Gifts of Grief

How intimately are you connected with grief? Is grief a distant acquaintance you’re tried to keep a wide berth from or have you allowed grief to enter your inner sanctum, season you and ripen you so that you can live even more fully, sourcing even some of your joy and vitality from grief’s flavor? 

What is grief, and how can it be good?

The Grief Recovery Institute defines Grief as the “normal and natural reaction to loss”. Grief is also “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” That could apply to so many things, including the loss of hopes and dreams related to a relationship that’s ending, a career changing, and larger scale changes on a social, political or global front.

When we’re feeling grief, if we allow ourselves to really be with it, it has the ability to touch our essence; the core of our soul, and open us up; to experience a depth of ourselves that the ego often protects. I’ve found grief to be a wake-up call; a checking in point where I can get in touch with my humanity and divinity at the same time – and in so doing, I’m more easily able to connect with the same in others. It’s a call to ask myself how I can live as fully as possible right now, which means living from love, compassion and wisdom, even in the midst of pain.

Types of Loss

We’re all familiar with the common tangible losses of death, divorce, relationship endings, financial, health and job loss.

It’s those less tangible losses which can wreak more havoc in our lives, because we’re not always aware of them, and when we do become aware, we don’t know what to do about them.

Did you realize there are more than 40 types of losses, including…

  • Loss of faith – in God, spirituality or religion, in our leaders
  • Loss of role or identity – such as being a caretaker, wife, lover or friend
  • Loss of plans, hopes & dreams for the future
  • Loss of safety and trust – emotional, mental, physical and/or spiritual

Myths about grief that can thwart the healing process:

  • Grief is something in the head vs. the heart, and can be fixed through intellectual processes
  • Time will heal. In truth, if nothing is done with the time, studies have shown it takes an average of 5 to 8 years for grief to be released, sometimes longer.
  • Replace the loss
  • Just keep busy
  • You should be alone in your grief

Teachings about Pain

We live in a culture that’s uncomfortable spending much time talking about grief, death, or pain. Yet what hat do some of the great writers and masters have to say about grief and pain?

  • Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional -Buddha
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted – Jesus, Matthew (5:4)
  • Healing comes from letting there be room for all of "this" to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy  - Pema Chodron

The Purpose of Pain

Pain is a call to wake us up to our true divinity, to who we really are at the soul level. When we allow ourselves to feel the pain of grief, we’re giving ourselves the gift of breaking our heart wide open, which enables us to feel more compassion for and connection to everyone, including ourselves.

Feeling grief without getting stuck in it; what’s the line?

There’s a belief that if we’re truly in tune with New thought, we shouldn’t feel grief – or at least not for too long, because it’s only our thoughts that are creating our feelings. So we just need to change our thoughts. Yet even Abraham Hicks says it doesn’t help to put a happy face sticker on the empty gas gauge.

The good in grief starts with it being a call. Not something to be denied or pushed down with saying “I’m fine” to others, but something to be FELT and gotten up and out in healthy ways so we’re cleansed and can move forward; more open, wise, and compassionate; allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, which in turn enables us to be present with others’ vulnerability and create more intimacy in our relationships.

Grief is an energetic condition. It’s there for a reason – like a child tugging on our sleeve that needs our attention. There’s no way around it, only through. It’s also an issue of the heart and a spiritual experience. We all know that whatever we resist persists, but whatever we allow ourselves to feel will dissipate and dissolve in the light of our loving attention. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel grief, it remains buried, adding weight and heaviness to our energy and lives. Every time you feel pain from a loss and stuff it down, it’s like adding a rock to a sack you’re carrying around. By the time you’re 40 or 50 you’re probably carrying around a lot of weight if you haven’t periodically let yourself feel and release grief.

Living fully means feeling all of it. Letting go of resistance and surrendering to what is. The more pain you allow yourself to feel, the more joy you’re capable of feeling. In the words of Kahlil Gibran “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain”.

Other gifts of grief include:

1.    It puts things in perspective – it helps us not sweat the small stuff

2.    Gratitude and appreciation; The suicide of a friend made me appreciate every day gifts more intensely birds chirping or the sun setting

3.    More compassion- when our hearts break, they open up

4.    Letting go of beliefs that don’t serve us, including those keeping us from forgiving others

5.    People get real

6.    Humility, enabling more authentic, intimate relationships

7.    Feeling more connected -to all of humanity. Longfellow said: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

8.    It “re-boots” us, to live in a more integrated way – from our heads and hearts, instead of just living from the neck up

9.    The call to live life as fully as possible; to minimize regrets

What helps when we’re feeling grief?

1.    Get still and get in touch with what you’re feeling and where that feeling is in your body. Bring your feelings up and out in a healthy way. When I’ve been in grief over a relationship loss, it’s helped me to overload my senses to get the feelings up and out. I’ll look at photos, play music that reminds me of the person and sit with a box of tissues and cry.

2.    Get support and express your feelings to someone else. Talk to a friend, family member or grief coach; don’t stuff your feelings.

3.    Practice “Loving What Is” – Do Byron Katie’s “Judge Your Neighbor” worksheet

4.    Rely on your spiritual practice for comfort or create one if you don’t have one now. Pray, meditate; walk in nature.

5.    Forgive everyone everything right now, including yourself. Ask for help if you need it. This doesn’t mean you’re condoning a behavior.

6.    Upgrade your level of self-care. Be gentle with yourself.

7.    Get physical – move your body,

8.    Help others.

9.    Remember that we can’t know the big picture.

10. Finally, ask yourself what this grief is calling you to – is it calling you to…

  • Change a belief that’s no longer serving you?
  • Humble yourself?
  • Soften and open your heart, including forgiving another?
  • Slow down and smell the roses?

How is grief calling you to live more fully?

 Do not surrender your grief so quickly. Let it cut more deeply. Let it ferment and season you as few human or divine ingredients can. - Hafiz


Byron Katie, “The Work”:

The Grief Recovery Institute: