About Grief

Mitch Albom  ‘Have a Little Faith’

The only whole heart is a broken heart.

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Melissa Ashley  ‘The Birdman’s Wife’

While I struggled to overcome my grief, John had thrown himself into work. He was still filling his days and often nights with research and writing, though without the boundless energy and enthusiasm that used to sweep us all up in his wake.

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In the wake of our son’s death, the light-heartedness and intimacy that had strengthened our bond in the early days of our marriage and brought such pleasure seemed to have deserted us.

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Though grief was an emotion I knew well, it became a too familiar garment that I resisted taking off – walking in it, sleeping in it, washing it once a week.

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Fredrik Backman ‘A Man Called Ove’

He stands there, slowly twisting the wedding ring on his finger. As if looking for something else to say. He still finds it painfully difficult being the one to take charge of a conversation. That was always something she took care of. He usually just answered. This is a new situation for them both. Finally Ove squats, digs up the plant he bought last week and carefully puts it in a plastic bag. He turns the frozen soil carefully before putting in the new plants.

‘They’ve bumped up the electricity prices again,’ he informs her as he gets to his feet.

He looks at her for a long time. Finally he puts his hand carefully on the big boulder and caresses it tenderly from side to side, as if touching her cheek.
‘I miss you,’ he whispers.

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On Sundays they went to church. Not because either of them had any excessive zeal for God, but because Ove’s mum had always been insistent about it. They sat at the back, each of them staring at a patch on the floor until it was over. And, in all honesty, they spent more time missing Ove’s mum than thinking about God. It was her time, so to speak, even though she was no longer there.

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Ove had only just turned sixteen when his father died. A hurtling carriage on the track. Ove was left with not much more than a Saab, a ramshackle house a few miles out of town and a dented old wristwatch. He was never able to properly explain what happened to him that day. But he stopped being happy. He wasn’t happy for several years after that.

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You miss the strangest things when you lose someone. Little things. Smiles. The way she turned round in her sleep. Even repainting a room for her.

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It’s a strange thing, becoming an orphan at sixteen. To lose your family long before you’ve had time to create your own to replace it. It’s a very specific sort of loneliness.

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Everyone called it an accident, of course. But no one who had met Ernest (Sonja’s father’s cat) could believe that he had run out in front of the car by accident. Sorrow does strange things to living creatures.

When Sonja came out of the waiting room she rested her forehead heavily against Ove’s broad chest.

‘I feel so much loss, Ove. Loss, as if my heart was beating outside my body.’

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Ove told her about the driver smelling of wine and the bus veering into the crash barrier and the collision. The smell of burnt rubber. The ear-splitting crashing sound.

And about a child that would never come home.

And she wept. An ancient, inconsolable despair that screamed and tore and shredded them both as countless hours passed. Time and sorrow and fury flowed together in stark, long-drawn darkness. Ove knew there and then that he would never forgive himself for having got up from the seat at the exact moment, for not being there to protect them. And knew that this pain was for ever.

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Maybe their sorrow over children that never came should have brought the two men closer. But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead.

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Ove doesn’t know what happened to him after her funeral. The days and weeks floated together in such a way, and in such utter silence, that he could hardly describe what exactly he was doing. Before Parvaneh and that Patrick reversed into his post box he could barely remember saying a word to another human being since Sonja died.

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Something inside a man goes to pieces when he has to bury the only person who ever understood him. There is no time to heal that sort of wound.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Only the suffering God can help.

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Behrouz Boochani  ‘No Friend But The Mountains’

Mortality is our fate and I have no choice but to accept and embrace it.

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When he spoke of his parents, tears welled in his eyes. You can see the painful imprint of their deaths.

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The collective trauma from the journey is in our veins – each of those boat odysseys founded a new imagined nation.

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The amazement and horror felt during the nights on Manus has the power to thrust everyone back into their long distant pasts. These nights uncover many years of tears deep in our hearts and open old wounds; they plough into every dimension of our existence; they draw out the bitter truth, they force the prisoners to self-prosecute. Prisoners are driven to crying tears of bitter sorrow.

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The cubicles are places for screaming out. Or they are marked as chambers of devastation, the devastation of youth who have lost their innocence, a devastation constituted by absolute hopelessness.

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Adriel Booker ‘Grace Like Scarlett’

Suffering doesn’t choose the weak or the strong, the faithful or faithless. It chooses the human.

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No matter what form it takes, suffering always commands your attention.

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Your pain is your pain and it deserves the dignity of recognition, for that is where healing begins.

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Naming our suffering doesn’t mean becoming defined by it.

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Trauma can be the birthplace of revelation.

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Jill Briscoe  ‘The One Year Devotions For Women’

Personal grief and sorrow in God’s hands can result in powerful ministry.

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William Brodrick ‘The Sixth Lamentation’

Agnes was strangely composed until the funeral, when her grief broke out like a flood. Then it sank away like a stone beneath flattened water.

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I cannot think of that night without seeing the faces of those who stayed behind, trusting in better times when the endless partings would cease. That is my overwhelming feeling of those days, a gradual falling apart, of broken pieces being broken still further.

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I know it doesn’t sound so bad to you, seeing the war as you must from its outcome. But for those of us who were there, the fall of Paris, the fall of France, was devastating. From the moment they came and soiled our streets the mourning began. I cannot tell you how dark those times seem to me. And all around the Germans were on holiday…larking about, taking photos.

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Lucy was losing her grandmother: the foundations of grief were being hewn out of rock.

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The telling seemed to leave him (Lucy’s father – Freddie) winded. He didn’t even know about the friend, never mind the death. To her astonishment he came forward and put an arm around her, drawing her head into his neck. Lucy could not remember when that had happened. She started crying, not for Pascal, not for Agnes, but for herself….and for her father.

‘I’m terribly sorry,’ he said.

‘So am I.’

And they both knew that their words went far deeper than a reference to recent grief. They reached back, further than either of them could ever have intended or imagined, deep into the unlit past.

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Geraldine Brooks  ‘Caleb’s Crossing’

There was joy, a moment of sweet festivity, even for those of us who mourned. In this fallen world, such is our condition. Every happiness is a bright ray between shadows, every gaiety bracketed by grief. There is no birth that does not recall a death, no victory but brings to mind a defeat.

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Robyn Cadwallader  ‘The Anchoress’

Tend your grief like hard ground, and wait. One day, something will grow; there won’t be an answer, but you will see you’ve found a way to live, and to live with death.

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Robyn Cadwallader  ‘Book of Colours’

He wanted to cry, his chest ached with need, but that was allowed only to the innocent. Grief was forbidden him.

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Singing, he discovered, kept the memories away.

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Life is arranged for mourning, Mathilda thinks, but not for grief. There are no rituals for these moments in the night when everyone else sleeps and the deeper darkness opens up.

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Grief: she had known it before, but not like this. She sat by Gavin’s (son) bedside watching his sweet face, the slight rise and fall of his chest, gathering it in; she knew this was all she would have of him. When his breath stopped, she wailed her despair, too exhausted and bereft to care when Robert (husband) hushed her. The pain is lodged still in her chest, a constant ache, a presence she would miss if it left her.

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But Robert’s death is so different. It’s two months since he died and she’s surprised at this grief that is more a shadow, or a haunting, than loss. She gropes for the pain in her heart, hopes for tears and sobbing, but they’re not there. Perhaps it was the running and fear, listening to every new noise, planning everyone’s safety, and not just her own. So much to think about that there was no room for crying.

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It is objects she realises, things that she can hold and feel, that have marked her way through these past weeks (since her husband’s death)

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She understood: death is so hard and final that it always asks if we could have, should have, done more.

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Tracy Chevalier ‘A Single Thread’

Only a week later they received the telegram about George’s death at Delville Woods. And a year later, Laurence at Passchendaele. He and Violet had not managed to spend more time properly alone together, in a field or a hotel room or even an alley. With each loss she had tumbled into a dark pit, a void opening up inside her that made he feel helpless and hopeless. Her brother was gone, her fiancé was gone, God was gone. It took a long time for the gap to close, if it ever really did.

