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, December 29, 2015

Stone Monastery of Grief

To most people, the world of Grief seems like a big void, a big empty cavern of audacious terror that one tries to flee, a place filled with utterly depressing chaos and rampaging emotions. It is.

But it also has long periods of silence after the first onslaught of grief calms. To those who grieve, the journey is like being a nun or a monk in a stone cenobic monastery. So much has been taken away that life feels pared back to the basics. Except for occasional ranting in the middle of the night, it’s quiet the rest of the time. We’re always slightly cold, and the food we eat, while nutritious, is nothing to write home about.

In the first month, well-meaning people show up in the guesthouse with food, flowers, gifts and chocolate, and it feels like a strange kind of romance. They listen to our words as if each one was golden, as if we have tapped into hidden wisdom, but then they leave, and that’s that. They’ve had enough of a glimpse into the dark depths of human existence.

When we’re by ourselves in our simple room with a bed, a desk and a chair, grief doesn’t seem exciting. Then we begin to find others wandering around the monastery who are also grieving. In the morning, at noon, and in the evening, we gather and share with the writings, teachers and music we have found helpful, as well as the sad platitudes that unthinking people dredge up. A community forms where we do not have to explain ourselves, because everyone gets grief in the Monastery of the Valley of the Shadows of Death. We are living in sacred place, the space that exists between the living and the dead.

In the sanctuary, we read passages from those who traveled this way before us and find strength and encouragement. We sing psalms of struggle and triumph. We honor our dead, and speak their names so that they are not forgotten. The soft, steady beat of a drum accompanies the sound of our hearts, and we quietly chant the ancient wisdom that we are beginning to understand.

After being alone with grief for so long, we look forward to each gathering where we can share what we have discovered. Even though much of this involves sorrow and struggle, simple joys begin to appear. We share our insights into the Mystery that enfolds us. There is excitement when we see each other, and comfort as we support each other.

There is spirituality in grieving. It connects us to a greater Power, and it connects us to each other. It’s like discovering an oasis in the middle of the desert and finding lost members of our tribe. It’s uncovering the ancient path of grief’s wisdom.

The community of people who grieve pass compassion from heart to heart to heart.


  1. It's true. It's perfect. Connected in grief, I thank you.

  2. Thank you, Mark. I love feeling connected in this way. Today I had lunch with a woman I don't know well. Her daughter died in 2000. We instantly knew something essential about each other: Both of us are grieving even though our sanctioned "grief period" is over. We still grieve and always will. We don't have to hide it from each other.

  3. And because you both knew the landscape, you didn't have to hide anything and could share everything about grief. Freedom to be who you were in that moment. This is so neat.