The stages of grief include shock, denial, anger, and sadness. The spiritual traditions of the world have prayers, rituals, and liturgies that through the centuries have helped people navigate the painful path of grief. Contemporary writers and teachers also have made valuable contributions to this history of comforting words. Here's a collection of this wisdom.
"The cycle of grief has its own timetable. Until that cycle is honored and completed we are moving along life's path with an anchor down."
— Ann Linnea in Deep Water Passage
Allowing grief out:
"An English professor at college once told our class about how he dealt with the death of a close friend. He said he went home and played a recording of the saddest music he knew. he plunged into the darkness; he acknowledged his grief and allowed it to pour out. He knew that the only way he could get beyond his loss was to allow himself to feel the pain in all its intensity."
— Helen Luke in The Way of Woman
Grief as a winter house:
"Grief seems to me like a winter house: guarded, sheltered against an outside world that's expected to be difficult. The windows are small to keep out the cold, and little light gets in. The darkness and warmth make a cozy place to hide, to nurse wounds, to incubate what is not yet ready to be exposed."
— Janet Cedar Spring in Take Up Your Life
Grief as always changing:
"Grief, as I read somewhere once, is a lazy Susan. One day it is heavy and underwater, and the next day it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day numbness, silence."
— Anne Lamott in Traveling Mercies
Grief’s many moods:
"Grief is like the wind. When it's blowing hard, you adjust your sails and run before it. If it blows too hard, you stay in the harbor, close the hatches and don't take calls. When it's gentle, you go sailing, have a picnic, take a swim."
— Barbara Lazear Ascher in Landscape Without Gravity: A Memoir of Grief
Grief as a sign of love:
"Grief is love not wanting to let go."
— Earl A. Grollman in Living with Loss
Grief as a link to others:
"Grief is a sign that we loved something more than ourselves. . . . Grief makes us worthy to suffer with the rest of the world."
— Joan Chittister in Gospel Days
Grief as a rehearsal:
"Grief is the time when we are blessed with the opportunity to complete a natural process of spiritual death and rebirth before our own death."
— Stephanie Ericsson in Companion Through the Darkness
Fellowship in grief:
in closer union knits to human hearts
than fellowship in grief."
— Robert Southey in Joan of Arc and Minor Poems
Living with pain:
"Being a good steward of your pain . . . involves being alive to your life. It involves taking the risk of being open, of reaching out, of keeping in touch with the pain as well as the joy of what happens because at no time more than at a painful time do we live out of the depths of who we are instead of out of the shallows."
— Frederick Buechner in The Clown in the Belfry
Enduring a broken heart:
"A great religious tradition does not deny the pain of loss. In the words of the Kotzker Rebbe, 'The only whole heart is a broken one.' No awake spirit can move through this world without enduring a broken heart. There is nothing real that makes life painless. Accepting the pain of living, knowing one's heart will — and should — be broken, is the beginning of wisdom."
— David Wolpe in Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times
Allowing tears to flow:
"When tears come, I breathe deeply and rest. I know I am swimming in a hallowed stream where many have gone before. I am not alone, crazy, or having a nervous breakdown . . . My heart is at work. My soul is awake."
— Mary Margaret Funk in Thoughts Matter
Using tear bottles:
" 'It is for tears,' he told me. When somebody died, the mourners put their tears into these bottles and wore them around their necks. So the little vase isn't really a vase — it's a bottle for mourners' tears, a sign of bereavement like the black armbands people wore up until the third or fourth decade of this century."
— Barbara Cawthorne Crafton in Meditations on the Book of Psalms
Praying with tears:
"Tears are the prayer-beads of all of us, men and women, because they arise from a fullness of the heart."
— Edward Hays in Pray All Ways
The gift of tears:
"The cloud weeps, and then the garden sprouts.
The baby cries, and the mother's milk flows.
The Nurse of Creation has said, Let them cry a lot.
"This rain-weeping and sun-burning twine together
to make us grow. Keep your intelligence white-hot
and your grief glistening, so your life will stay fresh.
Cry easily like a little child."
— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks
Sharing the sorrow:
Finally, a story that reminds us that no matter where we live, we can participate in the grief of the family and friends of the victims of terrorism. This is a traditional Zen Buddhist story from the recent book As You Grieve: Consoling Words From Around the World by Aaron Zerah:
"Soyen Shaku, the abbot, each morning took a walk accompanied by his companion from the monastery to the nearby town. One day, as he passed a house, he heard a great cry from within it. Stopping to inquire, he asked the inhabitants, 'Why are you all wailing so?' They said: 'Our child has died and we are grieving.'
"The abbot without hesitation sat down with the family and started crying and wailing himself. As they were returning to the monastery, the abbot's companion asked, 'Master, is this family known to you?' 'No,' the abbot answered. 'Why then, Master, did you also cry?' The abbot said simply, 'So that I may share their sorrow.' "