A guide to achieving wholeness through the process and purpose of grief
• Brings new understanding to the profound mystery of loss shared by all human beings
• Offers sensitive and practical advice for experiencing grief and how to prepare for the healing journey that follows
• Winner of the Independent Publisher Award in 1999
• New edition of Good Grief, published Oct 1995
We grieve only for that which we have loved, and the transient nature of life makes love and loss intimate companions. In Healing Through the Shadow of Loss Deborah Morris Coryell describes grief as the experience of not having anywhere to place our love, of losing a connection, an outlet for our emotion. To heal grief we have to learn how to continue to love in the face of loss. Embracing loss allows us to awaken our most profound connections to other people.
Part of the grieving process is finding our place in the world again following a loss. We tend to define ourselves in relation to those we love--as “Laura’s mother,” “Jim’s wife,” or “Stacey’s friend.” The loss of a loved one is jarring to these foundations and can make us question our own sense of reality. In addition, the body must adjust to the sensory changes of having lost a part of our life, a part of our daily existence. Coryell draws attention to our society’s tendency to rank losses in a “hierarchy of grief.” She reminds us that all losses must be grieved in their own right and on their own terms, and that we must honor the “big” losses as well as the “small” ones. Paying attention to even the most minute experiences of loss can help us to be more in tune with our responses to the greater ones, allowing us to once again become part of the rhythm of life from which we have become disconnected.
Time Does Not Heal All Wounds
In studying the way, realizing it is hard;
once you have realized it, preserving it is hard;
when you can preserve it,
putting into practice is hard.
Among the most frequently repeated phrases about suffering is that time heals all wounds or this too shall pass. Time passes. It does not heal. Healing is an active process not a passive one. If we have a cut and do nothing to clean it out or do not apply a salve, it will probably still form a scab. It might take longer and first develop an infection but the wound will most likely close and leave a scar.
When I was about five years old I ran away from home. I didn’t get very far; the downstairs vestibule. I waited what seemed like an eternity for someone to come looking for me. When no one did, I put my hand through one of those small decorative panes of glass in the door. A little sliver of glass was left in the soft fleshy part of my hand. It closed up with that glass inside.
When we experience woundings to our heart, soul and mind, it feels as if we have been torn open. Sometimes we are bleeding, figuratively, from every orifice of our bodies. Eventually the bleeding stops and the wound closes, but what has closed inside? Have we healed or just closed up with our anger, fear, resentment and doubt inside? Occasionally we develop a weeping wound which doctors define as a wound that doesn’t heal because of noxious matter that continues to fester and ooze. How many weeping wounds can we contain before our entire system becomes infected?
As we begin to explore the meaning of healing through loss, we come upon the ancient spiritual roots of the healing arts. From prehistoric time, the healer or shaman was the most powerful teacher and wise one of the clan. In many languages, the word to heal comes from the word to be whole, an etymological root derived from the belief that when we become sick, we lose our wholeness. Something or someone has broken through our wholeness and caused dis-ease within our body. To heal is to come back into that lost wholeness. Returning to wholeness often means that we must somehow integrate the disease so it is no longer identified as a threat. Once it is part of us, we have incorporated what was thought to be a threat into our hearts and souls and minds. This explains how it is possible for someone with an incurable illness to be healed--they can use the disease as a path into wholeness. My friend Philomena lived 21 months past the three-month life span doctors had given her. In those two years she reached out to find her healing and possibly her cure. She searched for all those places inside where she felt not whole and eventually became the person she always wanted to be. Her last words to me were: If the price of this illness was learning all I’ve learned, I gladly pay with my life because I’ve become the person I always wanted to be.
Healing and curing are two very different concepts. Healing is a spiritual idea and curing is a medical one. Healing is an active process. It doesn’t happen to us; we must participate in the process of our healing. Healing happens for us. It is a gift we give to ourselves in the moment we decide to stay open to that which has broken us.
In pain management used for patients with chronic pain, it is taught not to tighten around the pain but to relax and allow the pain to be present. The idea is that when pain is resisted, it intensifies. When we breathe deeply and acknowledge the presence of pain, it has room to move and can dissipate more readily. Pain is there to tell us something, to warn us of possible danger. This is as true for emotional, spiritual and mental pain as it is for physical pain. When pain speaks, we need to listen. All it takes is paying attention to our pain so that when it comes we remember to breathe and get soft. We don’t want to fight with our pain. We want to learn from it. Time does not heal. But healing does take time. Give yourself the gift of time. To become whole means that as we open to the pain, we open to the loss. We break open and, as a consequence, we get bigger and include more of life. We include what would have been lost to us if our hearts and minds had closed against the pain. We include what would have been lost if we had not taken the time to heal. As singer/songwriter Carly Simon tells us: "There’s more room in a broken heart."
Simple Presence Open Heart
What is this place where thought is useless?
Knowledge cannot fathom it.
--Yumen, Zen Patriarch
We each yearn or one moment of awe where we can feel connected to the source of life. The moment of a birth, the embrace of unconditional love, the heart of loss each contain such moments. We are essentially changed by these moments, transformed, as we witness birth, embrace love or feel loss. Yet we protect and defend ourselves from being fully present in these moments because to do so would mean being open not only to life but also to its potential losses. So we construct elaborate defenses against not only loss but against love and other acts of creation. What would it take to stay present and open in the face of love, in the act of creation or to the challenge of loss?
Letter to the Reader
Explorations into the Nature of Loss
Time Does Not Heal All Wounds
Bearing the Burden
Resources for Transforming Our Relationship to Loss
The Art of Losing
Simple Presence--Open Heart
State of Witness
Healing the Mystical Body of Loss
The Spiral Dance
Ritual of Remembering
Philomen--July 25, 1996
The Gateless Gate
The Never-Ending Story