Read an Excerpt
A Journey Through Grief
The death of a parent is one of the most significant events of our lives. Whether your parent is dying, or has died recently or many years ago, you may be struggling to go on with your life while knowing deep down that something momentous has happened. You may feel buffeted by unbearably intense feelings -- anger, sadness, loneliness, despondency, even joy. You may feel numb, curiously unaffected by the death of your parent. Chances are that you have tried hard to put this event behind you too quickly, without tapping its transformative and healing potential.
Or you may feel a need to begin preparing for the loss of your parents, even when they are healthy. You may have been watching your parents grow old for some time, their bodies slowly or rapidly disintegrating, a glaring reminder of their mortality. Too often we avoid even thinking about the death of our parents, leaving the dread to fester inside. If we do not die first, someday we will be forced to confront their deaths and we may not be prepared. It is liberating to confront our denial and accept that our parents will die -- perhaps within the next few years or even months. Then we can see the wisdom of learning effective strategies for grieving now. Then we realize that we need to tend to the unfinished business with our parents now, to say to them what we have held back -- before it is too late.
As you hold this book, you may feel resistance welling up and think, "I don't have time . . . this would be too overwhelming . . . if I let myself grieve, my life would fall apart . . . something like this would interfere with my other commitments . . . I'm not feeling anything now, so why not leave well enough alone . . . time will take care of everything." This resistance is natural; you are bound to feel it in the face of such powerful forces. Many clients and participants at workshops have expressed their fear that they will be overwhelmed by their grief and left unable to cope in other areas of their lives. Some were concerned that once they started crying they would not be able to stop. Some feared they would go crazy. These same people were relieved to discover the benefits of devoting short periods of time to grieving every day, finding a rhythm of grieving and attending to daily tasks. This approach provides an opportunity to explore the many dimensions of grief without having to abandon your daily responsibilities and commitments.
Even in the face of your resistance, deep down you probably recognize that the loss of your parent has made an indelible mark on your life. This event has changed you; you will never be the same.
The death of a parent is a shattering experience, wounding us and flooding us with powerful forces. The boundaries of our world are torn away, and suddenly life seems bigger than we might ever have imagined, terrifyingly bigger. A parent's death can shatter us, leaving lifetime scars, or it can shatter our limited sense of ourselves, opening up our world into new dimensions. For the latter to happen we must be willing to take a journey through our grief, following what may often seem like a long, dark passage that will, in its own time, open out into vast new worlds.
In the following pages I have shared the struggles, frustrations, woundings, healings, and discoveries of my own journey through grief. Many parts of my story will resonate with your own experience; other parts may seem foreign. At times you may feel inspired or comforted, at other times disturbed or shocked. My story is not intended to be a typical one but is offered as an illustration of the potential for healing and transformation inherent in grief.
After each chapter of my story, you will find exercises and suggestions that can help you explore the healing possibilities through your own passage and prepare you for the momentous discoveries that await you as you emerge into a greater life on the other side.
There is a progression to the exercises, so you may want to familiarize yourself with one section before moving on to the next. Take your time; you may spend days or weeks on one section, exploring the exercises over and over, deepening the experience. Other sections may seem less relevant to your particular needs at this time; you can return to these later. Remember that your experience of grief is unique, even though it may have certain universal features. Feel free to improvise, change, or modify any of the exercises as you feel inspired. Don't hold on to one approach; be willing to let it go when it has served its purpose of healing. Grief is a process of letting go -- not just of a loved one but also of concepts, ways of doing things, and experiences.
This, then, is your own journey. You will be provided with a map that delineates the territory to be explored, provisions to sustain you, and basic guidelines to make the passage easier. However, the journey will be a unique experience for each of you; there is so much territory to explore, much of it uncharted. Even well-traveled trails yield new sights and perspectives through different eyes. As on any journey, some of you will hesitate to begin, others will plunge in, some will move slowly and carefully step by step, and others will rush ahead. There will be places of easy passage as well as the inevitable difficulties. Some of you will turn back after the first testings; others will choose to continue on. To all of you, however you make the journey, I wish you healing along the way -- a healing into life, and perhaps into a greater life than you ever could have imagined.