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I grew up in Bradford. During the War I taught embroidery there to convalescent soldiers. Do you know, Miss Speedwell, sewing can be so therapeutic when one has had trauma. The bold colours and the repetition of simple stitches had such a soothing effect on the men. There was something about creating a thing of beauty that worked wonders on their nerves. I was very pleased with the results.

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Arthur was silent for a moment. “It is perhaps difficult to understand if you have not had children yourself. The biological imperative of the parent is to protect the child, and when that is impossible it feels like a failure, whatever the circumstances. It is a complicated feeling to live with for the rest of your life.”

“Are you – living with that feeling?”

“Yes. We lost our son.”

“I am so very sorry.” Her words felt as dry as paper, even though she meant them.

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There is nothing worse for a parent than the loss of a child: her mother was having to carry the burden of that grief for the rest of her life.

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Pat Conroy  ‘South of Broad’

All I remember is that Stephen is golden and beautiful and that our losing him drove a stake into the heart of my family. Somehow we managed to survive that day, but none of us ever experienced the deliverance of recovery. I realise you can walk away from anything but a wounded soul.

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Tim Costello  ‘Hope’

Profound grief and trauma are complicated states that are not remedied with even the best insights from faith or psychological traditions.

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Clifton Crais  ‘History Lessons’

 I grieve for what I cannot remember. It’s a peculiar mourning. Lost childhood remains stubbornly present, its absence an abiding life.

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Patty Dann  ‘The Butterfly Hours’

Death does that, throws people into each other’s arms.

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A month before Willem’s death, while he was having brain surgery, I fled home from the hospital to do a load of laundry. I had been cleaning throughout his illness, and in many ways, although it did not save him, it is what allowed me to survive.

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Carol Deason

The reality of grieving is that your grief won’t be like anyone else.

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Grief is as individual as the person grieving.

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Joan Didion  ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’

Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be.

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Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.

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I had entered at the moment it happened (the sudden death of my husband) a kind of shock in which the only thought I allowed myself was that there must be certain things I needed to do.

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People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognisable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness.

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Until now I had been able only to grieve, not mourn. Grief was passive. Grief happened. Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, required attention.

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Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterating, dislocating to both body and mind.

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People in grief think a great deal about self-pity. We worry it, dread it, scourge our thinking for signs of it. We fear that our actions will reveal the condition tellingly described as ‘dwelling on it.’

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Only the survivors of a death are truly left alone. The connections that made up their life – both the deep connections and the apparently (until they are broken) insignificant connections – have all vanished.

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I notice that I have lost the skills of ordinary social encounters, however undeveloped those skills may have been, that I had a year ago.

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I did not want to finish the year because I know that as the days pass, as January becomes a February and February becomes summer, certain things will happen. My image of a John at the instant of his death will become less immediate, less raw. It will become something that happened in another year.

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Anthony Doerr  ‘About Grace’

After his mother died, he and his father lived together like timid roommates, almost strangers, never touching, speaking softly over meals about nothing important.

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Robert Dykstra ‘She Never Said Goodbye’  

Grief is a solitary task. You work at it alone, or with those few companions of your deliberate choice.

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Now, years later as I write, my sorrow has slowed down like some worn-out wind-up drummer boy. Sadness fades like an old print; grief yields the right-of-way to my getting on with life; a semblance of promise paints a rosy blush on the distant horizon.

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To claim that all is resolved, that my sorrow has passed away with the morning fogs, that every stab of pain is behind me for good, would be deceitful, foolish.

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One part of her story, ended or not, lingers on and its effects hold to me with tenacious power: the way she went. Her self-destruction made my grief so much more soul-numbing, called me to such deep soul-searching. I bow to its uncomfortable consequence. I shall never know why yet I will never stop asking.

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She is gone. Death always comes in the past perfect tense. The action is completed, over and done. And I am alone, desperately alone. The initial shock and stunning unbelief are giving way to the deep abiding sorrow of absence.

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Grief knows that for us to survive we must take on a new identity – a formidable task.

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Death strikes with an all-or-nothing finality; it is the non-negotiable transaction that no one barters for; it is the finish of all finishes. The stunning, shuddering, incontrovertible fact pushes us around as a cat does a mouse. Death doesn’t listen to reason, hears no cries for mercy, knows no pity. Sorrow is our only response to its ugly and persistent pressure, our feeble effort to keep living and somehow justify the agony, to understand the unfathomable and senseless.

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Grief makes us wander in a winter desert; causes us to take unmeasured steps, sing out of tune. I find myself so often talking to myself like that desert hermit.

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Grief is a noisy business, even when we keep our mouths closed and our tongues still. Grief toils to express itself, verbalising even to the inner self.

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Now you are gone; I must learn to walk alone and sleep alone and dream alone.

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It is in this present moment – in this my grief-stricken today – against the backdrop of yesterday’s memories that I must wait for the sun to rise tomorrow.

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 My confusion makes up a big chunk of my grief. It is a confusion that keeps asking through the tears: “Why?” “Where does this fit into the grander scheme of things?” “What, if anything, does it all mean?” In this present moment I can’t tolerate life without certainty, experience without knowable cause, and questions without available answers. It’s so confusing.

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In grief, life takes the shape of a giant question mark.

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Grief is the embrace of death. We can’t escape it. Once someone you truly love dies, your own dying accelerates. More than any other human experience or emotion, grief puts us in touch with our own mortality.

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Grief stands at the interface of life and death.

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Months after the initial stages of my grief, little things began to irritate me. What I felt most strongly about were all the small signs that indicated how quickly people around me had abandoned me to my plight. The support quickly vanished. All I heard was the cordial, non-communicative, ritualistic “How are you?” They didn’t want to know, or at least they hoped I would say “I’m fine” – that would relieve them of the burden. I may be wrong, and at times, I hope so, but my suspicions are that my colleagues and companions are neither prepared nor inclined to offer me the opportunity to bare my soul and pain. So I carry it alone, along with my load of resentment.

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Grief creates its own myriad anniversaries, and then having prised its way into the space of our lives, claims all the times and seasons.

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That crazy delusion that time heals all has me staying awake through endless nights and stumbling like a tottering drunk through empty days.

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Death empties us of all our treasures, of everything that fits like an old shoe, of all the landmarks that tell us where we are. Grief is the struggle to find the way when we are far from home.

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It takes courage to take charge in one’s grief, but the alternative is to be overcome by it. Resolution has its own price tag and I must be willing to pay that price or I shall be forever paying. Part of that price is the willingness to let go in order to start over again.

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Surely there is no special time schedule for any particular grief experience. Everyone is different, each circumstance varies, every episode of loss has its own idiosyncrasies.

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Dr Edith Eger  ‘The Choice’

When we force our truths and stories into hiding, secrets can become their own trauma, their own prison.

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There is no hierarchy of suffering. There’s nothing that makes my pain worse or better than yours.

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Being a survivor, being a “thriver,” requires absolute acceptance of what was and what is. If we discount our pain, or punish ourselves for feeling lost or isolated or seared about the challenges in our lives, however insignificant these challenges may seem to someone else, then we’re still choosing to be victims.

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Memory is sacred ground. But it is haunted too. It’s the place where my rage and guilt and grief go circling like hungry birds scavenging the same old bones.

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I can’t ignore the grief, but I can’t seem to expel it either.

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We don’t yet know the damage we perpetuate by cutting ourselves off from the past, by maintaining our conspiracy of silence. We are convinced that the more securely we lock the past away, the safer and happier we will be.

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We can’t choose to vanish the dark, but we can choose to kindle the light.

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No one heals in a straight line.

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Suffering is inevitable and universal. But how we respond to suffering differs.

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When you grieve, it’s not just over what happened: we grieve for what didn’t happen.

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Time doesn’t heal. It’s what you do with the time.

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Bernice Eisenstein  ‘I was a Child of Holocaust Survivors’

I was reminded of the tales in Jewish legend about the Lamed-vav, the Unknown Just Men. In every generation, thirty-six men are chosen by God to carry the sorrows of the world. Ordinary men; indistinguishable from other men; unknown to one another.

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Nicholas Evans  ‘The Loop’

The loss of a child is an abyss from which few families return. Some claw their way again toward the light, perhaps finding a narrow ledge where in time, memory can shed its skin of pain. Others dwell in darkness forever.

