Grief and Noongar Healing

Ember Connect’s Culture and Connect Manager, Michelle Woosnam, shares her experience of grief and healing following the loss of her Dad.

In 2019 my Dad passed away. He was my best friend and one of my biggest supporters. Dad lived with me and my kids for his last 3 years, and it still hurts looking out my back door and not seeing him read the newspaper.

The week after the funeral I continued to feel so many mixed emotions… is numbness an emotion? If it is, I felt every bit of it! I laid on the lounge binging not only Netflix, but the leftover beef and gravy rolls from the wake…all 4 kilos of them…yes 4 kilos.

Unfortunately I have been to many funerals, but at Dad’s I had this feeling that made me realise I had to grow up. Weird I know being 47 years old and having this realisation.

Months later a friend messaged me and I told him I was struggling. He spoke to me of healing practices that would help with my grief as well as giving some comforting advice. My friend told me to talk to my Dad and that he would talk back to me in the wind. After this yarn I felt a small shift in my energy, but not enough to change, I continued to quietly grieve.

A year later my grief continued. I often wondered if I would ever be able to think or talk about my Dad without getting emotional. My sisters felt the same.

My Mum’s parents – my grandparents – were Stolen Generation children. Their culture, language and connection to Country was taken. I have found that even though we never received what was rightfully ours in the passing of traditions, our urge for healing and reconnection to ourselves and to Country cannot be denied.

Finally arrangements were made and it was time to heal and reconnect on my friend’s grandmothers’ country. It was a fresh sunny Makuru day at the edge of the saltwater where my sisters and I met for our healing. 

We started with a smoking ceremony to honour, acknowledge and pay our respects to Wardandi custodians before travelling up the hill where the fresh water flowed. Once we arrived, we settled in an area close to the edge of the river. The next stage of the healing was rubbing ochre all over our arms and hands and then washing it off with soapbush and river water, cleansing away our grief. 

We sat peacefully on the ground with the sunshine filtering down as my friend used his tapping sticks with the birds mimicking his tune. We fell deeper into a peaceful place as the didgeridoo lulled us into a state of healing and connection.

Since leaving the river’s edge that day I felt the experience has given me a sense of connection to Country, my sisters and my grief.  I am now in a place of feeling dubbakaarn (relaxed), or “steady, steady” as my old Dad would say. Even though I still get emotional about my Dad, I believe this is just a part of my love for him.

If you are looking for healing or want to help someone through their grief, there are a few thoughts I wish to share with you.

  1. Connect with Country.
  2. Be gentle on yourself.
  3. Everyone’s grief is different. Grieve in your own way, in your own time.
  4. Your heart and mind will find joy again.
  5. Support groups, counselling sessions also help.


You may also find the following resources useful:

Ember Connect wishes to acknowledge the many Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and we honour their deep continuing connection to land, sky, waterways and community.

We pay our respects to our Elders past, present and emerging who illuminate our journey to truth-telling, culture and conservation, which remains stronger than ever.