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Grief Lessons

By Deborah

Here’s what I know about grief — my own — that I did not know five weeks ago.

Prayer helps.

Doctrine doesn’t.  It certainly doesn’t hurt – and perhaps the absence of belief in an the afterlife would hurt.  And perhaps my faith it will help more, later.  But the well-meaning words of scriptural comfort at the funeral floated past the hollow ache and never really floated back.

But prayer helps, me.  Most afternoons, my car steers itself to the monastery near my home.  I sit in the empty chapel and listen to the nuns sing vespers and I empty my soul in prayer.  I sit quietly, I speak to him, to Them, to guardian angels, to Jesus.

Tea helps.

“How are you?” helps. Especially from the two or three people who ask it almost daily and really are checking in, keeping tabs.

Pretending doesn’t help.  I will have a headache all day, a fever even.  Both of which break after a short, good cry. After I share a memory with my husband.  After I say aloud, “I’m sad.”

Moments help.  Pausing to look at a beautiful leaf. Remembering that the water between love and pain is shallow, and I’m wading in it, and that it’s OK to feel it, right now where I am.

Music helps.  I had five versions of “Ave Maria” that I kept on repeat in the morning for a week. Dar Williams and Cheryl Wheeler and John Gorka are helping out this week.

When I was a senior in high school, I taught a creative writing workshop to a class of fourth graders.  Topic: Setting Descriptions.  Colton’s first attempt was a few flat sentences about “sunny Aruba.”  But at the end of “sharing time,” he asked if he could read another.  I kept that poem in my wallet for years because it said something about my grief for my grandfather that I could not.  I memorized it, misspellings and all.

Writing Lessons

sad sad very very bad
black black I am mad
mad mad I pist off,
I miss him in the Light
it becomes dark slam
I will allwas remembr

–Colton, age 9

He stands blonde, 4’2
and tough like silly
putty and when he says he is
pissed off, twenty-eight eyes check me,
giggle carefully, blush.

The tilting of my hair asks how
did this come from this boy
who bounces all the wrong time,

and when I almost know I ask
“What is this place?”

He says, “My grandpa’s casket”
and waits for me
to say good job,
to say you can sit down now,

But I remember

(I was nine too, then, pissed and waiting praise)

and answer, “I will too, yes.”

Poetry helps.

What has helped you (or not) find peace in grief?


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Zenaida says:

    People help.

    I love music, and I love cathartic music. Gorecki’s Third Symphony, the Second mvt. is absolutely crystalline, and inspiring. Also, Mahler, a little Led Zepplin followed by some Dave Matthews to work my way back to happy.

  2. Deborah says:


    I just looked up the Gorecki peace — it’s beautiful. I’ve just been letting instinct guide my iPod — like my body knows what food it needs, my spirit seems to know what music will offer some solace.

  3. Rechabite says:

    All those things you said. Poetry and prayer, prayer and poetry. Praying specifically for the ability to feel the prayers of everyone who is praying for you. Physical labor, making jokes, loud music, writing things down. C.S. Lewis’s _A Grief Observed_ helped me. Remembering helps.

  4. Kelly Ann says:

    3 years later – I bike through the cemetery on the way to work. Some people find this weird, even though technically it is the fastest route with the least amount of traffic.

    After hearing about my six mile route, they say, “You do what?” “Are you a bit spooked?” I joke that my Grandpa has made friends with all the other ghosts. People usually don’t comment after that.

    Seriously, it is nice to see the grave-site occasionally. And all the flowers on the others. It is nice to remember life is short. And to remember him.

    I tell stories – I remember lost opportunities, oddities, adventures, memories, love. It helps.

    And well, I also bought his house – which makes it easy to remember more frequently. Although recently it finally became mine vs. my grandfather’s which is an important distinction for me.

    I move forward remembering him and stand on his shoulders. He is my foundation.

    And I can’t help but laugh that he will find “those xxx Mormons” in the afterlife.

    Thank you, Deborah, for sharing that poem – it was beautiful.

  5. m&m says:

    Just wanted to say I am sorry for your loss.

  6. gladtobeamom says:

    I appreciate quite so I can cry alone and just let loose. I am not very found of sharing this with others. On the other hand it is really helpful when you cross paths with someone who says the right thing at the right time. To let you know they care or give me words of comfort that I am in need of.

    I am sorry for your loss. I hope you find the peace you are looking for.

    It is interesting to understand how different it is for everyone. Maybe understanding that can help us when others grieve.

  7. sarah says:

    As I’m mourning the same dad’s unexpected passing right now, I’ll say what helps me is:

    my love for my family — that is a tie that has never felt stronger — even though we don’t see each other much or talk much, it is great comfort to know we share memories of a complicated and great man.

    Others who have lost their fathers truly understanding the numb, empty silence in my heart.

    Eating foods I know my dad would have loved and pretending he is there with me…maybe he is.

    Watching my daughter grieve her “diado”/grandpa and realizing how deeply his love touched her. Having her tell me she will tell her new sister (whenever we adopt her) that her diado was a cool grandpa who liked video games.

    Silence. Lots of it.

    Talking to him in my mind, outloud, and during prayer.

    Comforting my friend who lost her father just as suddenly the week following my father’s death.

    Knowing that Deborah still hurts, too. Meaning, it is OK to hurt and not be over it yet, even though I appear to others to be “back to normal.”

    Knowing that I am able to survive the loss of a parent…I used to wonder if I’d be able to. Grateful I now understand the depth of pain death brings so my words of sympathy to others are actually attached to my heart.

