Thursday, February 28, 2008

processing grief

(Some details blurred to ensure anonymity) I don’t normally have deep plane conversations. Yesterday was different. As I flew back from Auckland to Christchurch we started talking.

He was returning to New Zealand, to the house where his wife had died 2 decades ago. It was the day of a significant birthday. Party preparation was in full swing until the phone call came. Death by coronary.

And his world fell apart. For years he had travelled the world, stuck in his grief. Today he was returning. It was time to pack up the house and move on. It was time to live again. And so we talked: of grief and pain and death and God, of life and journey and the power of listening.

It was a sacred hour and I longed to mark it in some way. It’s difficult to mark sacramentality in an aeroplane.

So I mark this blog entry in respect for all who grieve: new acquaintances who are rebuilding lives, good friends who are watching a mother being consumed by cancer, my pain over the demise of a project I invested 9 years of my life into, the parishioner who today will lose their arm in surgery, the failing health of loved parents.

What rituals have you found to mark and process your grief?

If you want to share respect or name your processes of grief, feel free to leave your initials, or the initials of those you are grieving with.

Posted by steve at 07:38 AM


  1. hs, a, mil xxj

    Comment by julie — February 28, 2008 @ 8:09 am

  2. It has been 4 years since Chris committed suicide. Reading your post Steve I can relate to the man who wandered the world. For me it was walking the streets in spring desperately trying to understand somewhere why this would happen. And holding what seems particularly strong for those left after suicide the incessant questions and guilt over what may have been done to change this.

    I had been close with Chris for many years, and he was as a brother to my husband. His death changed everything, none of us has ever been the same. How we marked it at first, was with a wake. Messy, vaguely hysterical, raw, at times angry and definitely cathartic. Then the funeral, plastic and banal. A year later I took a memorial service up on the port hills in snow where we looked out to his home at the Selwyn huts and all the places he worked. Then a bizarrely appropriate moment where we lassoed a large bolder and all of us, kids and all pulled on the rope dragging it to rest over his ashes.

    A month or so ago as part of my training we went to the funeral home where Chris’s service had been held. Looking at the embalming table I saw a piece of hair stuck to the headrest and even though I knew it wasn’t his, there was a part of me that wanted to take it home and mark it as precious.

    This is the fourth year and I noticed this year that I could meet spring without the dread that time of year had come to mark. Neither my husband nor I have ever watched our wedding video where he was best man but it almost feels like soon we may be able. All these things mark the grief I think, as does moments where you click on a blog site and for a time are reminded that to be human is to mark different grieves in our lives with different intensities, in different ways, sometimes even in an unguarded moment on a blog site over the morning coffee.

    Comment by Megan — February 28, 2008 @ 9:03 am

  3. I wrote about our closest grief just recently.

    Comment by Rachael — February 28, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

  4. MF

    Comment by Ian B — February 28, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  5. Various rituals – none created, mostly a moment in time. A wake, the sacred moment of scattering ashes in a favourite spot, a walk on the beach that he loved, sewing with her sewing machine, praying through the house.

    Grief has marked my journey strongly – particularly that of a few close friends and in ways beyond words the death of my mum last year … I’ve blogged lots of that journey over the last 8 months at

    Comment by Barb — February 29, 2008 @ 12:14 am

  6. One ritual I developed after quite some time of grieving was to make sure I “dropped” my loved one’s name into conversations in social situations. I had found it particularly hard to be in those situations we would have previously attended together, especially family gatherings. It was as though there was always an elephant in the room but no-one wanted to talk about it. As soon as I started to speak his name out loud it seemed as though everybody heaved an internal sigh of relief. Prior to starting this ritual I had found myself crying with relief whenever I was driving home after a social occasion. Even though I had actually enjoyed myself at the time there had been this underlying tension in the gathering.

    Another practice I developed was making sure I was kind to myself. When I was grieving I easily slipped into feeling sorry for myself (having a pity party) but by committing to give myself some small treat each week or so I found it not only occupied my mind in a positive way as I plotted about what I would do/have, it also gave me a much greater sense of my passage of time through grief. Grieving is very hard work and our natural tendency is to try to run away from it (impossible to do of course) instead of feeling the pain and going to the dark places in order to be able to receive healing and restoration.

    Comment by Jan — February 29, 2008 @ 7:56 am

  7. V, S, J, P, T & C

    Comment by si — March 1, 2008 @ 12:13 am

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