Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

The Journey Through Grief

In the midst of grief, it’s hard to see to the other side.  I offer this quote for your consideration.  May it serve you in some way.

“Grief may be the greatest healing experience of a lifetime. It’s certainly one of the hottest fires we will encounter. It penetrates the hard layers of our self-protection, plunges us into the sadness, fear, and despair we have tried so hard to avoid. Grief is unpredictable, uncontrollable. There are no shortcuts around grief. The only way is right through the middle. Some say time heals, but that’s a half-truth. Time alone doesn’t heal. Time and attention heal.

In grief we access parts of ourselves that were somehow unavailable to us in the past. With awareness, the journey through grief becomes a path to wholeness. Grief can lead us to a profound understanding that reaches beyond our individual loss. It opens us to the most essential truth of our lives: the truth of impermanence, the causes of suffering, and the illusion of separateness. When we meet these experiences with mercy and awareness, we begin to appreciate that we are more than the grief. We are what the grief is moving through. In the end, we may still fear death, but we don’t fear living nearly as much. In surrendering to our grief, we have learned to give ourselves more fully to life.”

Frank Ostaseski is the founder of Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, the first Buddhist hospice in America.  From Buddhist Teachers Respond to the Newtown Tragedy, Tricycle Magazine

I appreciate your presence!  Please consider subscribing for free updates by email.  With love, Sandra

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12 Comments

  1. jean sampson

    I think everything written here is true and especially that, in order to really grow through grief, one needs attention. I interpret that to mean loving attention from someone who loves us and is willing to give us relaxed one-way attention until we are able to function and think again. Those kinds of feelings that dig us up from the inside make rational thinking nearly impossible, and, ideally, we do need someone who is NOT in the grief to give us attention and to remind us that we are not alone, even though it feels like we are. With enough discharge (RC word), we will come through the grief and be able to look around and see, not only what or who we have lost, but also the new gifts we have acquired that would only have been possible by going through this journey and doing the painful work required to heal.

    • Hi Jean,

      That’s a beautiful perspective on the kind of loving attention that we can give to one another to help support the process of healing. I understood “attention” to mean being present in the moment, but yours is another equally valid and valuable view of the word because, after all, we are interdependent. And, there is no one who escapes grief. I appreciate your sense of grief as a journey through the most challenging of times.

  2. Grief is inevitable as the impermanence cycle prevails, morphs and makes way for new life. Each of us has to find our own way to move through our grief. We may try to escape experiencing it but the risk of doing that it eventually another death will take place and trigger the grieving process twice over.

    In the last 6 years I have grieved 6 times and 3 of those grieving processes were experienced just last year. Frankly I don’t know if I’m still grieving or not because I have come to a place of accepting that grieving is part mindful being. What I do know is that 5 of those people made me smile every time we met. Our relationships were comfortable and mutually beneficial. Only one of the people who died was a difficult person, who unwittingly taught me many valuable life lessons.

    Choosing to grieve by celebrating the lives of those who died helped me focus on exactly what I was grateful for ie. the privilege of being a friend, daughter and sister. I am grateful today for the love of those who are gone and for the memories we made together. I’m grateful I did not choose to reject the most difficult person in my life because my relationship with person taught me so much about myself, human nature, relationship dynamics and conquering fear than I would have learned had I rejected and abandoned that person.

    I have become keenly aware of impermanence and how precious and fleeting life is. I recognize that thanks to impermanence everything is possible. Life itself is possible. I recognize that difficult people and trying circumstances in our lives are character building opportunities.
    Grieving hurts but it’s not suffering when we are mindful and courageous enough to overcome fear by going deep enough to discover that love is what/who we are.

    • timethief,

      You have truly traveled through the journey of grief many times over in recent years and have brought back for us such profound insight. It’s interesting that you say you are not sure whether you are still grieving or not as it has become such an integral part of mindful living. I was caught by surprise the other day when a bubble of grief came up for my cat who was killed last November. Your sage advice reminds us to celebrate the goodness, have the courage to feel loss, and to discover the love that is at the heart of every human. Your journey feels rich and complete though perhaps never fully ending. I’m honored by all that you have shared here.

  3. Sandra,

    Perhaps it’s the recent highly-publicized shootings, reports from war zones or our own personal experiences with the death of our own loved ones, but there’s no doubt that death is on our minds.

    Just this morning, I saw an announcement in Huffington Post about Death Cafes http://huff.to/XltFPr . These groups meet to discuss wills, hospices, funerals so they can encourage folks to make rational decisions about how they want their lives to end.

    As soon as I saw that article I forwarded it to my friend, Judy Brizendine, who has written a wonderful book and journal, Stunned by Grief, in the hope that she can see a tie-in with her program.

    Recently, as I was assisting a friend with the memorial service of her husband, I was pleased to hear his colleagues and friends share stories and tributes about how he had touched their lives. These last services always seem to bring out so much we didn’t know about our friends and loved ones.

    While the closing services are an important part of our grieving, I wish we celebrated our loved ones while they are alive also. These wouldn’t have to be as formal as the Lifetime Achievement Awards. We could tell them how we feel at a birthday celebration or just a random note in a card any time of the year. As we show appreciation throughout their lives, we would grow in appreciation for ourselves as well.

    Thanks for sharing this quote from Frank Ostaseski.

    • Hi Flora,

      Thanks for sharing the link to the article on Death Cafes. Seems like a strange name, but then what should they be called! Very interesting.

