Archive for January 28th, 2016

The Grief Train

Bereavement. Or, Bereaved. Bereft. It’s from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob’.” This quote is from H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald. If you look up the word in the dictionary, bereavement means a period of mourning after a loss, especially after the death of a loved one; a state of intense grief. Another definition a little closer to the origin of the word is: the condition of having been deprived of something or someone valued, especially through death. Today, I think we refer to bereavement as a time of mourning, although both are true. There’s no rushing it. It takes years, really. It has its own schedule.

A friend’s mother passed away a month or so ago. She said “when the grief train gets through my busy exterior, it’s kind of surprising”. Yes, the grief train doesn’t have a schedule. That wave of grief requires us to feel our feelings when it arrives at our station.

We are mourning for being deprived of our loved one, being robbed of that person in our life. They are taken away and we don’t see them again. They aren’t available to talk to, to spend time with any more. That’s the hard part, the hurt part, and it takes time to heal or at least to feel less tender about the loss. It’s not something that can be analyzed or thought through, it touches our heart, our emotion. Emotion is energy in motion, like waves on the ocean. We can’t control the waves and we can control the waves of emotion.

Sometimes, when I think of my friend, Jane, the neighbor I met in high school who became like a second mother, and who has been gone for many years now, the grief train arrives at my station and I am brought to tears – missing her. I grieve the unconditional love that she had for me that was so precious. I really I learned what unconditional love is from her.

Helen McDonald says in another place in her book, “Sometimes I felt I was living in a house at the bottom of the sea”. Grief requires diving deep into those waves and sitting in the midst of those feelings. We cannot rise back up to the living without first getting to the bottom of our emotions and grief.

Bereavement is a station I can be residing in, or not even notice I am still there after so long . . . and surprise, the grief train will stop at my station. I believe the work is to be willing to greet that train, to honor and acknowledge it, and sit with it when it arrives.


For more about grief and the difference between grief and sadness, see Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotions.




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