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The Calder’s found a kind of nether twilight though each by a different route. The boys death seemed to act on the family with a force that was centrifugal. They could find no comfort in collaborative mourning. Like shipwrecked strangers, they each struck out for shore alone, as if fearful that in helping others they might be dragged beneath the waves of grief and drown.

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Richard Paul Evans  ‘A Step of Faith’

Grief isn’t a luxury; it is an appropriate response to loss. You just don’t will it away. If you allow it to run its course, it will fade with time, but if you ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist, it only gets worse.

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Richard Paul Evans  ‘Finding Noel’

I’ve wondered why it is that some people come through difficult times bitter and broken while others emerge stronger and more empathetic? I’ve read that the same breeze that extinguishes some flames just fans others.

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Richard Paul Evans  ‘The Christmas Box’

They say that time heals all wounds. But even as wounds heal they leave scars, token reminders of the pain.

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Michel Faber ‘The Book of Strange New Things’

There can be moments in a person’s life when grief over the loss of a loved one is stronger than faith.

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Sebastian Faulks   ‘Where My Heart Used To Beat’

Watching a parent die is one of the great trials of life: the only thing to be said for it is that it is unrepeatable.

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Dr. Kelly Flanagan 

The art of being alive is realising fear is just grief waiting to happen.

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Patrick Gale   ‘Notes From An Exhibition’

Quakers do have something very special to offer the dying and the bereaved, namely that we are at home in silence. Not only are we thoroughly used to it and unembarrassed by it but we know something about sharing it, encountering others in its depths and, above all, letting ourselves be used in it…You don’t get over sorrow; you work your way right to the centre of it.

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Grief was a kind of illness, he maintained, and ran a course as predictable as measles or a common cold. Its fever always abated, given time and management, leaving the luckier among them with scars where love had been.

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Laurie Burrows Grad

The grief we feel has its own voice and should not be compromised by comparisons.

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Airdre Grant  ‘Stumbling Stones: A Path Through Grief, Love, and Loss’

I had forgotten how grief walks alongside, sits on your shoulders. At any time your proud little house of cards can tumble down.

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The whole business of grief and loss is a mess. It can start badly and end who knows how or when.

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Whatever way you come to it, the journey through grief is long and unpredictable. The only way through it is through it. There are no shortcuts. The more you step into it the better. Avoidance only brings it back more strongly later on.

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We are issued a challenge, one that can feel unbearable, unreasonable and hateful. Yet the challenge is that we must survive and, even more, if possible, survive to be richer and stronger. Our loss never leaves and maybe, just maybe, we gain in ways we never knew would nourish our wounded hearts.

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Memory is not always sacred and reverent. Loss can keep us frozen in a place of resentment or pain. It can continue to wound.

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Grief and mourning have no timetable. You may think you are okay and then, suddenly, you know you are not.

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If grief is the price we pay for love, would any of us wish to be spared the opportunity to know that sweeping, deep, rich feeling of trust and affection?

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The consolations of grief are not obvious. The gift of heightened awareness of the value of life, of the preciousness of love, the importance of ritual – these are not things that spring to mind when we are sorrowful and desolate with suffering.

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The affliction of grief is a sacred place, ways of knowing and acting are all upside down and there are opportunities you may not normally be able to see. Although your heart may have been torn open, there is love everywhere when you are awake in all your senses.

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Amy Grant  ‘Mosaics’

In our lives, the darkest times, the days that are bleak and black add depth to every other experience. Like the dark bits of colour in a mosaic, they add the contrast and the shadows that give beauty to the whole, but they are just a small part of the big picture.

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I’ve heard that five years is the average marker for some semblance of normalcy following a tragedy. Five years after a divorce, five years after an accident, five years after a death – the present reality, the new reality, has a chance to stand on its own without being overshadowed by the past. I can say this, not because she ever said so herself, but because now that I’m in my late forties I’ve done enough grieving and healing myself to understand the process over the years. I’ve pieced together the impact of Uncle Larry’s death and how it has reverberated through generations.

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Miriam Greenspan  ‘Healing Through the Dark Emotions’

Grief has a tremendous power. When we submerge it in avoidance, we can’t use it for spiritual growth. Allow grief’s power to propel you.

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Marianne Griebler

It’s only when we name our grief that it can begin to transform us instead of numbing us.

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Philip Gulley ‘Healing Through The Seasons’

I consider it a mystery how mourning can turn some people soft and others hard. I am acquainted with certain people whose grief immersed them in the holy. But I know others whose suffering tore a spiritual cleft between them and the divine, folks whose faith died right along with their loved one. Sometimes when we most need faith it seems to flee into the night.

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Chris Hammer  ‘Scrublands’

There is nothing to indicate what occurred here almost a year ago… the most traumatic event in the town’s history and nothing to mark it. Nothing for the victims, nothing for the bereaved.

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Fran lets out a sob… It comes from somewhere deep inside, racking her chest before escaping, the release of something long suppressed.

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The day my family died, the day the truck went off the road at Bellington, was the day my life stopped. The truck killed my wife Jessica and it killed my boy Jonny. And it killed me inside. It still hurts; thirty years on it still hurts. (Codger Harris – the bank manager later recluse)

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Kent Haruf  ‘Benediction’

She shook her head and went out to the backyard. They watched her through the window. She walked slowly into the shade under the tree and they watched her bend far over and touch the ground and lower herself onto her knees, wrapping herself in her arms, and now they could see she was crying, the top of her white head on the grass.

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Peter Heller  ‘The Painter’

Grief is an engine. Feels like that. It does not fade, what they say, with time. Sometimes it accelerates.

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Some creeks you simply loved, and seeing the railroad sign with the craggy gorge reminded me that we can proceed in our lives just as easily from love to love as from loss to loss. A good thing to remember in the middle of the night when you’re not sure how you will get through the next three breaths.

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I was not myself that whole spring. I know what it means when they say ‘beside yourself’ with grief. That’s what it felt like. Like I was standing a few feet away from my body as I went through the motions. Remote. From my feelings, from a clear view of anything.

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I swallowed the grief this time Took a deep breath, wiped my face with my sleeve and thought.

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Robert Hillman ‘The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted’

He had never wept in his life but these days his cheeks were tear-streaked all the time. When he noticed, he would shrug: what did it matter?

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‘Dear God!’ he said under his breath. So much was ruined. When his father died it was like this. So much ruined. A healthy man who strode about like a king killed in a week by a sickness that didn’t even have a proper name. Tom looked up at the hills and said again, ‘Dear God!’

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Tom had expected that he would feel relief when his wife finally decided to leave him a second time. Instead, a burden of sadness settled on his heart.

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Her grief for Leon came in one huge gulp. She was not ready to grieve for Michael.

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She would have wept if that were possible, but it wasn’t; nobody wept in Auschwitz after the first month.

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Her father had listened to the news on the radio at the apartment in Pest near the Chain Bridge, Hannah and her sister Mitzi, a year older, beside him on the sofa. ‘They are burning book. Why this madness? The students are burning books.’ He’d wrung his hands and pushed his thumb against his wedding ring as he did at times of distress. Hannah had closed her own hands over his and calmed him. Silver showed in the stubble on his cheeks and chin and the round lenses of his spectacles had misted over. His lips moved silently. A prayer of forgiveness, as Hannah guessed; her father went through life dispensing forgiveness even when it was especially uncalled for.

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The boys were older than her son had been before Auschwitz, but in one child here and another there, she noticed mannerisms that brought him back with uncanny force and detail. On those days, a bleakness like the coldest day of a cold winter marched into her heart and her blood flowed like a torpid ooze.

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Anthony & Ben Holden (editors)  ‘Poems That Make Grown Men Cry’

Douglas Kennedy: ‘After Great Pain’ – Emily Dickinson

In the United States we are in love with one of the more specious words in the modern lexicon – closure. The word is employed whenever the spectre of tragedy has cast its shadow on a life. ‘I need to achieve closure’ is a common lament in the wake of profound grief. Yet lurking behind this proclamation is the equally spurious belief that the horrors which life can wreak upon us – and which we can also wreak upon ourselves – can be eventually placed in a box, put on a shelf and shut away forever.

Dickinson not only speaks volumes about the shadowland of despair that is the price of being given the gift of life, but also reminds us of one of the central truths with which we grapple: to live is to harbour so many profound losses.

