The Gift of Grief

Winter windowLoss, and the grief that results from loss, is a part of everyone’s life. We each suffer loss in a variety of ways, from separation, divorce, unemployment, relocation, immigration, natural disaster, trauma, illness and death. On some level we know that we will not leave this life without first losing relationships that matter. Still, loss can rock your world.

My own experience with grief began with a pregnancy loss when I was a nurse in a birth center of a large metropolitan hospital. Initially my grief affected me in so many ways – personally, interpersonally, and professionally. Grief affected my appetite, my interests, my sleep, and my dreams. This single loss event was like a stone thrown into a heretofore calm pool that was my life. The stone caused huge ripples, beginning with emotional pain deeper than I had never known before, and moved outward in ways that impacted the course of my life.

My grief has been a soul journey, and my guide was a wonderful therapist who inspired me. In the gentle holding container of the therapy relationship, we can deepen our experience of healing. We begin by pausing, and just being with grief, feeling it viscerally in our bodies. We move toward our suffering, finding a gentle way to be with it. Eventually we open to inquiry, deepening the meaning of our loss.  Through spacious inquiry we ask, “What can we learn from our losses? What inner and outer resources do we have to help us cope with our grief? How do we go on? What treasures lie in the mire and muck of loss? What are the spiritual gifts of grief?”

The experience of loss and the deep inquiry that resulted continues to ripple through me, revealing tenderness and vulnerability in place of naive self-assurance. Grief awakened me to the preciousness of life, and resulted genuine compassion for others and myself. This compassion opens my heart each time I sit with another who grieves. Sharing the richness of this common bond makes us both more whole.

Gail Caldwell, author of Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, writes, “I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.”

So true. Grief rubs our rough edges, softening and opening us to the mystery life. One of my beloved teachers, Frank Ostaseski, says, “Grief is our common ground, and healing is always found by moving toward the suffering. The journey through grief is a path to wholeness.”