Tag Archives: mourning


Giving voice to grief

Upon hearing that Saul and Jonathan had died, David lamented:

Alas, the glory of Israel, Saul, slain upon your heights; how can the warriors have fallen! Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished….how can the warriors have fallen…I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother…. (2 Samuel 1:19-27)

Reading David’s words, hearing the grief pouring out of him, reminds me of the importance of giving voice to our sorrows.

But after my friend Jim died, I could hardly put two words together, let alone compose a lament as David had done. Then, one day a few months after Jim’s death, a voice on my car radio sang the words that released the floodgates of my grief:

Oh I swear to you

I’ll be there for you

This is not a drive by

(Train, “Oh I swear to you”)

A drive by—that is what it felt like. Where I had thought Jim would be around forever (or, at least another twenty years), that was not to be. He was gone—no longer there for me—and all the swearing in the world would not change that. It did not matter what either of us might have wanted, I was left to deal with the reality that he was no longer with me.

I pulled over to the side of the road and sobbed.

Those three little lines tapped into my grief and expressed a sense of betrayal I did not even know I was feeling.hope-grief-cancerEvery time I hear this song, I still sing along on the refrain, my voice loud and full of emotion. It still feels like a drive by and this refrain helps me to give voice to my grief.

In 1984, my friend Gerry was diagnosed with leukemia; without a bone marrow transplant, he knew his death was imminent. He chose two songs to be played at his funeral, and although thirty-one years have passed since his death, I still think of him whenever I hear these songs:

 Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow.
But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.

Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.
For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on….

(Bill Withers, “Lean on Me”)


What did you think I would do at this moment
when you’re standing before me with tears in your eyes
I’d fall down on my knees
Kiss the ground that you walk on
If I could just hold you again….

(Billy Vera & The Beaters, “At This Moment”)hope-grief-cancerDavid’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan seems raw and immediate, but perhaps he took some time to process his grief before he wrote.

Giving expression to our sorrows can open us to a different perspective; sadness can sit side-by-side with gratitude and hope.hope-grief-cancer






What Detroit taught me about grief

Grief was not something we talked about when I was growing up. We were more of a “suck it up” and “move on” kind of family.

But at my grandmother’s funeral, when I was eleven years old, I watched my father grieve his mother’s passing. It was my first funeral and the first time I had seen my dad cry. I remember being shocked and confused. There was my dad showing emotion; he was sad, weeping, grieving.

After the funeral, we didn’t speak about it—not my grandmother’s death nor my father’s feelings about it. The message was clear: even if we feel something, we don’t talk about it. We get over it; we move on.

In my work at a cancer support center, loss and grief are common topics of discussion.

Recently, I was talking with a woman who is in treatment for cancer. She said she is very emotional and is easily moved to tears. We talked about the losses she has experienced because of the cancer and how she is processing her grief.

I told her I had learned about using ritual to process grief—from an unexpected source.

When my friend Jim was sick, his dog Detroit was by his side throughout his illness, and she was with him when he died. While his body was being taken from the house, I took her for a walk. When we got home, she ran to his room and just sat at the foot of his bed. She was grieving.

The next morning, she went into his room and again sat at the foot of his bed. She looked up at the bed and then at me, as if she was asking, “Where is he?” It broke my heart to have to tell her he was gone. Her sad eyes mirrored my own.

Every morning for the next few weeks, Detroit started her day by going into Jim’s room and sitting at the foot of his bed. She would look up at the bed and then at me. I would do my part for her ritual and tell her that Jim was gone.

Then one day when she entered his room, she did not stop at the foot of the bed, but walked the length of the room, turned around and walked out. “Just checking?” I asked, and I knew she had moved to a different place in her grief. This new ritual—entering the room, walking the length, turning and walking out—continued for months.

And then one day she walked to the doorway of his room, paused, and then moved on. Her grieving period was over.

She still occasionally entered his room at random times, but the ritual had accomplished its purpose—she had mourned and now she was getting on with her life.

During those months, I watched in wonder at how Detroit instinctively honored her grief by creating a ritual and then adapting the ritual to fit her changing needs. I was in awe of how she mourned and processed her grief.