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Joe Klein: ‘The Remorseful Day’ – A. E. Housman

The poem remains, a reminder of grief so pure that it can also cleanse.

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Al Alvarez: ‘Dream Song 90: Op. posth., no.13’ – John Berryman

‘heavy with grief’

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Paul Bettany: ‘Armada’ – Brian Patten

Armada

Long, long ago
when everything I was told was believable
and the little I knew was less limited than now,
I stretched belly down on the grass beside a pond
and to the far bank launched a child’ armada.

A broken fortress of twigs,
the paper-tissue sails of galleons,
the waterlogged branches of submarines –
all came to ruin and we’re on flame
in that dusk-red pond.

And you, mother, stood behind me,
impatient to be going,
old at twenty-three, alone,
thin overcoat flapping.

How closely the past shadows us.
In a hospital a mile or so from that pond
I kneel beside your bed and, closing my eyes,
reach out across forty years to touch once more
that pond’s cool surface,
and it is your cool skin I’m touching;
for as on a pond a child’s paper boat
was blown out of reach
by the smallest gust of wind,
so too have you been blown out of reach
by the smallest whisper of death,
and a childhood memory is sharpened,
and the heart burns as that armada burnt,
long, long ago.

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Brian Houston  ‘Live, Love, Lead’

Grief is a hard road and one that is not to be diminished.

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Vicki Hutchinson  ‘Death by Choice’

Philip’s suicide on top of nursing my mother and father until their death has left me a changed person. I am not sure if I am repairable. I have felt like a strong and powerful person for most of my life. Currently, I am not feeling so resilient.

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The suffering of the one who decides to take their own life then becomes suffering for those left behind.

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Kazuo Ishiguro  ‘Never Let Me Go’

I was weeping for an altogether different reason. When I watched you dancing that day, I saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading to never let go. That is what I saw.

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Rachel Joyce  ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’

He felt nothing but anguish for the things that couldn’t be undone.

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Though it had cleft them apart and plunged them into separate darkness, their son had after all done what he wanted.

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Rachel Joyce ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey’

Maybe the family had changed when they got the news. Maybe they felt the need to inhabit their grief. After my father’s death, my mother gave up eating meat. But why? I asked. She’d always loved meat. Because her life was torn in half, she said.

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I’d made my sea garden to atone for the terrible wrong I had done to a man I loved, I said. Sometimes you have to do something with your pain because otherwise it will swallow you.

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I accepted that sometimes you cannot clear the past completely. You must live alongside your sorrow.

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I made a place for each of them (in my sea garden) because they had been a part of my life, and even though they were gone I would not leave them behind.

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In bed that night, I lay fully clothed with my arms clamped round my knees and my feet tucked up high. No matter how many layers I added, I could not stop shuddering. When I closed my eyes, all I could picture was David, blue in the dark, swinging from the beam of your garden shed.

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When you share, you see that your own sorrow is not so big or special. You are only another person feeling sad.

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Rachel Joyce  ‘Perfect’

He couldn’t understand how everything was continuing as before. It was an ordinary morning except that it wasn’t. Time had been splintered.

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The pain in his foot is as nothing compared to this other wound that is deep inside. There is no atoning for the past. There are only the mistakes that have been made.

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There was no avoiding the pain of grief.

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It was the same with time, he thought, and also sorrow. They were both waiting to catch you. And no matter how much you shook your arms at them and hollered, they knew they were bigger. They knew they would get you in the end.

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He had cried so long and uncontrollably he forgot to stop.

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It was an accident, the policeman said to Andrea. He didn’t even lower his voice as if grief rendered the bereaved deaf.

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After her death, Seymour seemed to lose his balance. Some days he said nothing. Some days he raged. He flew through the house shouting, as if his anger alone was enough to make his wife come back.

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Time would heal, Mrs Sussex said. Byron’s loss would grow more bearable. But here was the nub. He didn’t want to lose his loss. Loss was all he had left of his mother. If time healed the gap, it would be as if she had never been there.

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Hannah Kent  ‘Burial Rites’

I wake every morning with a blow of grief to my heart.

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David Kessler

There is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss.

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Sue Monk Kidd  ‘The Secret Life of Bees’

It is the peculiar nature of the world to go on spinning no matter what sought of heartbreak is happening.

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Barbara Kingsolver  ‘Prodigal Summer’

‘I lost a child,’ she said, meeting Lusa’s eyes directly. ‘I thought I wouldn’t live through it. But you do. You learn to love the place somebody leaves behind you.’

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The potted ferns were turning brown, as brittle and desolate as her internal grief.

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Suddenly she felt so exhausted by grief that she had to sink into a chair and put her head down on the table.

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I grew up in a family where suffering was quiet.

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His body was no longer to be looked upon. If the thought caused him sadness – that he would never again know the comfort of human touch – he sensed it was merely a tributary to the lake of grief through which an old man must swim at the end of his days.

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She felt an enormous sadness inside her waking up. Sometimes it slept, and she could pretend at life, but then it would rise and crowd out anything else she might try to be, hounding her with the hundred simple ways she could have saved him.

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The moon was high now, and smaller, and she felt her grief shrinking with it. Or not shrinking, never really changing, but ceding some of its dominance over the landscape, exactly like the moon.

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What worse grief can there be than to be old without young ones to treasure, coming up after you?

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After her husband’s death Lusa discovered lawnmower therapy. The engine’s vibrations roaring through her body and its thunderous noise in her ears seemed to bully all human language from her head, chasing away the complexities of regret and recrimination.

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The world grows quickly impatient with grief.

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The forest had seemed large enough for her grief.

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Barbara Kingsolver  ‘Unsheltered’

She felt at a loss to console him as he waded through his swamp of grief, hour by hour, as she watched from the outside.

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Grief takes energy. I still feel like I’m hiking uphill after losing Mama.

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At his last checkup the paediatrician had observed the howling red face and trembling limbs, and said that infants process grief as trauma.

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This kid could wail for hours. His grip on wakefulness must have been powered by a fear of loss. In his world, the minute you closed your eyes, a mother could vanish.

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Maybe it was that simple: in a life of loss, people tossed and turned. They cried.

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“I forgot. She gave this to me, I don’t know, ten years before she died. I didn’t want to think about her funeral. So I stuck it in a box, and I completely and absolutely forgot. It’s one of the only things she ever asked me to do for her, and I didn’t do it.” This grief ran so deep Willa could hardly name it. Not just for her mother’s loss, or the funeral that wasn’t perfect. She’d failed to keep order.

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Ronald J. Knapp  ‘Beyond Endurance – When a Child Dies’

Shadow grief reveals itself more in the form of an emotional “dullness”, where the person is unable to respond fully and completely to outer stimulation and where normal activity is moderately inhibited. It is characterised as a dull ache in the background of one’s feelings that remains fairly constant and that, under certain circumstances and on certain occasions, comes bubbling to the surface, sometimes in the form of tears, sometimes not, but always accompanied by a feeling of sadness and a mild sense of anxiety. Shadow grief will vary in intensity depending on the person and the unique factors involved. It is more emotional for some than for others.

Whenever shadow grief exists, the individual can never remember the events surrounding the loss without feeling some kind of emotional reaction, regardless of how mild. The difference between “normal” grief and “shadow” grief is similar to the difference between pneumonia and the common cold. The latter is less serious, less disruptive to life, more of a nuisance than anything else.

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Christopher Koch  ‘The Memory Room’

But all weeping stops in the end, leaving us merely empty. We’re not able to bear these emotions that match the size of our great calamities; were they to grow to their true size, they would consume us. Instead, we take refuge in blankness: the same weary blankness that children know when they cease to cry. And, in fact, we return to childishness, after such weeping, and look about us for comfort, or at least an escape. But unlike children, we find no comfort: only the refuge of numbness.

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David R. Kopacz

The struggle to live with a shattered heart is a lonely and isolated place to be.

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James P. Krehbiel

Your attitude and compassion are more important than the words that are spoken.

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Dr Louis E. Lagrand  ‘Healing Grief, Finding Peace’

Death shatters our illusion that we are actually in control. Grief has always been an experience that presents the opportunity to redefine ourselves and our world and find new meaning, value and vision for our lives.

