Grief. It is barely lifting your head off the pillow with the ache of realizing it is the day of your beloved  dad’s funeral. The pain of his passing sears deeply, and is equal parts encompassing, steadfast, uncomplicated love; it is emptiness. It is blinding bereavement. It is the quivering lips and strained faces of your children fighting back tears at the grave side of their grandmother; the one they played school with, and who never missed celebrating a single day of their lives. It labors and languishes in the soul of a mother who lost her son to suicide.

Grief resonates with the spouse as he leans in to kiss his bride of 50 years, blinking back incomprehension as she will likely not make it through the night.  It is expelled through the tears of disbelief from the sister who witnessed the last sacred breath of her warrior counterpart; the realization that joint surrender is part of the fight.  Grief imposes as the indescribable inevitability most of us will experience at some point in life, despite asking the universe, God, or a higher power to shield us from this pain. If truth be told, grief is not a friend, but a teacher.

Grief is learned by being the voice for a soul- mate dog that showed Zen-like grace and acceptance her whole life despite a disability, then calling by name the suffering that is moving from the fringes to the center of her being and you can’t let it happen. Grief rips deeply and if you forget for a minute you have lost a person or animal vital to your existence, it reminds you with endless butterflies in your middle, an anxiety that can only be quelled with tears of release.

Grief is shadows that cast a gray pall over all even when it is bright outside, the muted shade that transforms the color of things, like a stroll through Kansas before Dorothy meets the wizard.

 Grief can combat a previously perceived darkness around death by evolving into a more ethereal experience. Those who consciously work through the layers of grief, may be gifted insights through faith, spiritual awareness and healing. They support the beauty of the soul’s journey, and that death being synonymous with nothingness couldn’t be further from the truth.

Grief is not a straight line. It is the first days of fog as you plan a memorial service, write an obituary and decide which vase your loved one’s ashes will be stored in.  Grief sits with you like an unwanted visitor when you try to sleep and can’t think of anything but your family member or friend’s last days or moments. You know it would be better to envision the healthy, vibrant light force that was, but the mind trips and circulates that which the heart cannot accept.

 Grief is Velcro- it sticks to the moment of joy you may allow yourself in the months after your loss, it grabs hold on the days that start out focused and driven only to bring you to your knees with realization. Grief thrives within the melodies that have new meaning when you are in mourning; they comfort and they also unleash the dark knowing from the deepest parts of yourself most in need of expression. Music is ultimately a code that cracks wide open the memories and moments you most cherished and repelled; both equally necessary to heal.

Grief can start with the preparation of a eulogy, because you are organized by nature and you memorialize with clear thoughts as the event of death will be leveling. Grief is prayer, it is meditation, it is the calling in of spirit in ways you have never understood before and with the exception of the love you have for present family, will become an encompassing, sustaining light. The welcoming in of spiritual awakening comforts but it also exposes us to what lies beyond the analytical; it asks us to trust our own intuition and knowing.

Grief restores; in time, it frees.  When it is not squelched, it rebuilds a layer of protection that hurt will try to penetrate again and again. Willing students will learn. It is relentless until it fades in intensity as you find other ways to remember, honor, and celebrate that and those which you have lost in the physical world. Connectedness is felt by those who welcome it in to varying degrees. Energy lives on and despite one’s personal beliefs, it can be said that it stares down grief and wins. Grief is a darkness that can lean into light. Energy is life and it cannot end. It is that which transcends.


A much-loved song by Sara Barellies about the courage of speaking up resonated with me but never more so than when my sister was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Like other cancers, AML can be indiscriminant in those it chooses. One day, no AML, the next day an ominous uncertainty lingering; for my sister it spanned almost three years. This lyric was the essence, the cornerstone of my sister’s odyssey with an unwanted giant: “Show me how big your brave is.”  How do we ever really know how big our brave is unless the slings and arrows of life pierce or graze us? I bore witness to a ceaseless barrage of a warrior’s pain. I watched how she engaged and tamed it; a puddle of malicious intention left on the floor of her hospital room- no match for her power.

Hearing she had cancer, a disease that had threatened then taken the life of our mother could have paralyzed my sister, Geri, with fear. The message sent from her stored cell memory- a knee-jerk imagining of the worst end result accompanying the doctor’s diagnosis. When I walked into Geri’s hospital room for the first time after the news, she was propped in her bed chatting with a close friend; her healthy looking body, blonde highlights and voice steady in the throes of conversation. I had to stifle the urge to say, ‘this is a cruel joke, let’s get outta here.’ In days that followed, I recall my successful family law attorney sister, sitting with her lap top on a tray table moments before the anticipated searing pain of a bone marrow biopsy. She checked in with clients despite the intrusion about to enter her body. No matter the source of the invasion, Geri’s Brave would not take a bow. It stood firm, proud, and uncompromised.

Weeks, then months at a time in the hospital threatened to break my sister’s verve and wit; and at times her will to endure the next challenge, but instead of railing against this new culture she had inhabited, she made peace with it. She was poked, prodded, infused, transfused day or night. The unexpected transformed into normalcy; she rarely complained unless she felt her dignity was at stake. The figurative gloves always stayed on; after all, she was in the ring, the fight of her life- she never blurred the line of accepting condescension for her cooperation.

Sometimes Brave looked like shared tears of laughter with a sister when the nightmare loomed the largest; it meant maintaining her own voice. No amount of drug therapy, procedures, including two stem cell transplants, or endless waiting, could diminish the will of her mission to live. Haze due to side effects of medication, dehydration and pain bullied her sharp memory, presence, and induced fatigue, but her essential essence remained.

 Life became a revolving door of cancer leaving and resurging, clean bone marrow shimmering then crowded with blast cells.  Agonizingly, a stem cell transplant of healthy blood from her son, Sam, didn’t graft, so hell became watching a sea of healing possibilities dwindle to a pond, then a pool. Another transplant, followed by other experimental treatments, stretched the scope of just how brave a human being could be. When she imagined out loud whether she would witness the high school graduation of her only child, she did so when she felt pretty good overall. The hoped for healthy body soon began to rage with a swell of bad cells and the tidal wave gained unwelcome momentum. No dance seemed to be fast enough to evade and eradicate the monstrous intruder. If wellness was the destination, time was the golden ticket we no longer had.

Things happened. When Geri developed a blood clot on her brain, surgery became necessary or her suffering of excruciating headaches and worse would ensue, and the medical team felt despite the stage of her leukemia, she could survive. My sister and I used to have a phrase for the most surreal moments in life. “Excuse me, is this a play?” When I walked into her hospital cove, after her brain surgery, the large staples in her skull assaulting in their size, placement and texture, I felt like a tiny ant in the presence of her Brave.  No stage, no curtain call, no actors.  Geri survived yet another trial threaded with gravitas that had no means of measure, but it was the unrelenting will on her face and the aura all around her that I saw when I entered her that room that day. Cancer started a war but could not steal the intention of her sovereign soul.