  8. Zenaida says:

    Deborah, I’m glad you liked that piece. I love it. My thoughts are with you in your grieving.

  9. Brittany says:

    Hope you all don’t mind if I comment, I am a friend of Jessica’s and visit every once in awhile.

    I recently lost my son, he was one year old. The only way I get through the day is the Doctrine AND prayer of course. The Doctrine that I will raise him if I am worthy.

    That “all person’s born on this earth will be resurrected… [and his] spirit and body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame.” (Alma 11:42-45)

    President Joseph F. Smith taught: “The body will come forth as it is laid to rest, for there is no growth or development in the grave. As it is laid down, so will it arise, and changes to perfection will come by the law of restitution. But the spirit will continue to expand and develop, and the body, after resurrection, will develop to the full stature of man.”

    This and prayer are what get me out of bed in the morning. Without this knowledge that I would see and raise my son, (just not now) I would surely break in two.

    The promise from Joseph Smith: “The mother who laid down her little child, being deprived of the privilege, the joy, and the satisfaction of bringing it up to manhood or womanhood in this world, would, after the resurrection, have all the joy, satisfaction, and pleasure, and even more than it would have been possible to have had in mortality, in seeing her child grown to the full measure of stature of its spirit… When she does it there, it will be with the certain knowledge that the results will be without failure; whereas here, the results are unknown until after we have passed the test.”

    Of course I will only be given this chance if I live worth and righteously. I read something the other day again by Joseph Smith, “if parents are righteous [they can raise their children]… Little children who die, whose parents are not worthy of an exaltation, will be adopted into families of those who are worthy.”

    While some of this is abstract at times for me, in order for me to maintain a certain measure of assurity and sanity, I cling to the promises made to me. It also inspires me to continue to muddle my way through life doing the best that I can in order to live with my son again.

    Sorry this is long… and I am assuming a great number are LDS…

  10. Deborah says:

    Thanks to everyone for your comments . . .

    “Praying specifically for the ability to feel the prayers of everyone who is praying for you” Rechabite — beautiful insight; I’ve never thought to do this.

    Kelly Ann: Thanks for your story. I love cemeteries before all this — they feel like sacred ground — and in “the week,” I found my most peace during a private graveside visit. Keep up the biking 🙂

    Sarah: I love you.

    Brittany: Thank you for your beautiful comment. I am so sorry for your loss. We have a lot of “lurkers” on this blog and your reflections will almost certainly reach someone who needed to hear this in their own time of need. May you continue to feel God’s grace.

    What I meant, probably clumsily, in the post was that, for me, doctrine — my strong faith in an afterlife — did not *pre-empt* grief. And part of me thought it would. I know the scriptures say, “Jesus wept.” But loss is so abstract until it’s real.

    Last night I was reading Joan Didion’s account of losing her husband. She wrote, “Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be.” I’ve used that word “expect” a lot. As in, “I didn’t expect the physical exhaustion.” I imagine that each grief — spouse, parent, child, grandparent, pet, friend, sibling — brings a new set of “unexpecteds.” I suppose I’m destined to find out. A priest wrote this about losing a parent: “Despite our preparation, indeed despite our age, [it] dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise us and may cut free memories and feelings that we thought had gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminite period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean’s bed, aware of the depth changes, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections.”

  11. Kiri Close says:

    From experiences my life has lent me, my own lesson to me (in the allowance to express publicly here) is to allow, not fight off, grief.

    Grief is not an invited guest in my house (I don’t practice S&M in choosing it happily, eagerly, or frequently), but it is a remaining one when once it knocks on my door unnannounced.

    I let it in, allow it to burn good & deep & let it teach me.

    Depending on its mood, it will curse me. Other times, it is tender yet still brutally honest. Always in the end, it spoors its scars that fiber a new, more tolerant, stronger, easy going, more open minded/open hearted Kiri.

    Ain’t never a pretty thang, but I am no longer spooked by grief. Overwhelmed by it–yes. Frightened? not so much anymore.

    I don’t wanna sound cocky (and then 5 minutes after I post this, a grief causing incident happens to me that makes me eat my words here). I just want to say that I’m 35 and my not-so-easy, not-so-pleasant growing up years made grief unavoidable. Years of its heavy doses does quite a number on a gal.

    So if grief hasn’t killed me (believe me, there were days I thought it would), then I’ve decided it’s one of my best teachers, but never my friend.

    btw, grief is also the most loyal of my peers appearing when death, disloyalty, disappointment, and abuse enter my life scenes. damn thing.

  12. Violet says:

    Deborah, sorry to hear of your loss. Thank you for sharing Colton’s poem. One of the ways I have dealt with grief is through music and writing.

  13. Brittany says:

    Of course grief is different for everyone. It is unavoidable and unwanted. I go through periods where the doctrine helps and where it doesn’t. It is so unexpected. Even the slightest of triggers will set me spiraling in a downward direction, but eventually the fog lifts and I can see again. Thank you for your comment Deborah

  14. Kiri Close says:

    Russell M. Nelson’s talk gave me grief.

  15. D'Arcy says:

    Yelling and breaking things helped me.

  16. Kiri Close says:


  17. LGABoston says:

    Music, more than anything, has helped me through many dark times. I reaches my soul in ways nothing else seems to, nor have I found anything which is so reliable.
    The few life-long and long-time friends have – those who can read your silences and tell you the hard truths with love – are dearest of blessings and most cherished gifts of this life. This is part of the legacy we leave one another is sharing our hearts, souls and minds.

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