Four years later and the pain of losing my wife to cancer still hits me like a swift punch to the gut; like an unexpected thunder clap on a clear day; like a sudden, bone-jarring drop into an invisible manhole in what I thought was smooth pavement.

I say “still” as though I should be experiencing anything other than what I am. I know better. I know that time has no meaning in the face of grief. I know others who suffered loss seven, 11, 35, 48 years ago, and they continue to pour tears into the void left behind.

They say nature abhors a vacuum. Did anyone ever bother to tell grief?

We tend to grieve in terms of who or what we lost. Every subsequent loss triggers the first loss or the most traumatic loss. It feels as if we are caught in a weird time vortex, experiencing life’s progress while stuck reliving the loss and its associated feelings.

To surrender to grief means we feel and express every emotion that comes up, as often as it comes up, and let those emotions be the turn-by-turn directions that lead us to the parts of us that require the most healing.

So we turn to our tried-and-true spiritual practices to break free from our Groundhog Day grief loop: We meditate, we pray, we sage, we affirm and deny, we walk the labyrinths, we beat drums, we seek counsel of the clergy, we pry wisdom from the sages, we seek out those who channel the departed back to us.

However, we find that all this may not help much. Eventually we tire of efforts to salve our suffering. Eventually, inevitably, we find ourselves at the place where all healing begins, the place we couldn’t have found any sooner because we were so blinded by the shock of loss: surrender.

Surrender to the Feelings

Quick sidebar: Healing implies a restoration to wholeness, a repairing of the broken, a righting of wrongs. No. We are never not whole, which we understand as spiritual seekers. We are never truly broken, even though we might feel we are. There are no wrongs to be righted, which might be the most challenging truth to embrace.

To heal is to make peace with what is, to cease struggling against the current experience, and to release any desire that the loss never happened, that they never left, they never died.

To heal, we must surrender to the very thing we have been trying to avoid. We must surrender to the grief. When we do, paradoxically it becomes the only spiritual practice that allows us to heal.

What is a spiritual practice other than a repeated activity or process that enables us to meet and know the deepest parts of ourselves, and in so doing, meet and know All That Is, which we sometimes call God?

To surrender to grief means we feel and express every emotion that comes up, as often as it comes up, and let those emotions be the turn-by-turn directions that lead us to the parts of us that require the most healing.

Feel and express the anger because anger shows us the resentments we didn’t know we were still holding on to.

Feel and express the loneliness because loneliness shows that we are still afraid to be alone, that we are afraid we might never be loved again, that we are afraid to love again, that we still don’t fully love ourselves.

Feel and express the confusion because confusion leads to seeking answers. All answers lie within and the only answer is always love.

Move Through the Valley

Psalm 23 is one of my favorite Bible passages, especially the line: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). That’s the New Revised Standard Version, but I grew up on the very outdated King James Version, and I think its translation is even more apropos: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”

I can’t think of a better image for how grief feels: walking through a dark valley or living in the shadow of death, defined by a loss so pronounced that we now mark all time as “before” and “after” the loss.

The truth is, when we grieve, we’re not waiting to feel love again; love is waiting on us to embrace it fully. Fortunately, as another Bible verse reminds us, “Love is patient; love is kind … It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7).

Love got us into this in the first place. We grieve because we love, and the more we love, the greater the grief.

If we let it, grief takes us back to love. Love is all there is.

Excerpted from the Unity booklet Grief Is a Spiritual Practice.

About the Author

Rev. Ogun Holder is an ordained Unity minister, certified spiritual coach, teacher, and podcaster. He is the author of Rants to Revelations (Unity Books, 2012) and the cofounder of an online spiritual community called project_ SANCTUS. For more information, visit


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