Hanging Onto vs. Healing Grief

Finding our way to happiness after loss takes a lot of energy. Our mind, emotions and spirit take awkward and frustrating twists and turns. Time passes and it’s one more day without our loved one nearby. Sitting still is a demanding act involving terrifying moments of silence and loneliness. The idea of quiet and rest only regurgitates uncomfortable feelings of emptiness.

“Don’t wish me happiness – I don’t expect to be happy all the time; it’s gotten beyond that, somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor – I will need them all.”
– Ann Morrow Lindbergh, American author

When Sally came to see me, she pretended on the surface to be happy. Minutes later tears rolled down her face with little effort. Her grandmother and best friend, Mabel, died a year ago. In Sally’s heart it seemed as if Mabel died yesterday. Before we started our time together Sally needed to describe the last interaction she had with her grandmother-holding her hand, exchanging final goodbyes and walking out of the room. Learn how to talk to dead people.

During our time together Sally began to understand the differences between hanging onto grief versus healing grief. She realized she had access to more choices than the tired worn out ones constantly tossing around in her very full head. Sally awakened her heart to use these insights to chip away at and heal her grief.

The story of Sally and Mabel can continue, but in a fresh revised version. To the one who has experienced the loss of another, there is a raw and profound fear that the end of a life shuts down a story completely.  This is not entirely true. Like all of us, Sally can reedit her ongoing story about her great loss.


Sally can take comfort in knowing she is not completely cutoff from Mabel. Mabel is still part of her story. Instead of missing Mabel, Sally can remind herself of Mabel’s laughter, constant complements and warm hugs. The spirit of Mabel lives on through loving touch points. It’s time for Sally to sort through favorite memories to create a story relevant to where things stand today.

Guilt and pain have impaired Sally’s ability to get past this “one-sided ending.” The way out of discomfort seems like a labyrinth with many roadblocks. She says the relentless suffering pierces her heart – especially when friends talk about visiting their grandparents. Sally also struggles with Mabel “showing up” in a movie or a book.

Grief is personal, unique and at times encompassing. Based Sally’s description of thoughts and feelings she is transitioning from grieving (acute phase) to mourning. This means she desires to move from existing in autopilot (hanging on) to living in a natural rhythm (healing). This new normal involves a series of adjustments. 

Where to begin?

Set a healing intention. Sally believes Mabel would tell her to stop being sad and start living life. Once Sally awakened to Mabel’s present time agenda for her, healing transitioned into happiness. 

Here’s Sally’s happy plan:

  • Incorporating new rituals focused on comfort, recovery and self-care. Simple activities like walking outside and planting a garden to honor the relationship felt good to Sally. Next it was time to schedule happy times to stay on track.
  • Traveling somewhere new. Sally wanted to make new memories so she could tell Mabel about them. She researched resorts where others could take care of her needs.
  • Rewriting the grief script. Healing means composing new chapters, slowly scripting and experiencing life without the company of the other. Today Sally writes these chapters daily in an organic manner. Nothing is forced. There’s no pressure to follow a timeline. This step must occur to reclaim what it means to be fully alive and present.

Sally spends time with trusted friends and skilled professionals. She no longer sits alone with sadness. Outside support and guidance facilitate Sally to tap into strength and find healing.

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