Making Your Grief Useful  

Grief. Grieving. What’s the difference? Grief is to grieving as the eye is to seeing, as the ear is to hearing. Think of grief as an invisible organ of perception. Think of the difference between grief and grieving as the difference between what a person is and what a person does. Grief is a part of you. Grieving is responding – consciously and unconsciously – to the part of you that is grief. 

We humans tend to speak of grief and grieving as one and the same – an emotion of sorts that happens to us. Whether it erupts like spontaneous combustion or simmers beneath the surface of the daily round, grieving is often regarded as personal pain over which a griever has little control. 

It’s true, as the modern proverb says, “shit happens” – to us, our loved ones, and to those on the other side of the world who we will likely never know by name. Every day our human collective suffers common, extraordinary, unthinkable grief-striking losses we would never choose for one another or ourselves. So, most of us, if only we had the magic power, might elect to eradicate grief-striking losses from the face of the planet – forever. But we don’t and we can’t. Instead, most of humanity learns to co-exist with grief. I beg you to do more. 

It may sound delusional, but your grief deserves your respect and affection. Grief is like the irritatingly wise and learned teacher who prods you to consider the incomprehensible – the mentor you go back to thank years later for imparting the lessons you were so resistant to learn. 

Perhaps it’s like this: A healthy eye can see, but cannot observe. A healthy ear can hear, but cannot listen. It takes a whole person – a breathing, thinking, feeling person – to fully observe what the eye sees and fully listen to what the ear hears. Likewise, it takes a whole person to grieve.

When you give yourself fully to the grieving process, it becomes obvious that grief and grieving are not at all one and the same. It becomes clear that grieving isn’t merely something that happens to you. You write your grieving biography in the ways you choose to grieve.

Your grief needs you – all of you – to make itself useful. 

Grief is a noun. Grieving is a verb – it’s something you do.

Shea Darian, Doing Grief in Real Life: A Soulful Guide to Navigate Loss, Death & Change

Published by Shea

Shea Darian, M.Div. is a family and grief educator, spiritual care provider, and award-winning author of Doing Grief in Real Life (Nautilus Award; IPPY Award) and Seven Times the Sun: Guiding Your Child Through the Rhythms of the Day. Shea is the creator of the Model of Adaptive Grieving Dynamics, published in the journal Illness, Crisis & Loss, Vol. 22(3), 2014. Books on family spirituality include Sanctuaries of Childhood: Nurturing a Child's Spiritual Life (Foreword Book of the Year Award) and Living Passages for the Whole Family: Celebrating Rites of Passage from Birth to Adulthood (Nautilus Award; Next Generation Indie Book Awards).