A significant loss in life changes people. More than likely it will cause them to grieve, too. Where will this grief lead? “Grieving With Your Whole Heart” suggests that over time people tend to realize that grief changes them for the good.
“Somehow in the midst of sorrow you must begin to remap the world, to reorient to a landscape that has changed dramatically — whether through the loss of a loved one or job or physical ability or identity,” the book states.
People suffer losses of many kinds, as the book’s more than 80 brief essays make abundantly clear. There is the loss of physical health or memory. There are painful losses resulting from natural disasters, job loss and the losses that accompany retirement, debilitating injuries or even divorce.
“One of the consistent surprises of working with those going through divorce is how seldom they recognize what they are experiencing as grief,” writes the Rev. Carolyne Call of the United Church of Christ.
I must admit that when I hear the word “loss,” I tend first to think of the death of someone’s family member or good friend. The difficult, typically unwelcome grief journey that begins with a death is well addressed in this book.
After a loved one’s death, “we might find ourselves wistfully calling out our longing for what we’ve lost into the wind,” writes Nancy Copeland-Payton, a hospital chaplain, physician and pastor. Her powerful essay describes “mourning” as “the lengthy process of accepting the finality of physical loss of our loved one so that we can continue our journey in the land of the living.”
She appears confident that “eventually we will come out on the far side of our grief.” She advises, however, that “the only way to embrace the rest of our lives is to journey completely through this valley of grief.”
The journey, however, does not lead to the burial of pain and loss. Rather, she clarifies, “the one we loved is rewoven afresh into our daily life, awakening as a life-giving presence within.”
People must cry their “tears of mourning for as long as it takes,” she says. This compassionate concern is echoed in another essay by Michael J. Caduto, an ecologist, educator and storyteller.
“One reason that so many of us live our daily lives feeling emotionally wounded is that the contemporary way of life does not allow us time to properly resolve our grief,” Caduto comments.
The essays and prayers in “Grieving With Your Whole Heart” represent the work of Christians, among them several Catholics, as well as Jews, Muslims and others, including a profoundly moving poem by the Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore. SkyLight Paths, the publisher, explains that it endeavors to create “a place where people of different spiritual traditions … help each other understand the mystery that lies at the heart of our existence.”
It is only natural in a book containing the work of so many writers that its essays would be uneven in quality. Nonetheless, I found many essays excellent and some well worth reading more than once.
Taken together, the essays offer a spirituality for grieving people and those who care about them. The elements of this spirituality ultimately encompass exercise and activities of various kinds like running or quilting, as well as deliberate efforts to interact with others. Naturally, it encompasses prayer and meditation.
For a grieving person, prayer involves a shift of perspective, says Monica Furlong, a British author and editor. She writes that prayer “is about a rediscovery of awe and wonder, of love and joy, of a transforming of grief and pain and loss, of a turning to one another and to the world.”
A subtheme in “Grieving With Your Whole Heart” considers the potential of people who traverse grief’s stages to become a support to others.
“Although it is important not to romanticize pain or loss, a new call can sometimes arise out of suffering — our own or our response to someone else’s pain,” according to Marjory Zoet Bankson, an artist and spiritual guide. In opening themselves “to the reality of pain and suffering,” she finds that people become “capable of deep connection with the needs of others.”
In this vein, author Linda Douty writes that “no matter how many helping hands are extended to hurting folks, the hand they will grasp is the one that has been there — hurting in the same ways, surviving in the same ways and sharing that experience with grace and generosity.”
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Gibson was the founding editor of Origins, Catholic News Service’s documentary service. He retired in 2007 after holding that post for 36 years.