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Center for Action and Contemplation
Everybody Grieves
Everybody Grieves

Good Grief

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Everybody Grieves

Good Grief
Wednesday, August 4, 2021

When someone you love very much dies, the sky falls. And so you walk around under a fallen sky. —Mirabai Starr, Caravan of No Despair

My dear friend Mirabai Starr has suffered many losses in her life, including that of her fourteen-year-old daughter Jenny, which Mirabai writes about with profound vulnerability and wisdom.

There is no map for the landscape of loss, no established itinerary, no cosmic checklist, where each item ticked off gets you closer to success. You cannot succeed in mourning your loved ones. You cannot fail. Nor is grief a malady, like the flu. You will not get over it. You will only come to integrate your loss. . . . The death of a beloved is an amputation. You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back.

Richard here: Death cannot be dealt with through quick answers, religious platitudes, or a stiff upper lip. Grief is not a process that can be rushed but must be allowed to happen over time and in its own time. Mirabai recounts that the most important step she took was giving herself permission to mourn in the first place:

With reticence at first, and then with mounting courage, I dared to mourn my child. From the very beginning I suspected that something holy was happening and that if I were to push it away, I would regret it for the rest of my life. There was this sense of urgency, as if turning from death meant turning from my child. I wanted to offer Jenny the gift of my commitment to accompany her on her journey away from me, even if to do so simply meant dedicating my heartbeat and my breath to her and paying attention.

And so I showed up.

When a feeling I did not think I could survive would threaten to engulf me, I practiced turning toward it with the arms of my soul outstretched, and then my heart would unclench a little and make space for the pain. Years of contemplative practice had taught me just enough to know better than to believe everything I think—how to shift from regretting the past and fearing the future to abiding with what is. In this case, a totally [messed up] thing. The ultimate [messed up] thing. I sat with that.

I did not engage in this practice to prove something to myself or anyone else. I was not interested in flexing my spiritual muscles. I did it for Jenny. My willingness to stay present through this process was an act of devotion. By leaning into the horror and yielding to the sorrow, by standing in the fire of emptiness and saying yes to the mystery, I was honoring my child and expressing my ongoing love for her. It was not mere mindfulness practice; it was heartfulness practice.

Every individual has their own journey through grief and loss. Mirabai is an example of how we can courageously face and feel our grief in a way that honors the gift of life we have been given. 

Mirabai Starr, Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation (Sounds True: 2015), 227, 223–224.

Story from Our Community:
In March 2019, my 40-year-old daughter passed away suddenly. It felt as though I had been flung over a rocky cliff and fell headlong into a dark abyss of grief. Then came the realization that all attempts at controlling this temporal life are fallacy. Slowly too, came the sense of being held by both death and resurrection, that which is unknowable but still somehow known, and awakened to the eternality of God, whom I call the Present Now of all Love. —Linda C.

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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