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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Thursday, November 5, 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

The purpose of grief is not to put life back together the way it was. Death has taken that option away. Grief is not the enemy. Grief is our taskmaster and guide. It’s also our companion on the way.

In practical terms, grief moves us from dwelling with death to where we can embrace 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 with a horrible illness, or died tragically, or was young, then death also challenges core convictions of our beliefs. What grief does is give us time 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 remember the truth of our relationship, and celebrate their unique personalities. Then, of course, we mourn them even more.

In sacred terms, grief helps us create space to honor the people who died.

We do this through rituals like lighting a candle every month on the day of their death, putting up favorite photos, speaking their names aloud, telling their stories at family gatherings, keeping an empty place at the table, and setting up a shrine with objects that were important to them.

In terms of the heart, grief reminds us that we loved someone deeply.

This is why grief never completely leaves. We will always love the people who died, so we will always grieve their loss. 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 that we never wanted.


This week, Mindful Matter journal published my short essay on the struggle to decide when it was right to remove my wedding ring after my wife died. You can read the essay here:  https://www.holstee.com/blogs/mindful-matter/59888773-on-rings-and-hope