Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Purpose of Grief

Earlier this year, Linda Schreyer interviewed me for Writers’ Talks at Studio West in Los Angeles. In our preliminary chitchat, Linda brought up a number of great questions. We did not get around to all of them during our delightful talk. This is my answer to one of the unasked.

You can listen to the interview at http://t.co/9OWGGScNds

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What is the purpose of grief?

In practical terms, grief moves us from dwelling with death to where we embrace the wonder of life again.

Death is a physical blow to the body that knocks us off our feet, and we find it hard to breathe. It stuns us into mental chaos where nothing makes sense. The gates on our battered and bruised hearts are torn open, and all our emotions come pouring out.

If the person who died suffered a horrible illness, died tragically, or was young, then death also challenges the core convictions of our beliefs.

What grief does is give us time and space to deal with these matters.

In poetic terms, grief translates our loved one into a better language.

John Donne said this, and what I think he means is that when we step back and gain distance from the everyday life of the people who died, we are able to summarize their passions and dreams and put their lives into a larger context.

We also discover the breadth of their impact on our lives and the world. And then, of course, we mourn them even more.

In sacred terms, grief helps us honor the people who died, remember the truth of our relationships, and celebrate the love and humor of these people in our lives.

We create rituals by doing things like lighting a candle every month on the day of death, putting up a series of favorite pictures, retelling their stories at family gatherings, keeping an empty place at the table, or setting up a shrine with objects that were important to them.

In terms of the heart, grief reminds us that we have loved someone so deeply that our world has been thrown upside down. This is why grief never completely leaves. We will always love the people who died, and we will always grieve their loss.

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Grief is not the enemy.

The purpose of grief is not to put life back together the way it was. Death has taken that option away.

Grief is the journey of crossing a barren land from a life that no longer exists to a place where we start a new life we never wanted.


Grief is our taskmaster and guide. It is also our companion on the way.

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