Healing Means Allowing Grief to Help Us Grow
I don’t love the truth of it, but over time I’ve learned that our most powerful learning experiences often occur after a loss of some kind.
With loss comes grief, and for a while, grief has a weight to it that can feel unbearably heavy. But whenever we’re ready, which hopefully isn’t too long after the loss, we can begin to work on giving our grief expression through activities like therapy, writing, prayer, honest conversation, and meditation.
By facing our grief through any of these activities, we honor whatever we lost that caused us to grieve in the first place. Honoring the loss involves allowing ourselves to fully own the extent to which the loss hurts, both by exploring the extent of the pain within ourselves and working through it with others who are willing and available to help.
Honoring the loss in this way also allows us to avoid holding it all inside, which never works anyway. If we try to suppress grief, it comes out in ugly and unexpected ways. But each time we honor it through healthy expression, the grief becomes a little bit lighter. When the grief becomes lighter, we start to see the world differently. I would go as far as saying we see the world more clearly.
Our priorities are certainly clearer. We’re suddenly able to empathize with others in new ways, and we feel more connected to our essential humanity—who we really are. When we feel closer to ourselves, we feel closer to the Divine.
Grieving, the entire process of it, is deeply spiritual in nature.
We don’t forget our grief, though. We carry it with us, even when it doesn’t weigh much anymore. In the first few stanzas of her poem “sorrows,” Lucille Clifton personifies sorrows and gives us a fresh perspective on what they might look and feel like:
“who would believe them winged
who would believe they could be
beautiful who would believe
they could fall so in love with mortals
that they would attach themselves
as scars attach and ride the skin”
Yes, we’re going to carry the scars of our grief. But if we’ve done the necessary spiritual work, there’s a good chance we’ll be able to find beauty in them. Not because the loss that caused the grief was beautiful, but because the scars represent our inner growth.
Another way of thinking about this can be found in the Bible. Jesus lays out some of his most essential teachings in the beatitudes (from the Latin “beati,” which means “blessed”). The very first beatitude speaks to how grief can lead to growth:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
This sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it? To be “poor in spirit” means that we’re able to receive the riches of the “kingdom of heaven.” To make sense of it, we first have to consider what it means to be “poor in spirit.” In her book The Wisdom Jesus, Episcopal priest Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault notes the following:
“From a wisdom perspective (that is, from the point of view of a transformation of consciousness), ‘poor in spirit’ designates an inner attitude of receptivity and openness, and one is blessed by it because only in this state is it possible to receive anything.”
Isn’t this how it works? Whenever things are going quite well for us, we’re not really wanting (or seemingly needing) much of anything from the universe. But when we’re grieving a loss, we crave something that’s beyond ourselves. It’s a great humbling, if nothing else.
And then there’s the “kingdom of heaven” part of this beatitude. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that when Jesus uses this phrase in the beatitudes and in other parts of the Bible, the primary meaning of what he’s saying is not some kind of paradise we go to after we die. He’s talking about the new way of seeing and experiencing the world that becomes available to us after we experience significant spiritual growth. It’s like existing in a different realm. It’s making heaven a reality on earth.
In this way, we’re blessed with the spiritual riches of “the kingdom of heaven” whenever we have the openness to God that is an essential part of what it means to be “poor in spirit.”
I would argue that, as parents, we absolutely must do the difficult work of expressing, processing, and healing our grief. Whatever we don’t resolve in ourselves, we pass onto our children—however directly or indirectly. Then they will have to do the work that we never did.
Our kids will have their own challenges to work through. Let’s not pass on our grief to them. Let’s allow our grief to help us grow instead. This way, we’re better prepared to bring all of ourselves to our kids each day, which is exactly what they need and exactly what they deserve.