Aging is a spiritual journey.

Thoughts on Grieving and Loving

grief is the price

by Nancy Gordon, Director, CLH Center for Spirituality andAging

Highly engaging and relevant to our work. It was a renewing experience to the soul. Very empowering and informative. 

These were just a few of the responses to a recent workshop hosted at the Center’s Anaheim location – Wendy Lustbader’s unique “Beyond Care: The Glorious Adventure of the Spirit.” This workshop used the experience of Carter Catlett Williams as its guide and foundation. Williams discovered new vibrancy and life in her older years, when she found the courage to venture into the depths of losing her father as a very young child. She wrote about this experience in her book, The Glorious Adventure. 

Wendy invited participants to our own potentially life-changing growth and self-discovery, leading us in exploring our own lives and making real for us the many ways the soul enlarges when we allow grief and vulnerability to become doorways to spiritual growth and well being.  She made four powerful statements about grief.

  • If we build a wall around our sorrow, we will never be known.
  • Grief heals when it’s received by a caring other.
  • It’s impossible to mourn what you’ve never known you’ve lost.
  • To grieve is to experience a relationship.

These words reminded me of a meme I’ve seen on Facebook.  “Grief is the price we pay for love.” When I looked it up, I found the source of those words in this quote:

The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it is not so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us unprepared for the losses that will inevitably occur in our own lives and unprepared to help others cope with losses in theirs (Dr. Colin Murray Parkes, psychiatrist at St. Christopher’s Hospice).

We so often want to concentrate on love (especially around Valentine’s Day), but we are reluctant to grieve. There is little space for grieving in our culture. Yet as we work with older adults we, I think, need to be seeking to listen for their griefs, known and unknown. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a woman who was taking a memoir writing class we offer at our retirement communities. She said, “Writing about my life has made me realize how significant it was that my mother died when I was two years old.”

In her writing, she had discovered a grief that until that point was unknown. I experienced her as a person who had many walls around her sorrow, but in that moment, they came down just a bit. In telling me about her grief, she was able to be known a bit more completely.  And I hope that in both her reflection on that, and in her grieving for her mother in that time in her life, she was able to experience a bit of the relationship she didn’t remember having with her mother.

Over and over again I keep reading that the goal of the spiritual journey is to be our most authentic selves. To be those authentic selves we have to know our griefs as well as our joys. Perhaps the most profound work we can do for ourselves and for others is to fully grieve our losses. Only then is there space for others to come to us with their losses.  Only then can joy be truly experienced.