Grieving significant loss can be a long and arduous journey. That is why many people try simply to "get over it." But, it is my belief that grieving loss is an opportunity for self-discovery that ought not be missed. When we lose someone who has been critical to our self-understanding and self-identity, our lives are broken open. It is like an earthquake has severed the ground and suddenly you can see the life that was lived centurys ago in the striations of the earth.  

And grieving is a journey in which we can explore dimensions of life that we may have simply ignored before. The journey of grieving, that is, the journey toward creative new life, is learning to live again in the absence of someone or something significant. Therefore, it does have pain and anger because our sense of self, our sense of what is right, may be threatened. By feeling our pain and anger, we see more clearly what we value. 

The journey is also filled with remembrances.  When we lose something that we value, we often spend time remembering it. Telling stories of the recently deceased is a way of re-membering that person within our heart.  They are no longer here the way they were, so we need to create an internal presence by conversation and story-telling. This includes rehearsing the loss, the pain and the anger, all part of the experience. By remembering well we see more clearly the gifts that life has given to us. 

Loss almost always sends us looking for someone or something to blame. Sometimes we blame ourselves for not doing enough, or sometimes we blame others for doing something to make it happen.  Guilt is related to our effort to make some sense out of life.  When we go on this journey of grieving, we try to reconstruct a meaningful world in which our life makes sense.

But, those who learn to live again in the absence of someone or something significant eventually learn to forgive the past for not being permanent. When life is good, we want it to keep going.  It is painful when it doesn't. That pain can lock us in the past. Forgiving is what frees us from the power of the pain of the past to control our future.  It is what opens us up to the energy to embrace what new life and gifts come to us.

In the moments when the forgiving spirit visits us, we discover that we are imagining and playing with new ways of living. We are exploring new practices that will help us figure out the future we will embrace.  We experiment and discover the adventure of new relationships and opportunities.

The journey of grief is painful and challenging. But, it can be an opportunity for self-growth and an opportunity for discovering new dimensions of the self.


Endings bring a lot of confusing and painful feelings.  Especially when what has ended is something that someone wishes would continue.  Pain, disorientation, anger, frustration.  These are understandable and fairly easy to explain.

But, there is another feeling that sometimes surprises us.  That is the feeling of guilt.  When something we desire and value has ended, it seems important for people to attribute blame.  We need to explain it. Someone must be responsible for it.  We seem driven to find out why it happened and who is responsible for it. Someone is guility.

Sometimes that guilt is assigned to others. Others have not done what they should  and that is why we have experienced the ending. When someone dies, it is often the doctors that are blamed; or the medical system; or the person who didn't live in a way that would have prolonged their life; or some might blame God. 

But, sometimes the ending also brings a sense of guilt to those of us who suffer the agony of the ending. Sometimes we focus on ourselves and what we "could-a", "should-a", "would-a" done. The "if-onlys" chase our hearts down the corridors of our minds.  "If only I had told her to go the doctor sooner when the symptoms first appeared. If only I had been more sensitive to her needs. If only I had been attentive when she was alive at least I wouldn't feel guilty about the mistakes I made in our relationship."

It is important for those who suffer loss or those who accompany others through loss to realize that guilt is a normal and almost automatic part of the grieving process.  When something ends and there is no opportunity to retrieve that which is lost, we rehearse the past, sifting through the nuggets of memory to see if we can't create a narrative where we might discover a direct cause and effect.  

Unfortunately, there will be many loose ends and a great deal of confusion in most cases of loss.  So don't be surprised when guilt is a significant part of the way we attend to the losses of our lives. And remember that it can become a prison which locks us in the past.