what's the "work" of grief work?


Have you heard grief referred to as work? What’s the goal of “grief work”?

Is there even a goal?  

So often in my early grief, I reached for the writers and teachers that had guided me in my Before life. Time and again, they wrote about “doing the work” – showing up, dealing with what has been given to you. Finding your way through.

So many of them, in various ways, seemed to insist on my finding the strength to overcome obstruction, to open myself to that which had been closed, or that which felt closed in me.

And grief, clearly, was an obstruction.      

I hated this stuff.

Early in my grief, every word was a shard of glass. Every word, every suggestion, lodged in me, a million pin pricks against my shredded skin.

While all of their suggestions worked on normal life, my life was no longer normal. This kind of pain is a whole different animal. And pain, as we know, is not a problem: it’s a response.

Working to get rid of grief was never something that sat right with me. But isn’t there something we’re supposed to do in this?

Well – yes.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the last several years about the true work of grief:

The “work” of grief is not to make it go away.

The obstacle on your inner road is not grief.

The obstacle is the very natural reaction of shutting down in the face of pain.


The challenge, then, is to stay in your heart. To stay present in your heart, to your heart, to your own deep self, even, and especially, when that self is broken.

In his video introduction to the Hanuman chalisa, Krishna Das says: “we chant to bring us strength: the strength to overcome all obstructions, all problems, anything that is in the way of us accomplishing our goals. And of course, the ultimate goal is to open our hearts.”

The ultimate goal is to open our hearts. The ultimate goal is to keep our hearts open when slamming them shut makes more sense.

If I think of the real work of grief as doing whatever I can to keep my heart open, to feel and to face every stitch of both pain and love, without somehow abandoning myself in the process, well – that’s “work” I can get behind. That’s work I understand.

How about you? How do you view the work of grief? What ways have you found to keep your heart open, when for all the world sometimes, it just wants to close?

As always, I love your questions and your comments. Leave a comment here, or send me an email.