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Grieving with Your Whole Heart

I am honored that the editors at Skylight Paths Publishing Company chose to include an excerpt from my book Dance: A Sacred Art in their negrieving with heartw anthology, Grieving with Your Whole Heart: Spiritual Wisdom and Practice for Finding Comfort, Hope and Healing after Loss. 

With an introduction by Thomas Moore, this book truly is full of  “encouragement and inspiration from across faith traditions for walking with sorrow and honoring loss.”

Grief is an unavoidable, bodily mystery. Grief is physical. We’re not in control of sorrow. The question is how will we grieve? We need familiar practices to rely on during turbulent times. What are yours?

I’ve learned from my hospice chaplain husband to honor the infinite approaches to grief. Most humans need the comfort of connection more than anything during a time of loss. Acceptance of grief is crucial.

What our grief looks like or how it behaves will be as unique as the way we sing, dance, or talk or rest. (Click for great article on How Grief Works)

Again, grief is physical! All physical experience is transitory and yet very very real. Being able to attend to our physicality is at the top of the list.

What does the body want in grief? Grief specialist Michelle Peticolas affirms the importance of going beyond a cognitive psychological approach. Check out this brief blog.  Dr. Wndie-Trubow offers 3 keys for going through the stress of grief- breathe and sigh, eat the right food, and move.

I am convinced that for increasing amounts of grief we need community, life affirming rituals, beliefs and a general acceptance of grief if we are to live our life with whole hearts! Perhaps this is one reason we see more elders in religious community.

When I lost mom to Alzheimer’s disease I documented the journey so that it could be as memorable and creative as possible for us both. I made art, videos, and wrote. Here is my piece on Dancing with Dementia.

At her death I’ll never forget how hard it was to dance, at how alone I felt, and how few resources I found that honored physical grieving in community. I couldn’t find a grief group anywhere.  It was then that I started spiritual direction so I could have a companion to help me pray and navigate the great mystery of my grief.

Lately, I’ve touched my despair about our earth. I can tell that this is different than just grief. Despair rises like an agony of loss.

Despair is not a place to live, but it is a place to honor. And it is a place to dignify with action and love and practices. Wendell Berry told us what he does when despair for the world grows in him in his poem The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

How shall we grieve the little things and the big?

I expect to grieve a lot more as I age. Will there be adequate rituals and knowledge to hold the fullness of such loss?

I have been investigating ways to help community embody grief. To be quite honest, I haven’t felt too successful in my attempts. Many of us are afraid of physical grief. We think our bodies will “lose it.” Our ancestors had developed artful community strategies for grieving with music, ritual, and dance. Malidome and Sobonfu Some, healers from Africa, are dedicated to helping Americans find a way to unlock and heal from grief through ritual.  I respect their wisdom and teaching and how it focuses on spirituality, physicality, and direct relationship with earth.

I am also glad that SkyLight Path editors are sharing the wisdom of interfaith guides in Grieving with Your Whole Heart.

As a contributor I am excited to offer this wonderful book to five people at a discount. Originally priced at $18.99, I have 5 copies I can offer you for $9.50 plus shipping. Check it out.

The first five people to comment by November 1 are the lucky winners.



  1. Grief, like so many emotions seems to start, or dwell at a place in our bodies, beyond words. Thank you for contributing your piece to this book, and thank you for including “despair”, and Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of the Wild Things”.

    • Susan Bowen says:

      Through my own grief work and professional spiritual care work, I am aware that our emotional shadows do eek or scream out if we don’t address them. I read this chapter from your book Dance the Sacred Art, and I loved your questions: What if emotions are actually movement? What if resisting “e-motion” is to resist healing itself? Being with and timely moving them through and out is a life-giving and light-giving means to honor and also mend our bodies and our-selves. I will use this book in my caring for myself and for others. Thank you Cynthia.

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