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How we grieve depends on the complex nature of our relationship to the loved one and our past experience with loss.

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Grief is the normal inner response to the loss of a valued person or object. It usually, though not always, includes a host of emotions like anger, guilt, depression or despair, denial, feelings of failure, and feeling misunderstood by friends and family.

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Grief is not only a necessary, ongoing process, a release, and repositioning – but it causes us to pause and learn. Be open to the new and unfamiliar. Be open to mystery and the unexpected.

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The myth with the longest-lasting and most hurtful consequences is this: you must let go and sever ties to the deceased, find closure, and get on with life. Closure usually implies closing the door of memories and the relationship. Not possible.

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Grief has different rhythms and intensities.

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Grief is a series of new beginnings.

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Olivia Laing  ‘Crudo’

What had happened to her mother is that she had checked into a slightly rundown once quite exclusive still pretty nice hotel, tipped the bellboy, chatted to the night staff and then OD’d in the bedroom, not paying the bill. Kathy had spent maybe two days maybe two weeks hysterical, calling all the hospitals, trying to track down before the rest of the family thought to tell her. They were the kind of family, estranged, huge upholstered couches of absolute silence between them.

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Grief saturates her words, she can’t stop it.

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Tara J. Lal  ‘Standing On My Brother’s Shoulders’

Jo and Adam were opposites. Grief and loss served only to accentuate the difference in their personalities. We had all lost the same person, yet our perceptions of that loss and the way we experienced the emptiness differed greatly.

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It was as if floating in our individual spheres of grief, we each held onto a small branch, which connected us and prevented us floating entirely alone.

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….a dam burst inside me, releasing an unstoppable tsunami of grief. Pulsating howls! Raw pain!

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I had to live through those days, feeling the pain, in order to start the healing. That way, I could begin a fragile and tenuous reconnection to life.

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Inside the house, Dad and I lived separately, individual bodies of pain. We never touched; we never shared our grief with one another. It was simply too painful.

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Grief comes in waves, healing comes in inches.

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The ability to show emotion with honesty forms the foundation of connection. The bond came through showing my vulnerability, not hiding it.

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There is no clean and tidy end to grief. It is not like a cut that heals when new skin grows, leaving no trace. Grief has a rhythm, abating at times when other things hold your attention, but always reappearing. It is like a mountain range undulating and unfolding before you as you navigate a path along it.

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There is no end to grief: it is not linear; there is no finish line, no destination to be reached. There is no time frame.

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The deeper the grief, the greater the opportunity for learning.

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Anne Lamott   ‘Small Victories’

Grief is not something to be gotten over as quickly and as privately as possible.

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The lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place. Only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.

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I am no longer convinced that you’re supposed to get over the death of certain people, but little by little, I started to feel a sense of reception. I was beginning to let the finality enter me.

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Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit.

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Grief ends up giving you the two best gifts: softness and illumination.

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Anne Lamott

If you haven’t already, you will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and you never get over the loss of a deeply beloved person. But this is the good news. The person lives forever, in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through, and you learn to dance with the banged-up heart. You dance to the absurdities of life; you dance to the minuet of old friendships.

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Michael Leunig

Dear God,

Give comfort and peace to those who are separated

from loved ones. May the ache in our hearts be the

strengthening of our hearts. May our longing bring resolve

to our lives, conviction and purity to our love.

Teach us to embrace our sadness lest it turn into despair.

Transform our yearning into wisdom.

With the passage of time, let our hearts grow fonder.

Amen

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Christy Lefteri ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’

One night, late in the summer, vandals destroyed the hives. They set fire to them, and by the time we got to the apiaries in the morning they were burned to char. The bees had died and the field was black. I will never forget the silence, that deep, never-ending silence. Without the cloud of bees above the field, we were faced with a stillness of light and sky. In that moment, as I stood at the edge of the field where the sun was slanting across the ruined hives, I had a feeling of emptiness, a quiet nothingness that entered me every time I inhaled.

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‘It’s just that…’ The young woman hesitated. ‘It’s just that I lost my son too. It’s just that…I know. I know what it’s like. The void. It’s black like the sea.’

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There is an expression on her face I recognise from years ago, and it makes my sadness feel like something palpable, like a pulse, but it makes me afraid too, afraid of fate and chance and hurt and harm, of the randomness of pain, how life can take everything from you all at once…

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I never thought I would be sitting down somewhere, next to other families, drinking coffee, without the sound of bombs, without the fear of snipers. It was at this time, when the chaos stopped, that I thought of Sami. Then there was guilt, for being able to taste the coffee.

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Dahab is very unhappy, Nuri. She was trying to stay strong for Aya, but since I arrived here she has been lying down all day with the lights switched off, holding on to a photograph of Firas. Sometimes she cries, but most of the time she is silent. She will not talk about him. All she says is that she is happy that I am by her side now.

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C. S. Lewis  ‘A Grief Observed’

For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral.

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Gordon Livingston M.D.  ‘Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart’

Grief has taught me many things about the fragility of life and the finality of death. To lose that which means the most to us is a lesson in helplessness and humility and survival.

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Like all who mourn I learned an abiding hatred for the word “closure,” with its comforting implication that grief is a time-limited process from which we all recover. The idea that I could reach a point when I could no longer miss my children was obscene to me and I dismissed it. I had to accept the reality that I would never be the same person, that some part of my heart, perhaps the best part, had been cut out and buried with my sons.

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What I learned about grief is that there is no way around it, you just have to go through it. In that journey I experienced hopelessness, contemplated suicide, and learned that I was not alone. Certain that there could be no comfort in words, I came to realise that words, my own and those of others, were all I had to frame my experience, first my despair and finally a fragile belief that my life still had meaning.

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Some form of forgiveness is the end point of grieving.

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Anthony McCarten  ‘Darkest Hour’

On the evening of 22 August, Marigold regained consciousness for long enough to ask her mother to sing ‘Bubbles,’ her favourite song… She died the next morning with her parents at her side. Winston later told his daughter Mary that ‘Clementine in her agony gave a succession of wild shrieks, like an animal in mortal pain.’
It was a pain that would never leave them but was rarely spoken of. In true stiff-upper-lip fashion, Mary Soames describes how her mother ‘did not indulge in her grief, rather she battened it down, and got on with life.

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Ian McEwan  ‘The Children Act’

The question undid her. She let out a terrible sound, a smothered howl…. And she began to weep, at last, standing by the fire, her arms hanging hopelessly at her sides, while he watched, shocked to see his wife, always so self-contained, at the furthest extremes of grief. She was beyond speech and the crying would not stop and she could not bear any longer to be seen.

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Fiona McIntosh ‘The Pearl Thief’

My mother was lost to her grief. She had to be held by us just to stand… Her heart was broken and I think everything else about her began to fail. She rarely smiled again. We never heard her pretty voice sing lullabies. The woman I knew as the mother I adored and who loved every bit of me – all of us – began to disappear. Little by little we lost her, a fraction more each day, until within a couple of years she was a skeleton, clothed in living flesh that resembled my mother but nothing of that person was left. Her spirit had fled, perhaps to join Petr.

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Mal McKissock & Dianne McKissock  ‘Coping With Grief’

The experience of grief in response to loss is known to all human beings regardless of age, gender, creed or culture.

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Grief is a subjective experience and most of us feel little benefit in being told there is someone worse off than ourselves.

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In the first year many people describe grief as ‘coming in waves’, often at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places.

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We don’t ‘get over’ grief – it just changes shape and intensity as we learn how to live in the physical absence of the person or persons we love.

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Grief affects every part of us – body, mind and spirit. It is common for the bereaved to experience symptoms of the condition which caused the person’s death, even if that was an accident.

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People often experience grief as a void, a disfiguration – ‘like a part of me has gone.’

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Grief is dynamic and ever-changing – in shape and intensity- determined by everything the bereaved was before this event, the nature of their relationship with the deceased, their physical and emotional health, age, and the environment in which they live.

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Death is almost always experienced as sudden, no matter how much warning we have. Grief is still grief, and usually no less raw because of foreknowledge.

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Grief is a natural, healthy and painful response to loss of anyone or anything we value dearly. We grieve as we have lived.

