Monday, July 8, 2013

Grief and Loss and the Power of Transformation

The challenge in life is to make music in what remains.

Itzak Perlman

One of the remarkable things about humans is our ability to continue on after life has knocked us to the ground. When something as horrific as the death of a child occurs, we unexpectedly find ourselves on a completely different path than the one we started out on.  The map has been ripped right out of our hands, and we are suddenly in uncharted territory where everything looks dark and foreboding.  We look for signs that we will be okay, only to realize that we are on our own. Over time our eyes adjust to the darkness, and our own inner compass begins to surface and we see a new path emerging. It's that part of human nature-the ability to transform ourselves after even the most profound of losses-that is amazing.

Of course it's not just the deep, profound losses that can turn our world upside down and make us pay attention. There are also those losses where we grieve the endings of life as we once knew it. There's the loss of good health, which is one of the most frightening losses, and makes us yearn for the days when sore muscles were all that plagued us. There's the loss of a job, which can make us think about reinventing ourselves so that we can make a livelihood in a world that is constantly changing. There's the end of a marriage or a friendship that has run its course, both of which can make us look at all of our relationships in a new light. And of course, there's the loss of youth, which-if we are lucky-we will all face in our lives. 

The question is how do we pick ourselves up after a loss and begin our new journey? I recently had a conversation with a friend and we talked about how it's impossible to ever truly reconcile the death of a child. There's just no making sense of it. Unlike when you hear a cancer survivor say that they felt that cancer was a "gift," you will never hear a bereaved parent utter those words. Never. But, we will continue on and try and live each day the best we can. We will try and figure out our own way of transforming our grief into something so that we become more than who we were before the loss. It's a way of honoring our child.

For me, it has meant diving into the world of grief and loss. It has meant reading, writing, and studying about grief, as well as being with others who have experienced loss. This is what is helping me find my way back. This is what helps me make sense of what happened. For others, it may involve raising money to fight cancer or starting foundations in honor of their loved one. It might mean creating a scholarship in their loved one's name. Some people find they are able to tap into their creative side and write or paint or carve or quilt. Still others volunteer to work with the disabled, or the elderly. A calling begins to arise.

There's no doubt that grief is transformational. It's a wake-up call that we'd prefer not to get, but one that is pretty impossible to escape during the course of our lives. While we would never choose the suffering that is bound up in every life, we also know that it is through our suffering that real change occurs. Here's a Pema Chodron quote that I particularly like:

"May we all learn that pain is not the end of the journey, and neither is delight. We can hold them both-indeed hold it all-at the same time, remembering that everything in these quixotic, unpredictable, unsettled and unsettling, exhilarating and heart-stirring times is a doorway to awakening in a sacred world."
(From Pema Chodron’s book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change)


  1. As usual Robin, your gift to us is your wisdom, your loving kindness, and your ability to articulate both. What a blessing you are.

  2. Beautifully expressed and inspiring. Thank you for that.

  3. Dear Robin, This is so beautifully written, full of much to ponder for anyone who has known a loss of any kind--and of course that is all of us. Your words today are a gift. I'm so glad you continue to write here.

  4. Robin I love your attitude....switching how we look at things.....this was a beautiful lesson.

  5. Hello Robin. I stumbled on your blog while searching for the Pema Chodron quote you included here. Your words have great meaning for me and my family today....
    We lost our grandson, to a tragic kayak/low-head-dam accident a few months ago. After the shock sort of dissipated, a bone-deep aching seemed to set in and continues. I love your message. This from Cheryl Strayed was sent to me by a friend and it seems to me the ultimate realization we come to because what is, is. It somehow helps.

    “Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”
    ― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

    Only months into our grief from our horrific loss, we naturally wonder how people like you are faring after more time has passed.

    I hope this finds you well.

  6. P.S. Our grandson, Sean, was young like your son. Only 24. It is not real.