An Accumulation of Losses — Center for Action and Contemplation
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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

An Accumulation of Losses

Everybody Grieves

An Accumulation of Losses
Thursday, August 5, 2021

Psychotherapist and author Francis Weller has studied grief for decades and has developed many rituals and methods to help individuals and communities heal from their losses. Here he explores how we often attempt to keep grief separate from our lives, and how welcoming our grief can open us to compassion. Weller writes:

No one escapes suffering in this life. None of us is exempt from loss, pain, illness, and death. How is it that we have so little understanding of these essential experiences? How is it that we have attempted to keep grief separated from our lives and only begrudgingly acknowledge its presence at the most obvious of times, such as a funeral? “If sequestered pain made a sound,” Stephen Levine says, “the atmosphere would be humming all the time.” [1]

It is the accumulated losses of a lifetime that slowly weigh us down—the times of rejection, the moments of isolation when we felt cut off from the sustaining touch of comfort and love. It is an ache that resides in the heart, the faint echo calling us back to the times of loss. We are called back, not so much to make things right, but to acknowledge what happened to us. Grief asks that we honor the loss and, in doing so, deepen our capacity for compassion. When grief remains unexpressed, however, it hardens, becomes as solid as a stone. We, in turn, become rigid and stop moving in rhythm with the soul. . . . When our grief stagnates, we become fixed in place, unable to move and dance with the flow of life. Grief is part of the dance.

As we begin to pay attention, we notice that grief is never far from our awareness. We become aware of the many ways it arrives in our daily lives. It is the blue mood that greets us upon waking. It is the melancholy that shades the day in muted tones. It is the recognition of time’s passing, the slow emptying of our days. It is the searing pain that erupts when someone close to us dies—a parent, a partner, a child, a beloved pet. It is the confounding grief when our life circumstances are shattered by the unexpected—the phone rings with news of a biopsy; we find ourselves suddenly without work, uncertain as to how we will support our family; our partner decides one day that the marriage is over. We tumble and fall as the ground beneath us opens, shaken by violent rumblings. Grief enfolds our lives, drops us close to the earth, reminding us of our inevitable return to the dark soil. . . .

It is essential for us to welcome our grief, whatever form it takes. When we do, we open ourselves to our shared experiences in life. Grief is our common bond. Opening to our sorrow connects us with everyone, everywhere. There is no gesture of kindness that is wasted, no offering of compassion that is useless. We can be generous to every sorrow we see. It is sacred work.

References:
[1] Stephen Levine, Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart (Rodale Press: 2005), 6.

Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief (North Atlantic Books: 2015), 19–20, 70.

Story from Our Community:
My husband of fifty-one years died in our bed as I lay there beside him. I hadn’t discovered his death until I woke up. I looked at him, my heart broken, and my future suddenly and permanently changed. In the depth of my grief, I hung onto the joy in my soul, and was able to accept what was real, and move forward. I wept many times over his death and the hole he left in my soul. However, my foundational joy of being alive, of being a part of this magnificent, mysterious world, and of remembering him as he had been, keeps me rejoicing in life and in my connection to the Great Spirit of the Universe. —Shirley R.

Image credit: Dennis Cowals, Upland Taiga (detail), 1973, photograph, Alaska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Grief can feel like a wilderness—the vastness and depth of it overwhelming. We enter this wilderness to find the keys for healing, bit by bit, tree by tree, discovering and knowing our own grief spaces.
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