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Grief cannot be fixed or the process shortened. Most of us learn how to live full and rewarding lives, despite the pain that remains with us forever, although in changed form and intensity.

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Grief is not a problem to be solved; it is the effect of a significant loss on every part of our being.

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The loneliness of grief is hard to describe – a feeling that seems to go to the very core of our being. As hard as it might be to imagine, the intensity and constancy of these feelings will not last forever. Grief will change – not be ‘cured’.

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Learning to live with grief is largely about the ‘art of distraction’. Whenever we are experiencing emotional pain, it is helpful to stay with it long enough to understand its source, express whatever we need to in whatever way feels right, then distract ourselves by doing something physical that restores normal breathing. Choose an activity that would normally give you pleasure – something that draws attention into the external world, away from the dark emptiness and loneliness of the internal world.

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Hugh Mackay  ‘The Good Life’

The truth is that we will learn nothing from our sadness, our suffering, our disappointments or our failures unless we give ourselves time to experience them to the full, reflect on them, learn from them or, in modern parlance, process them.

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Michelle Magorian  ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’

In his grief he had cut himself off from people and when he had recovered he had lost the habit of socialising.

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It’s the wounds inside that will take the longest to heal.

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After they had drunk their tea Geoffrey put the teapot on the mantle piece above the fire. Beside it, he placed a photograph of two young men with their arms around each other. They seemed to be laughing a great deal. In front of the teapot he laid his pipe.

‘Those are your subjects for this afternoon.’

Will recognised one of the young men as Geoffrey. ‘Who’s the other man?’ he asked. ‘Is he your brother?’.

‘Best friend,’ he replied. ‘Killed in action. Very talented. A brilliant sculpture.’

‘Oh,’ said Will quietly.

‘That’s his pipe actually.’

‘You use his pipe?’.

‘Yes. I know he would have wanted me to have it. It makes him still a little alive for me whenever I smoke it. Do you understand?’

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Brennan Manning  ‘Abba’s Child’

Grace and healing are communicated through the vulnerability of men and women who have been fractured and heartbroken by life. In Love’s service only wounded soldiers can serve.

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Eric Metaxas  ‘Martin Luther’

Death is oh so bitter – not so much to the dying as to the living whom the dead leave behind.

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In August, 1528, Luther and Kathie lost their daughter, Elisabeth, just eight months old. Luther’s love for this tiny girl made his grief over her loss quite overwhelming: “It is amazing what a grieving, almost womanly heart she has bequeathed me, so much has grief for her overcome me. Never would I have believed that a father’s heart could feel so tenderly for his child.”

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Amy Meyerson ‘The Bookshop of Yesterdays’

I’d never even thought enough about Billy to realise he was grieving the entire time I knew him.

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Evelyn was dead, and Billy was trying to find a way to continue living with her.

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Sadness is like a maze. You make some mistakes along the way, but eventually you find your way out.

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When Sheila stood at Daniel’s graveside, she imagined that her isolation felt similar to the loneliness Daniel always experienced, even with her.

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“We met in the mid-80’s. In grief counselling. We both left rather quickly for our own reasons.” Sheila said that everything about the group had exhausted her. Even it’s name, Grief United, as though losses can be shared. “Fragments of pain aren’t like pieces of a puzzle,” She blew into her mug, creating waves across the jasmine surface. “They can’t fit together to form something grander. Knowing that others, that strangers, suffered, too, it didn’t make me feel less alone.”

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Sheila saw her sadness as something that could be reduced but never vanquished.

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Sheila had several friends who’d called her for months after Daniel died. She’d ignored the phone, erased their messages. The calls dwindled until they stopped completely. She was too embarrassed now to reach out to them.

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James Moloney  ‘The Love That I Have’

It wasn’t shame that had kept him on this pallet for almost a week. It wasn’t guilt that he’d survived while Margot Lipsky had perished. It was Margot Baumann’s death that had broken him in a way the konzentrationslager had never quite managed to do.

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He’d been in love with Margot Baumann and there, outside the station, he felt the loss of her more keenly than ever before. No, he couldn’t go home to Hannover until he’d conquered the raw hurt of her death. His eyes fell on his own words again until it came to him – what he must do to face down that pain. The dead should know that they are loved. He would lay this letter on her grave. Only then could he be a whole human being once more.

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There was both comfort and pain in remembering the dead; no one knew this better than Dieter.

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I cry for them. I can’t help it, can’t stop. I go from prisoner to prisoner and my tears spill onto their filthy uniforms. Many are going to die, no matter what Anita does for them… ‘The SS stopped feeding the sick a week ago. They reasoned that they were going to die anyway so why waste food on them?’

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Thomas Moore  ‘Soul Mates’

Death doesn’t erase a relationship; it simply places it in a different context.

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Heather Morris  ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’

Lale has witnessed an unimaginable act. He staggers to his feet, standing on the threshold of hell, an inferno of feelings raging inside him.

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Images of Gita and his mother come to him, the two women he loves most, floating just out of reach. Grief comes in waves, threatening to drown him.

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Around her she can feel the recognition of those witnessing her moment of grief. They look on in silence, each going into their own dark place of despair, not knowing what has become of their own families.

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Lale doesn’t know how or with what words the Romani honour their dead, but feels a reflex to respond to these deaths in a way he has always known. ‘Yisgadal veyiskadash shmei rabbah – May his name be magnified and made holy…’

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Several of the men join him in silence, a silence that is no longer quiet. A wall of grief surrounds them.

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Gita doesn’t know how to break the spell of Lale’s grief. They have both withstood, for more than two and a half years, the worst of humanity. But this is the first time she’s seen Lale sink to this depth of depression.

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Jayne Newling  ‘Missing Christopher’

Loss, the dead weight of it, had enfolded our lives, our grief making us strangers to each other and the outside world. Silence filled the empty rooms as we all crouched in darkened corners looking for something to do, something to say.

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The coffin disappeared behind the black velvet curtain. Gone. Over. Nothing. The space, the years, the love, the laughter had been replaced with an emptiness.

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Silence enveloped us in the days and weeks after the funeral. It wasn’t just a blanket of grief but the white shock of disbelief.

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When a parent loses a child through an illness, accident or even murder, the grief lasts a lifetime. Their only comfort perhaps is that their child wanted to live. For Phil and me and thousands of other parents of children who suicide, not only do we have to grieve their death and deal with the sudden vacuum it has left in our lives, but there’s the guilt and shame that they wanted to die. Parents want and need to protect their children.

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The long, sad journey of the years has wearied us all, made us watchful, vigilant, fearful of what could happen next.

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Time has, in some ways, eased the torment, but the melancholia of loss never leaves you. It bubbles deep down within but is flat and inert just under the first layer of skin.

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Grief hung in the cage of my mind, a disinterested pendulum marking time with a metronomic thud. When you watch your child die, take their last breath, that moment will be marked forever. It will define who you were, what you are, what you will become.

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We were marooned by our loss but cocooned by our love and trust for each other. During those early years, we could see each other’s grief but couldn’t touch it. We were scared of it for ourselves and for each other. We couldn’t help or save each other.

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John O’Donohue  ‘Benedictus: A Book Of Blessings’

For Grief

When you lose someone you love,

Your life becomes strange,

The ground beneath you becomes fragile,

Your thoughts make your eyes unsure:

And some dead echo drags your voice down

Where words have no confidence.

Your heart has grown heavy with loss;

And though this loss has wounded others too,

No one knows what has been taken from you

When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret

For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;

Again inside the fullness of life,

Until the moment breaks

And you are thrown back

Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,

You are able to function well

Until in the middle of work or encounter,

Suddenly with o warning,

You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.

All you can depend on now is that

Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.

More than you, it knows its way

And will find the right time

To pull and pull the rope of grief

Until the coiled hill of tears

Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance

With the invisible form of your departed,

And when the work of grief is done,

The wound of loss will heal

And you will have learned

To wean your eyes

From that gap of air

And be able to enter the hearth

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return

All the time

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Patton Oswalt, comedian

Grief is an attack on life. It’s not a seducer. It’s an ambush or worse.

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Max Porter  ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers’

Grief felt fourth-dimensional, abstract, faintly familiar. I was cold.

