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How do you heal?

Our family is in the throes of an unexpected and heart-rending loss. 

I have been thrown into the very material I study and work with in my spiritual care practice. While I knew this multidimensional experience was happening, Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, Kitchen Table Wisdom: The Stories That Heal pointed it out to me very clearly. She writes, “… each of us heals in our own way” (p.18), which seems so obvious yet is so critical to understand. I feel myself having two different experiences—I am in the grief itself and observing the grieving processes of my husband, daughter, and myself. 

None of us is yet at the point of healing. We are caught in the liminal space of grief, and I feel fortunate that I have tools to use and to share for working with the range of thoughts and feelings. We experience the sadness, tears, desire to go back in time, the memories, and the longing. And we also step away in an effort to create a respite or maybe some “normalcy.” Just as Remen writes, I have noticed that we are processing—being rattled by and expressing our grief—using our skills and working with it (with varying degrees of success). I feel especially lucky to have studied grief (of course, there is more work to do), to have been a companion to others experiencing grief, and to have my work inform my experience now. I can understand my thoughts and feelings more easily and have resources and methods for supporting myself and my family.

We all experience loss. Often, it is passed over, unacknowledged, downplayed, or unrecognized. We don’t know how to let grief enter our lives (though sometimes we have no choice as we are overcome by it). There are many reasons—it hurts, we are not well-practiced in the language of expressing our feelings, and it feels like we may not find a way out of the jungle of our feelings if we open ourselves up to it. While it’s understandable to turn away from pain, suffering, tears, loneliness, and more, we must find ways to do so. Fortunately, there are so many resources and opportunities for support. We need courage to find and use them. We must remember to be gentle with ourselves. Grief is not something we “get over.” Over time, we often find a new path forward.

Here are some of the books I’ve discovered. Of course, there are many excellent podcasts, too. (I prefer to linger over passages and so generally prefer reading.)

  • Altars, Day Shildkret
  • Bearing the Unbearable, Joanne Cacciatore
  • Bittersweet, Susan Cain*
  • Finding the Words, Colin Campbell
  • I’m Not a Mourning Person, Kris Carr
  • Grief is Love, Marisa Renee Lew 
  • Sacred Sendoffs, Sarah A. Bowen
  • The Grieving Brain, Mary Frances O’Connor
  • The Wild Edge of Sorrow, Francis Weller

*As you can see, I am a (frequent) visitor to the local library.

Writing/journaling, finding poetry, looking for prayers/blessings/chants, making certain types of impermanent earth art and talismans, and creating rituals (as simple as lighting a candle every day and making space to remember) support my grieving process. I believe that the depth of my grief is a reflection of my love. That is a reminder to me to endeavor to embrace it.

I feel so fortunate to have a close circle of friends with whom I can share. I am also grateful that I have developed the capacity to decide clearly with whom and how I will share my grief. 

This unexpected event clearly points out that I must remember—people carry so much we never see or know about because it is not the time or place, or we are not the people with whom to share their pain, sorrow, or suffering. It reminds me to offer grace, kindness, and compassion as much as possible.