      I think you are so right about celebrating our loved ones when they are alive. I suspect that would also shift our experience of grief if it were to become a more integral aspect of our relating. I appreciate your wise and grounded perspective.

  4. I, too, have grieved much during this past year. Losing my daughter (Dawn, age: 37), at first, made me feel as if I didn’t want to live. I couldn’t understand how this child (I had brought into the world) could have passed so suddenly, without any warning (heart disease is like that – no warning). I couldn’t grasp the concept of her loss. The anguish and pain was/is indescribable.

    After crying and sleeping a lot (part of my grieving process) for months (in Florida – by myself), I moved back to Jersey to be near my older daughter and my grandchildren (Dawn gave me 5 beautiful grandchildren). This was a ‘no brainer’ for me. I knew that in order for me to begin to heal I had to be near my loved ones (I had moved to Florida for financial reasons and because I have cousin living there — big mistake).

    I needed to talk with the medical examiner several times – in order to try to get ‘answers’. There were ‘no answers’ to be found. Her heart was damaged (3 heart valves were severely clogged) and, yet, all her medical tests were fine. Her doctor had sent her for a full blood workup just the month before. I keep thinking – if only they had checked out her heart – maybe she’d still be here. But they didn’t. I hear “she was so young, there was no need”. This has to change. Too many young people have heart attacks (I’ve spoken to so many people who know someone who has passed at a very young age due to heart issues). I found myself thinking of the other parents going thru the same thing and my heart ached for them.

    My 3 youngest grandchildren lost their home during the superstorm ‘Sandy’ – shortly after I moved back to Jersey. I was so upset – as were/are they. It’s been so hard on them. Their school was almost totally devastated also. To lose their Mom, their home and their school within 10 months time – that added to my grief. They cried, they are still grieving – but it’s amazing (and wonderful) how resilient they are. People – complete strangers, as well as many friends and family – helped to make their Christmas a better one than they would have had. I am grateful to those that helped out. They are living in an older house not far from me (FEMA isn’t helping them much) until their home can be rebuilt. I see them when I am able and I help out as much as I am able. They keep busy with school and friends — and they know they are ‘loved’.

    I remember losing my Dad when I was 17 yrs. old. My Mom passed 15 yrs. ago. I’m an only child. Since losing my daughter – I feel that there are different ‘levels’ of grief. I cried and felt the heartache when I lost my Dad – when I lost my Mom. Part of my world fell apart with as did I.

    When I lost my daughter, the anguish I experienced was almost too much to bear at times. I cried more in 2012, than I have cried in my entire almost 65 yrs. of living. Not just crying – gut wrenching sobs. Sometimes screaming was a part of the sobbing. It is true – I had to experience that ‘pain’ and go thru it — to come out of it, somewhat, — or I’m sure I would have wound up in a mental hospital.

    I have done a lot of reading. Right now I’m reading The Mindfulness Code. Very good book. I’ve done much thinking and ‘feeling’. I’ve done much praying and meditating. I do ‘loving meditation’ each night before going to sleep. It helps me to think that, perhaps, my energy and prayers are helping someone else who is in pain.

    I still cry. I will forever miss my sweet daughter. I am not the same person I was before her passing. Even since my grandchildren lost their home. I am more aware and mindful of how quickly one’s life can change. In one instant – the people and/or things we love and care about can be separated from us. I try to cherish each day – each moment – each breath.

    I have adopted an old deaf dog who has only 2 teeth. No one wanted her, but I did/do. I was told her name was ‘Joy’ – and I need a little ‘joy’ in my life. She is a sweet, gentle old gal and likes walking in the snow (as do I). We took a walk a few nights ago as the snow was falling. I noticed the beauty all around me. The moon and streetlights reflected on the snow covered ground and reminded me of diamonds. I thought of my daughter and wished her wellness and peace. I breathed in the cool air and smiled.

    When I see my grandchildren smile, I see my daughter smile. I am grateful that she was part of my life for 37 years. The ‘grief’ doesn’t really ever go away – but in my case – it’s sort of faded a bit, into the background – and I’ve chosen to celebrate Dawn’s life and how much happiness and goodness she brought to others.

    So — thank you, Sandra, for reminding me that I think I’m on the ‘right track’ —– and for always expressing yourself so eloquently.
    Sandy

    • Dear Sandy,

      Thank you for sharing your story and your healing process as it unfolds. I’m sure it is meaningful to others and will help others dealing with grief that arrives in such an unexpected and shocking way.

      Hearts Sisters (http://myheartsisters.org/) is a wonderful website where women can learn more about the symptoms of heart disease, which vary from the ones common to men, and can get information and support on surviving a heart attack or even prevention in the first place.

      Sometimes, though, we can’t avert what’s meant to be and there’s no way of really knowing what your daughter’s path was and why her time came so early. I’m glad her children, your grandchildren, are discovering their resiliency despite all they have been through and that you can be close to them. And I am so happy you have found Joy and clarity in your reading, study, and personal meditation.

      Your description of walking through the snowy diamonds that evening, enjoying the beauty, and sending the love are a testimony to how far you have come through this most difficult journey of grief. I’m so honored by your willingness to be open and share your deepest pain with us to both heal yourself and help others at the same time. You are like those bright diamonds light the way for others. Thank you.

  5. I just emailed your post to a fellow blogger whose son died in a car accident not long ago. I hope it brings her some comfort.

  6. What beautiful beautiful words! They shot right to my heart.

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