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The whole place was heavy mourning, every surface dead mum, every crayon, tractor, coat, Wells, covered in a film of grief.

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There’s grief and there’s impractical obsession.

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We used to think she would turn up one day and say it had all been a test.            We used to think we would both die at the same age she had.                                   We used to think she could see us through mirrors.

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Moving on as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.

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Emily Post  ‘Etiquette’

At no time does solemnity so possess our souls as when we stand deserted at the brink of darkness into which our loved one has gone.

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Annie Proulx  ‘Barkskins’

In every life, there are events that reshape one’s sense of existence. Afterward, all is different and the past is dimmed.

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Marilynne Robinson  ‘Gilead’

I’m grateful for all those dark years, even though in retrospect they seem like a long, bitter prayer that was answered finally.

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My own dark time, as I call it, the time of my loneliness, was most of my life, as I have said, and I can’t make any real account of myself without speaking of it.

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As you read this, I hope you will understand that when I speak of the long night that preceded these days of my happiness, I do not remember grief and loneliness so much as I do peace and comfort – grief, but never without comfort; loneliness, but never without peace. Almost never.

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Our dream of life will end as dreams do end, abruptly and completely, when the sun rises, when the light comes. And we will think, All that fear and all that grief were about nothing. But that cannot be true. I can’t believe we will forget our sorrows altogether. That would mean forgetting that we had lived, humanly speaking. Sorrow seems to me to be a great part of the substance of human life.

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I believe there is a dignity in sorrow simply because it is God’s good pleasure that there should be. He is forever raising up those who are brought low.

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Richard Rohr  ‘Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer’

Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, hibernation, initiation, and transformation. Yet we avoid this sacred space. When we avoid such darkness, we miss out on spiritual creativity and new awareness.

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Fred Rogers

You’ll never stop missing the people you love.

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Judi Rose  ‘Journeys of the Heart’

Everyone truly grieves in their own way.

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Rituals of all kinds, no matter how simple, are helpful in managing pain and grief.

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Tears help us through the pain and suffering of life.

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James Runcie ‘The Road to Grantchester’

To survive with Robert dead, is abhorrent, even obscene. He wishes he could have died instead.

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‘You can’t help what they might think – and neither can they. There’s so much grief and rage. Most of it unspoken. Which makes it worse.’

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‘I’m sorry. It’s been over a year and the grief just gets worse and worse. Will it ever get any better? How much do you think about him?’

• ••  •••   ••••    •••••     ••••••

The grandfather clock is no longer ticking. Lady Kendall sees Sidney notice. ‘We didn’t stop it deliberately. We just don’t have the heart to wind it up.’

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He hasn’t thought of his friend for several days…In fact, he hasn’t thought about anything deliberately at all. Instead, he decides on this surrender to simplicity, only dealing with what he can manage.

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Robert’s room still looks as if he has just left it. Lady Kendall says that she changes the sheets once a month. ‘I find it comforting. Sometimes I even have a lie down.’
Lady Kendall continues, ‘I want the room to be serene. I like to feel that Robert can come back and that we will be always prepare dfor him. I hope you don’t think that’s foolish.’

• ••  •••   ••••    •••••     ••••••

‘It doesn’t seem fair. I always thought we were a lucky family…’
‘I cannot help but feel that everything has been my fault. I didn’t love my son enough to protect him.’

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‘I don’t know if it will ever get better. Time’s not the healer everyone says it is.’

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Shirley Shackleton  ‘The Circle of Silence’

Grief takes a persona whose needs are paramount. Grief requires quiet and solitude. Grief demands rest, lots of rest. At the most grief requires a cup of tea given without talk, without advice, without weeping. Grief does not need platitudes.

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Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Burrows  ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’

The war goes on and on. When my son Ian died at El Alamein visitors meaning to comfort me said, ‘Life goes on.’ What nonsense I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on. Ian is dead now and will be denied tomorrow and the next year and forever. There’s no end to that. But perhaps there will be an end to the sorrow of it. Sorrow has rushed over the world like the waters of the Deluge, and it will take time to recede. But already, there are small islands of – Hope? Happiness?

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I have been reading an article by a woman called Gisèlle Pelletier, a political prisoner held at Ravensbrück for five years. She writes about how difficult it is for you to get on with your life as a camp survivor. No one in France – neither friends nor family – wants to know anything about your life in the camps, and they think that the sooner you put it out of your mind – and out of their hearing – the happier you’ll be.

According to Miss Pelletier, it is not that you want to belabour anyone with details, but it did happen to you and you can’t pretend it didn’t. The only thing that helps is to talk to your fellow survivors. They know what life in the camps was. You speak, and they can speak back. They talk, they rail, they cry, they tell one story after another – some tragic, some absurd. Sometimes they can even laugh together. The relief is enormous.

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Jill Stark  ‘Happy Never After’

the ‘grief of exclusion’

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In our buttoned-up western world, grieving is to be done discretely and behind closed doors. Our fixation with happiness has taught us to airbrush death out of life’s narrative.

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‘car grieving’ – silent mourning – where the soundproofed isolation of our car is the only safe place to express our most profound emotions.

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Grief is not meant to be quiet. Denying it an outlet isn’t healthy. And it’s an insult to those we’ve lost. When you make space for it, grief can be the grandest monument to love. And yet, there are arbitrary time limits placed on the bereaved.

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Some people would say anything to avoid talking about Jude, terrified it would trigger more hurt. It had the opposite effect. Fiona told me, ‘I’m not over the death of my baby boy and I never will be, so the mention of his name doesn’t remind me that he died, it let’s me know that people remember that he lived.

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It’s possible to choose to be okay while at the same time living with a broken heart.

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Rick Stein  ‘Under a Mackerel Sky’

I don’t remember much about the funeral, just his coffin in St. Merryn church and then a slow car journey to the crematorium in Truro. I don’t even remember if there was a wake. My mother received masses and masses of letters about what a great person he was. She was just broken. So sad, but angry too. She spoke of being furious and let down. I thought it was a little hard to be angry with someone who had just killed himself. Only later did I realise what an enormous strain it is living with someone with mental illness.

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Cheryl Strayed   ‘Wild: A Journey From Lost To Found’

My two siblings scattered in their grief, in spite of my efforts to hold us together, until I gave up and scattered as well.

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We went to the women’s restroom. Each of us locked in separate stalls, weeping. We didn’t exchange a word. Not because we felt so alone in our grief, but because we were so together in it, as if we were one body instead of two.

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Since she died, everything had changed. It was so sad it felt as if someone were choking me, and yet it seemed my whole life depended on my getting those words out. She would always be my mother, I told her, but I had to go. She wasn’t there for me in that flowerbed anymore anyway, I explained. I’d put her somewhere else. The only place I could reach her. In me.

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My mum was dead. Everything I ever imagined about myself had disappeared into the crack of her last breath.

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My grief obliterated my ability to hold back. So much had been denied me, I reasoned. Why should I deny myself.

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As I saw myself then in front of that tarnished mirror what came was the woman with the hole in her heart. That was me.

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I thought about the fox. I remembered the moment after he’d disappeared into the woods and I’d called out for my mother. It had been so silent in the wake of that commotion, a kind of potent silence that seemed to contain everything.

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Conversation with a woman who gave her a lift: ‘After my son died, I died too, inside. I look the same, but I’m not the same in here. I mean, life goes on and all that crap, but Luke dying took it out of me. I try not to act like it, but it did.

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The loss of my family and home were my own private clear-cut. What remained was only ugly evidence of a thing that was no more.

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Grief doesn’t have a face.

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Josh Squires

Grief is an act as well as a feeling.

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Weeping is a vulnerable act that floods our thoughts and feelings, leaving us fatigued.

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Grief is exhausting. Physically and emotionally we find ourselves worn out.

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Those in grief need rest.

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Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III  ‘Sully’

And so Lorrie and I, my sister and her husband,  along with my mom and a young minister, gathered after his death to scatter his ashes across our property in front of Lake Texoma.

It was a cold, bleak, grey day. In Texas, in the winter, the grass is dormant and brown. It all felt so lonely.

