger that reasserts its head in different forms.  In the last two weeks, the issue of gang violence in London has been in all the media and news.  But this is not new, these acts of gang violence and self-harm has been present for many years.  But now younger and younger children are becoming involved, it feels like a new generation is under threat.

Many families who come from communities that have migrated and raised second and third generations in their new homeland are facing these and other issues of identity, belonging and stigmatisation. The dis-ease of living with these stressors impact our families and communities. Our emotional well-being Is being impacted and creating health problems, of the body and mind.

Articulating our Experience

Often in African Diaspora communities, we have often used, music and dance to articulate our experience.  Movement allows us to express a situation in a different way, to harness the energy of the conversation along different lines.  We can do something similar through systemic constellations which map out a family situation or community dilemma that can act as an oracle, a past to present day story, that we can learn and begin to heal from.

Through this process, we can begin to look at the legacy of our history differently.  When we map out and constellate the impact of slavery and colonialism, war and migration on the lived life of our family members and the community it affords us a different perspective.

All Therapeutic Personal work is Hard

All therapeutic work can bring up strong emotions and feelings that are difficult to explore.  But can we let our fear of our feelings have greater control over us than our fear of what will happen within our families and communities if we do not make a profound change?  Questions not for solutions, but for reflection.

This is not therapy, it is not a long term solution because for that we would need generations of healing work.  It is, however, a start and a therapeutic healing process that can start to work with family and community life as it is now, here in the present.

Until next time!

Loss, Change and Citizenship

It’s Been a Summer of Loss and Change!

It’s been some time since I’ve written, as my father passed away in May and I’ve taken time out to think and reflect. Loss on that scale really makes you sit up and think about life.  I hadn’t realised that the grief would be so deep and impactful and I still miss and think about him every day.

Up until the last few months of my father’s life, I had always had a difficult relationship with him, maybe it was partly that which brought me to family constellations work.  But I am happy that on the last 18 months I was able to reconnect with my father, in love and not anger.  To say the things that needed to be said, about love and respect and honouring his sacrifices, and to heal old wounds.

The Ancestral Journey Continues

I realise as the weeks have gone by without him that my seven-year journey ancestral journey has also been a way to reconnect to him and my heritage.   I spent hours with him talking about the past and different family members.  I found out more about my father’s mother and all the dates of birth and death of my uncles, aunts and grandparents.

We talked about Guyana and I started revisiting and reconnecting with cousins.  And I learnt more about what had brought him the UK, even though I knew a lot before I learnt more.  And now that he is gone, I know that not all my questions have been answered, but enough to feel connected to my identity and parental ancestral lands.

A Guyanese Citizen is Born

In July I returned to Guyana and finally received my citizenship. I reconnected with my Uncle Alfred who I hadn’t seen since 1979 (he looks and sounds just like dad).  Together we journeyed down the great Essequibo River and travelled along the coast to see a bit more of the Guyanese country. I wish my dad had been alive to tell him in person about my travels.

Increasingly I am hearing people of my generations raise modern dilemmas, whether to reconnect with a homeland that has been left behind, whether to claim citizenship of the ancestral home of parents and grandparents.  To do so, is also to face the disconnect from the past and the splits that have been created that continue into the present.

Now Dad has Gone is there More to Find

Talk with elders now before they pass on is so important, (if you have not already been doing that I suggest that you start now) because when they are gone, the knowledge, the traditions, the culture are lessened or gone.  You may find long-lost family relatives, but also like me find some unexpected surprises, both good and bad.

I recently found the dates of my mother and fathers arrival in London in the 1950s.  My Uncle Alfred told me that they had sailed on a Dutch ship from Georgetown and there on Ancestry.com was all the information from the National Archives.

It is fitting that I have found out after dad passed how he came to the UK and that it is recorded in the National Archives.  It is something that he would have wanted.  I know he arrived on a cold grey day in October in Plymouth.  The rest is his-story and for another time.

R.I.P – Reginald Edwin Riance Welch 14.10.29-9.5.2018

Journey into African Centred Therapy

Why Black People Don’t go to Therapy

There is a perception that black people don’t want to go to therapy or counselling.  It is true that they go in smaller numbers.  And it is also true that many therapeutic interventions are not culturally relevant, so people turn to the church, or an elder to support them through family difficulties.

And as a community, we worry about ‘washing our dirty linen in public’ or are concerned about ‘what other people think of us’.  Often the impetus for a person to do something about their ‘life-issue’ happens when there is a family or community crisis.

I see my approach to constellations work as a kind of ‘walk-into’ African centred therapeutic space.  It can act as a snapshot, a moment to explore and dive deep, a way of reflecting on something profound and troubling, without an ongoing commitment.  In a way, it can be seen as a brief therapeutic session.

The traditional counselling method doesn’t work for all people.  There are financial factors, issues of building trust in the relationship and often a long-time commitment, that’s not for everyone.  And there are questions about a European model and its application for people of different cultures.

Dipping in and Out

I have dipped in and out of therapy over my lifetime.  Sometimes it has lasted for 6 months and at other times over two years.  It took me a long time to realise that my issues, ‘weren’t just going to go away,’ I had to learn that therapy, for me at least was about living with some of the deeper traumas that are part of my life and the preceding generations.

When I started learning family constellations this all became so much clearer.  It is transgenerational work, that looks at patterns of behaviours and relationships over three or four generations and sometimes even further back.

An African Centred Healing Ritual

I view my approach to constellations as a healing ritual, a form of African therapeutic work if you will.  Our workshops can be seen as a community coming together in ‘sacred space’.  My own perspective is that family constellations as a healing ritual can also be adapted to form a therapeutic approach that is more ancestral centred and connects us to our historical roots.

In our Ancestral family constellation workshops, the notion of ancestors is important and something that connects the past to the present.  We create this through the use of flowers, water, incense and representatives for the ancestors in the form of ‘elder’ dollies.  This represents those from the past that are connected to us in the present. It is not elaborate, it does not have to be named, it is just there beside us as we do the work.

Rites of Passage

Many ‘rites of passage’ take place during an ancestral constellations workshop.  By ‘rites of passage’ I mean, the transition that occurs during a healing session, whether resolved or not, the movement of energetic shift and change. For these reasons, my approach is increasingly to frame the work as an indigenous counselling approach that frames the approach within a wider ancestral legacy and that includes extended family and community.

In many cultures around the world, the ritual is a part of everyday life.  When there are births or deaths, the whole community is involved and plays a part.  Constellations viewed as a therapeutic approach with a healing edge focuses on a community village mapping structure, rather than a smaller family dynamic process.

The aim of Constellations as ritual healing is to discover the diagnosis of the presenting problem.  As a result, more constellation or therapeutic work may be an option, but so too can further healing work, which may suit people with different cultural world views.  The constellations process can help to ‘identify where the flow of love has been lost’ in the family and through the action of placing people and community is the relationship to each other, start to explore how to regain it.

Maybe that’s enough for now!

Until next time