On the first Friday night of summer, I went to dinner with a group of friends and had the opportunity to meet some new people. In the course of the evening over good food and wine, we shared stories and got a peek into one another’s lives. The last four years of my life have been greatly impacted by my husband’s diagnosis of cancer and subsequent death. While I am much more than “the woman whose husband died”, this experience significantly informs who I am, how I show up and what I have to offer. Upon hearing a brief version of my story, one new friend asked “How’s the grief going?”. I paused for a moment, smiled, repeated the question aloud and said “That’s a great question. It’s going!”. I laughed and said “And it’s going to keep going.”
I was keenly aware that while I was speaking words about grief, I actually felt incredible joy. One of the many teachings I’ve received along this journey is that grief and joy are inextricably linked. I had no idea that was the case, that it was possible for your heart to expand and become polished by grief, allowing you to feel immense joy and gratitude. It’s still astonishing to me that I can honestly say I’ve never been happier in my life. As a result of this transformative experience, I am now called to share my journey with grief, amplify the teachings I’ve received, and hold space for others to do the ongoing work of metabolizing grief in order to allow joy to be reborn within us over and over again in a regenerative way.
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain.”
— Kahil Gibran
What Is Grief?
Grief is both an emotion and a skill set. Most of us know grief as the sorrow, longing and heartbreak we feel when we experience the death of a loved one. I have learned that grief can be viewed in a much broader context. Francis Weller, author of the book The Wild Edge of Sorrow, speaks about five gates of grief: 1) We will loose everything we love, 2) There are places inside us that have not known love, 3) The sorrows of the world, 4) We did not get what we expected, and 5) Ancestral grief. Each of these gates leads us to the regenerative potential inherent in the grieving process. Given the comprehensive nature of these gates of grief, instead of asking “What is grief?” it might be more appropriate to ask “What ISN’T grief?”.
I invite you to rethink grief and imagine it as a natural process that is part of our original instructions as human beings. When we’re tired, we sleep. When we eat, we go to the bathroom. When we care, we grieve. Instead of seeing grief as a heavily cloaked dark figure, imagine it as a gift that brings us into the light, into our fullest vibrancy of life. As Francis Weller says, “ . . . grief is not here to take us hostage, but instead to reshape us in some fundamental way, to help us become our mature selves, capable of living in the creative tension between grief and gratitude. In so doing, our hearts are ripened and made available for the great work of loving our lives and this astonishing world. It is an act of soul activism.” Allow your soul to be activated. The world needs you at your biggest and brightest.
Donna Helete is a regenerative grief coach. She’s a relationship tender, mentor and community builder, with experience in non-profit leadership. She walks a path toward elderhood, bringing with her real life credentials which include the death of her husband of 28 years in September 2015. Through her experience, she learned there’s a regenerative nature to grief which allows our spirits to be reborn again and again. She is honored to pay forward the support and wisdom she received along the way to help others experience a vibrancy of life. She provides one-on-one regenerative grief coaching sessions in addition to other facilitation services, which can be found on her website donnahelete.com (launching soon!). You can contact Donna at firstname.lastname@example.org.