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Donna Tartt ‘The Goldfinch’

How was it possible to miss someone as much as I missed my mother? I missed her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater. Lying awake, I tried to recall all my best memories of her – to freeze her in my mind so I wouldn’t forget her – but instead of birthdays and happy times I keep remembering things like how a few days before she was killed she’d stopped me halfway out the door to pick a thread off my jacket. For some reason, it was one of the clearest memories I had of her: her knitted eyebrows, the precise gesture of her reaching out to me, everything.

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I hadn’t been at school since the day before my mother died and as long as I stayed away her death seemed unofficial somehow. But once I went back it would be a public fact. Worse: the thought of returning to any kind of normal routine seemed disloyal, wrong. It kept being a shock every time I remembered it, a fresh slap: she was gone. Every new event – everything I did for the rest of my life – would only separate us more and more: days she was no longer a part of, an ever-growing distance between us. Every single day for the rest of my life, she would only be further away.

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“Sorry.” People I knew said it, and people who had never spoken to me in my life. Other people – laughing and talking in the hallways – fell silent when I walked by, throwing grave and quizzical looks my way. Others still ignored me completely, as playful dogs will ignore an ill or injured dog in their midst: refusing to look at me, by romping and frolicking around me in the hallways as if I weren’t there.

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Maybe I was coping awfully well, I don’t know. Certainly I wasn’t howling aloud or punching my fist through windows or doing any of the things I imagined people might do who felt as I did. But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.

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Miriam Toews  ‘All My Puny Sorrows’

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

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Anthony Trollope  ‘Barchester Towers’

And thus the widow’s deep grief was softened, and a sweet balm was poured into the wound which she thought nothing but death could heal. How much kinder is God to us than we are willing to be to ourselves! At the loss of every dear face, at the last going of every well-beloved one, we all doom ourselves to an eternity of sorrow and look to waste ourselves away in an ever-running fountain of tears. How seldom does such grief endure! How blessed is the goodness which forbids it to do so! “Let me remember my living friends, but forget them as soon as dead”, was the prayer of a wise man who understood the mercy of God. Few perhaps would have the courage to express such a wish, and yet to do so would only be to ask for that release from sorrow which a kind Creator almost always extends to us.

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Gareth Tuckwell & David Flagg  ‘A Question of Healing’

Grieving is hard work, and this needs recognising by others. All kinds of physical, mental and spiritual symptoms can occur – and we may be unable to cope with the smallest of everyday demands.

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Donna VanLiere  ‘The Angels of Morgan Hill’

There’s nothing as deafening as grief. No matter what you do it just rings loud in your ears.

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Ann Voskamp  ‘One Thousand Gifts’

From my own beginning, my sister’s death tears a hole in the canvas of the world. Losses do that. One life-loss can infect the whole of life. Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.

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Ann Voskamp  ‘The Broken Way’

I just know that – old scars can break open like fresh wounds and your unspoken broken can start to rip you wide open and maybe the essence of all the questions is: how in the holy name of God do you live with your one broken heart?

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Great grief isn’t made to fit inside your body. It’s why your heart breaks.

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Maybe our hearts are made to be broken. Maybe the deepest wounds birth deepest wisdom.

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Time never heals wounds like God does.

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No one is really dead when obituaries are read or headstones are bought or flowers are brought to the grave; death only happens when one is forgotten.

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Sadness is a gift to avoid the nothingness of numbness, and all the hard places need water. Grief is a gift, and after a rain of tears, there is always more of you than before. Rain always brings growth.

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Grief is the guaranteed price we always pay for love.

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Loss can always be transformative.

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The wounds that never heal are always the ones mourned alone.

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Ann Voskamp

The worst grief is the hidden grief that cannot speak.

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Grief is like caged fear.

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It’s the broken hearts that find the haunting loveliness of a new beat — it’s the broken hearts that make a song that echoes God’s.

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We never cry alone.

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When grief is deepest, words need be fewest.

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Scars speak a private language that only the wounded know.

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Jesmyn Ward  ‘Men We Reaped’

My brother was newly dead. I expected him to be alive every day when I woke.

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After Rog’s funeral, I tapped Rhea’s shoulder. I opened my arms, hugged her… I wondered what I would have wanted someone, anyone, to say to me when my brother died, anything beyond ‘Are you all right?’ and ‘Are you okay?’ I knew the answer to those questions. I whispered in her ear: ‘He will always be your brother, and you will always be his sister.’
What I meant to say was this: ‘You will always love him. He will always love you. Even though he is not here, he was here, and no one can change that. No one can take that away from you.’

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But I do not tell Charing these stories, I would not add to her burden of loss, especially when she already carries blame… The burden of regret weighs heavily. It is relentless.

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One day our graves will swallow up our playground. Where we live becomes where we sleep. Could anything we do make that accretion of graves a little slower? Our waking moments a little longer? The grief we bear, along with all the other burdens of our lives, all our other losses, sinks us, until we find ourselves in a red, sandy grave. In the end, our lives are our deaths.

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My misery and grief and loneliness were so close. It slept with me. It walked with me down the crowded streets.

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I found the adage about time healing all wounds to be false: grief doesn’t fade. Grief scabs over like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed. We are never free from self-loathing. We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess.

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I carry the weight of grief even as I struggle to live. I understand what it feels like to be under siege.

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Jesmyn Ward  ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’

A year after Given died, Mama planted a tree for him. One every anniversary, she said, pain cracking her voice. If I live long enough, going to be a forest here, she said, a whispering forest. Talking about the wind and pollen and beetle rot.

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I remember it in flashes, mostly when I’m high, that feeling of it just being me and Michael, together: the way I swam up and surfaced out of my grief when I was with him.

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I feel better except for the dream. It stays with me, a bruise in the memory that hurts when I touch it.

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Kay Warren  ‘Choose Joy’

All I could see in that moment was the track of sorrow in my life; joy was nowhere near. The immediate challenge was to believe that treasures in the darkness actually exist and then to believe I could find them. And yes, I had to accept and embrace the truth that these treasures are a special category of gifts from God, hidden riches only to be found in the secret places of my deepest pain and agony.

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Litsa Williams

We are limited is our ability to truly understand another’s grief because most of us have yet to fully understand our own.

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Niall Williams  ‘John’

Instead the wolf of grief he took inside himself and let it roam and savage freely.

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Nicholas Wolterstorff, philosopher

We need an affirmation of God’s Presence in our grief.

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H. Norman Wright  ‘Experiencing the Loss of a Family Member’

When a person moves into the world of grief, he or she enters a world of unpredictability, chaos and pain.

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Each person in grief will have his or her own unique experience of it.

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When you enter into grief, you’ve entered into the valley of shadows. There is nothing heroic or noble about grief. It’s painful. It’s work. It’s a lingering process. But it is necessary for all kinds of losses.

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Grieving is a disorderly process. It can’t be controlled and it can’t be scheduled.

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Whenever there is loss, there will be grief. But some people do not grieve or mourn; they make a choice to repress all the feelings inside of them, so their grief accumulates. Saving it up won’t lessen grief’s pain; it will only intensify it.

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Grief takes on many faces – disruption, a feeling of emptiness, confusion. It disrupts one’s entire life schedule. Grief doesn’t leave one particle of life untouched; it is all consuming.

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Your grief schedule will be unique. It will take as long as it needs to take, and that, too, is normal.

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Grieving is the natural way of working through the loss of a loved one. It is not weakness or absence of faith. It is as natural as crying when you hurt, sleeping when you are tired or sneezing when your nose itches. It is nature’s way of healing a broken heart.

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You never need to apologise for your tears.

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H. Norman Wright  ‘Finding Hope When Life Goes Wrong’

A sudden, unexpected death may disrupt your ability to activate the emotional resources you need to cope with the loss. The more sudden, unexpected, and tragic the event, the greater the impact.

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Initially, in times of loss, we tend to dwell on the negative things.

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It is understood that the stronger the attachment, the more intense the feelings of loss.

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Philip Yancey  ‘The Question That Never Goes Away’

Words can bring comfort or compound the pain. As followers of Jesus, we can offer a loving and sympathetic presence that may help bind wounds and heal a broken heart.

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Everyone experiences grief at some point – in the worst case, the terrible grief of losing a child. I see it in my role as first responder, especially after suicides. You live with grief as if in a bubble, and only gradually re-enter the world.

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