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.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Grief as Spiritual Initiation

The Sacred Space of Grief

Grief initiates us into sacred space. Elaine Mansfield started me thinking about this, and Christina Rasmussen, in one of her posts last month, wrote that “grief is God” and described how this was so. The following are my thoughts so far. I’d love to hear your insights.
Those who are thrown into grief see life with a radically new perspective. We’re aware of another dimension to existence. We feel changed. Different. For most of our lives, we have kept death at a distance. Now we see death everywhere.

Grief has initiated us into a club that we never wanted to join.
Why does a loved one have to die, or we need to survive something like a car crash, before we realize how close death lives to us?

In grief you feel the presence of something Other, something Immense, something enormously Powerful. It’s the same presence we feel when we participate in rituals, either personally as when we light a candle in memory of someone, or we participate in a large religious ceremony that is held in a great cathedral or in a forest, with chanting, incense, and dance. Ritual sets our thinking mind to the side and calls our spirit forward.

It’s not that in the time of grief that God, the Holy, the Luminous has a special message for us, although this may be true. And it’s not that we’re given any instructions about what to do. I’d love to have a manual for grief. It’s that we now stand in a different world where everything looks and feels different. When we walk in public among other people, it’s like we’re walking in parallel worlds. How can the other people not be aware of what we can see? Matters of life and death are going on all around us, and people are oblivious.

When death hits us between the eyes and knocks us off balance, we see what we value the most in sharp focus. It’s like we wake up from a sleep we didn’t know we were in. We see things clearly, without the filters of what we want to see. We see without the illusions, hopes, and wishful dreams that we use so often to prop us up in our daily struggles.

The curtain in Oz has been pulled back and we see life unadorned.  

The death of someone close ushers us to the liminal space that exists between the living and the dead. We’re obliviously not dead, even if we feel that way. We also don’t feel quite alive. We live in a shadow world, a nether world, where a community of individuals gather and support each other.

For a period of time, we exist in an altered state. One of silence, and stillness. Our physical body and its senses are numb. We find it difficult to connect to everyday conversations. Most of the details that used to fill our everyday lives with busyness no longer seem important.

Beyond what we are aware of, there is what we sense – the image we catch in the corner of our eye, the sudden puff of warm air, the unknown scent that is here, then gone. And beyond even this, there is what we do not perceive at all but suspect because of hints that show up in our dreams.

There is an intimacy.

We have been given an insight into something powerful, and we don’t know what we are supposed to do with it.

Grief has made us aware of all the suffering that goes on every day — the sorrow, sadness, the despair. But we also see acts of compassion by those who take the time to say a kind word, who smile, who ask how someone is doing and then linger to listen.

How did we not see this suffering before? How did we not notice this compassion? And now that we do, how do we live differently? What is required of us?

When we sit with people who are grieving, when we hug and look them in the eyes and say, “We will get through this together,” even though we don’t know how; and when we listen to the words of their hearts and we feel our own hearts respond, we are participating in holiness. We are in sacred space.

We no longer fear the unknown. We’ve become grief’s explorers.



  1. I love this. It is so true. Life will never again be the same. Our world is sharper, clearer, now. We are sensitised to the beauty and the pain of living. We turn toward kindness. We know that is what matters. I am going to share this. Hope you don't mind. xx

    1. We turn toward kindness. I like that. And I don't mind you sharing this at all, Tricia. In fact, it rather delights me.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post. I have been thinking along these lines during my mourner's path, realizing it is initiation. My heart is so open to ghe love, the beauty in this world, the compassion, and the suffering. And all this is God. Thank you

    1. Grief does open our hearts up, if we let it guide us to look and see how our lives are interconnected with the suffering, compassion, and beauty of others. You are right, Karen. It is becoming aware of the holiness around us.