I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories... water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.
— Clarissa Pinkola Estes
In 2007 I was co-facilitating grief groups at one of the hospitals in Calgary. The people in the group had recently lost a loved one. As they sat describing their symptoms and experiences of grief and sorrow following the death of their family members I recognized myself in their words. Everything these group members were speaking about as they bravely shared their stories was entirely familiar to me. It was then that I had the surprising realization that I was actively grieving and had been for many months.
My son Eli had recently been diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome. He was 10 months old when we received the news and although we had been taking him for tests and seeing multiple specialists in our efforts to understand the source of his difficulties, the official diagnosis was deeply shocking to us. In that moment, our lives had changed forever. What I didn’t realize at the time was that multiple layers of thick and heavy grief would embed themselves into many areas of my life. I would carry and process the sadness I felt about the impact this diagnosis had on everyone in Eli’s life - his siblings, our friends, and his extended family. I would grieve all the ways this would create stress and pressure in my marriage. There would be the sorrow of witnessing the multiple struggles and losses Eli experienced throughout his life as well as the painful awareness that he would live his life immersed in a culture not yet prepared to see him as the beautiful being we had already learned he was. Becoming the parent of a child with a disability had instantaneously thrown me into the tumultuous waters of grief but no one had given me the language or framework to understand what was happening to me.
As is often the case for many of us, my rough initiation led me down a path towards riches I couldn’t have previously fathomed. As I welcomed each layer of grief and allowed it to move through me I found I was being stretched wide by all that was being brought to me. The more I opened to the heartbreak and grief, the more inner space I created inside myself and, as a result, I gradually came to see I was far more capable of experiencing love, joy, and gratitude.
After well over a decade of walking this path my grief continues to be complex and on-going, coming to me in waves at unexpected times. There hasn’t been and won’t be a neat and tidy point of completion. However, the sense of expansion and aliveness I experience as I continue to welcome and work with my grief has been a delightful and welcome surprise. When we are willing to approach our grief with reverence, the most sorrow-laden journey can be an entryway into a life of immense beauty.