the gifts of grief

“Grief is essential to finding and maintaining a feeling of emotional intimacy with life, with one another and with our own soul.”

 – Francis Weller

There are many people whom I regard as expert in the area of grief – the feeling, processing and holding of it in emotionally safe ways – for themselves and then for others. For each of them, the deep dives into their own experiences, whether from painful losses of loved ones or a commitment to a path of loving support to others who are grieving, make them all highly qualified to speak, write or be with others who are embarking upon their own process.

Last summer, a friend suggested a book to me. She felt it might be useful as I was entering a period of mourning and rest, following the sale of my home. The long period that it took from market to sale was filled with many challenges. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. When I started reading the book, I realized that she was right. I really wasn’t aware of the depth and wholeness (holiness) of the grief that was still buried beneath the surface of my awareness.

What I didn’t know about my grief was that it is multifaceted, very deep and embedded in my psyche.

Francis Weller’s book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, introduced me to aspects of grief that I had no awareness of and yet as I read about them, feelings surfaced that were surprising and healing. He suggests that each of us must undertake an apprenticeship with sorrow.  Reading that so early in the book, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the very idea that I might be embarking upon my own “deep dive” into grief. Courage is what is needed to take this very important, healing and life affirming journey.

The reading of the book is a journey into oneself. Weller offers that there are Five Gates of Grief and I have listed them here for you to read to see just how much resonance you experience.

The First Gate: Everything We Love, We Will Lose.

The Second Gate: The Places That Have Not Known Love.

The Third Gate: The Sorrows of the World.

The Fourth Gate: What We Expected and Did Not Receive.

 The Fifth Gate: Ancestral Grief.  

Perhaps you are more familiar with grief already and may know these areas in which grief resides. I found these to be eye and heart opening. All at once, I had a container for many feelings that were still buried, unknown to me at this point in my life and as I came to unearth them, I realized an even greater peace within, tolerance without and acceptance of what is. Journaling through each gate allowed me the opportunity to name people, experiences, and events which heretofore were “hanging out there” in memory and had not been truly seen, heard or felt for what they were. I owned them, held them and put them safely away.

Our triggers have an origin. We react, and upon reflection are puzzled by our reactions. I found that mine were grounded in unknown, unexperienced grief for events that I had no idea how to hold. So…they still had a hold on me.

The connections we make to our grief can be revealing, healing and amazing. This is living.

If you choose to purchase and read this wonderful book, you may find that you essentially take back your life, in ways that you didn’t even know were missing. You will find your heart of hearts…your very soul. You will find peace. There will be tears, memories and many “a-ha moments”.

The Healing Time

Finally on my way to yes

I bump into 

all of the places

where I said no

to my life

all the untended wounds

the red and purple scars

those hieroglyphs of pain

carved into my skin and bones,

those coded messages

that send me down

the wrong street

again and again

where I find them,

the old wounds

the old misdirections

and I lift them

one by one

close to my heart

and I say   holy

holy.*

Poem from: “Claiming the Spirit Within,” by Pesha Gertler (Boston: Beacon Press)

And always remember,

“…walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone.”

11 thoughts on “the gifts of grief

    • I agree with you. Francis Weller is a wonderful writer about this important and deeply personal subject. I recall vividly my feelings as I read the introduction. My tears were an acknowledgement of something deep within that I couldn’t put into words. All of that came later during the journey through the book.

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  • Grief is such an important part of our lives, Carrie, yet we avoid talking about it. As you so eloquently point out, it is deep and multidimensional. I remember my earliest encounter with grief as a child. Although it was just before my first birthday, I recall the setting clearly. My mother and father stood on different sides of my crib, arguing. I could see their incredible beauty, yet I could also sense the deep pain and self-doubt that prevented them from seeing themselves as I did. Locked in a body that couldn’t voice what I saw, I could only cry. As an adult, I often experience the same feelings they did, yet I’ve learned to look for the source. Weller’s work sounds like a truly valuable resource. Thank you for sharing his crucial insights, and yours.

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    • Carol, thank you for this personal and beautiful story. I’ve reflected quite a lot on the grief I’ve experienced through the process of journaling through each gate, and yet, reading your story many more memories from my earliest days surfaced. I am deeply grateful. The emotions we feel are often challenging to experience and their root or origin can be found in the grief work. I feel this will be an ongoing process. Thank you so much for your powerful addition to this post. 💕

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  • I probably shouldn’t write on your nice blog. So, after this I shall remove myself. LOL But my son and husband died from leukemia and all three of my nephews are dead as well. What got me through it quickly was to promise myself that if anyone/thing was on the “other side,” when I got there, I would kill them and do it with great joy. That gets me to sleep at night and makes me happy, so I’m sticking with it. I don’t believe we should take things as they come. I don’t believe that things have to be the way they are. That’s part of the brainwashing…to accept your lot in life and be grateful it’s not worse. That doesn’t work for me. I believe that we should hit back and say, well, say anything you like, because you probably wouldn’t say what I would say anyway. In my mind, I have huge blue/black wings and I carry a big thick sword and I am not afraid to use it. So, if there is anything after death, when I die, unless I can be contained immediately, whatever’s there, better run. Thank you for the opportunity to see your very nice blog. I hope I didn’t upset anything. Really. Have a lovely life.

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    • I believe that everyone has to process their feelings of loss and grief in a way that best serves them. I have lost quite a few as well, including my paternal grandmother to a home invasion and murder. None of these are what any of us would choose for them or for ourselves and yet, these things do occur. I used to wonder what my relatives would say to me from the other side. My answers to those curious meanderings have always been positively loving…from them. Years ago I read, “Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms,” by David Kessler (a protege of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross). It was a very helpful book and a nice prelude to Francis Weller’s book. I wish you well and am glad you are here. Thank you again for taking time to read and comment.

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