Hello. Thank you for being here.
Like the other parts of the Meaning of Life website, the following pages on Grief, Loss, Death & Dying speak to parts of our world that yield deep meaning upon reflection. We hope that what you find here sparks an interest in life, death, and everything in between. And, if such a section seems morbid to you, investigate your relationship with morbidity (aka – your fate!). Why wait until you’re dying to consider these topics? And, why wait until you are experiencing loss to consider the guts and gifts of grief? Join us in pushing against your knee-jerk reaction to avoid these topics.
There are a variety of reasons why you have stumbled on this site. Maybe you have lost someone, maybe you want to support someone who is grieving, or maybe it was an errant click. Regardless of your journey here, these pages are about your journey ahead. Because, as is painfully obvious when we consider the story of our lives, death and its lingering sibling, grief, finds us all. Our hope is that we can inspire visitors to think and feel about these scary topics with new, compassionate eyes – for yourself, others, and death itself.
This site promotes a healthy, integrated approach to connecting the reality of death and grief with the wonders of life. This site is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, treatment, medical treatment, psychotherapy, counseling, or mental health services. This site does not encourage self-harm, suicide, or suicide ideation. If you or someone you know is in crisis or having suicidal or self-harming thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. Visitors may also walk into any local emergency room or call 911.
This section of the website is divided into four sections: death, dying, loss, and grief. Sometimes grief comes in fits and starts, and then all at once. Sometimes feelings of loss come up around seemingly insignificant moments and flit away faster than words can materialize. Sometimes death shows up as expected, and then grief shows up months later. And dying, sometimes the unwelcome visitor and other times a welcome relief, comes to us all. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. But, always.
So what is the point of this section? To synthesize philosophies and musings on the topics of death, dying, loss, and grief into a meaningful discussion that will hopefully augment the lives of readers.
There are countless books, articles, songs, movies, etc. made around death – (the only thing that inspires as much culture is love – foreshadowing!). I have read a sample of those books and skimmed many other resources for a holistic understanding of this thing called “death.” The books touched on where it sits in our society, our families, our bodies, our memories, and ourselves. Many of the books I read were written in response to feed a hunger for more content about death in a death-averse society. The result is a chorus of voices speaking clearly about what’s frequently whispered: what death teaches, what death takes, what grief does to a person, what grows after loss. Each piece reveals an individual’s wrestling with a universal phenomenon. This site aims to do the same.
People in all stages of engagement with these topics will find something of value here. If you are actively grieving the loss of a loved one (first of all: we are sorry, we hear you, we feel for you), there are readings, meditations, and resources. This is not intended to substitute work of an actual grief therapist or support group, but this will be a helpful start. For those interested in feeling kinship with others around their grief experiences, there are lots of grief memoirs in the resource list. If you are wondering generally about how death fits into the meaning of life (that is the name of the website after all!), there are resources. If you’re wondering how to grapple with any part of this ungainly topic, this site will hopefully provide some guidance, direction, or opportunity for reflection.
We hope you will engage with the material even if it feels unfamiliar or melancholic. If we can develop skills to grapple with the scary and unfamiliar, the path becomes a bit easier. Once unearthed, grief lasts a lifetime. So, let’s start getting comfortable with it.
Note to Reader: Language and Metaphor
The concepts of “loss” and “grief” are so intertwined it can be hard to distinguish between them. Consider “grief,” “death,” “dying,” and “loss” as four dear friends, rarely found apart from each other. There may be some instances of these words being used interchangeably. If something seems confusing or off as we roam through this sensitive subject, please let us know.
In the pages ahead, you will frequently read sentences with this structure: “Like X, Y is ABC.” For example: “Like life, grief is messy.” or “Like love, death exists outside of language.” This syntactic redundancy highlights the fact that grief and death are not distinct entities from love or life; they are inextricable companions. You cannot have love without loss, and life does not exist without death.
Throughout this section, there will be many metaphors called into action in an attempt to explain death and grief. Each new grief creates new metaphors: “Grief is a whole new country.” “Grief is an ocean.” “Grief is walking around with no skin.”
Metaphors take on even more duties as they rush in to explain the unexplainable: how someone that used to be here is now not here, or how someone who is not supposed to be here feels like they are all around us. Grief is a universal experience that exists outside of language in the realm of emotion. There have been many things written about grief, and each one contains both new and old metaphors. This is because some point to universal grief experiences (“grief is a roller coaster” or “grieving is like drowning”) while others are individual, corresponding to the individual nature of grief. Grief may feel like a storm on a Tuesday and a soft blanket on Thursday.
A metaphorical story to consider:
A woman whose child had died some years before stated how her grief had totally consumed her. She drew a circle to represent her life: she shaded the whole circle to indicate that her whole life had been filled with her grief. She had imagined that, as time passed, the grief would shrink and become neatly contained within her life, in a small and manageable way (represented as a second unshaded circle – her life – containing a much smaller, shaded circle – her grief). She was realistic enough to assume that the grief would never disappear altogether.
However, what happened was very different. The shaded grief circle stayed just as big, but her life grew around it (the ‘life circle’ was now much larger than it had been before and contained the same-sized grief circle). There were times, such as anniversaries or ‘trigger’ moments (i.e. reminders of her daughter), where she operated entirely from out of the grief circle; her grief felt just as intense as it ever had. But, increasingly, she was able to experience life in the larger, unshaded circle.
-from The Psychology of Grief, Richard Gross.
Introduction: Core Themes
A perusal of any collection of grief books yields common themes. They are synthesized into short sayings below.
- Grief is both a grandly universal and painfully individual experience. Because each relationship is unique, each loss is as well. There is an inherent aloneness in grief, highlighted by the absence of someone.
- Death is everywhere and yet frequent denial of it is necessary for a functional life.
- You can’t “get over” death because you can’t “get over” reality. When something as meaningful as an object of love is gone, the experience of loss is meaningful as well. Meaning doesn’t just go away because it’s “gotten over.” It sits and screams and yells and grows and thrives in its own way – causing the rest of the body to adapt in order to survive.
- The experience of grief changes over the course of a lifetime.
And, even more simply:
- Everyone dies.
- Love and loss are inextricable.
- Loss is a natural part of many situations.
- Grief cannot be conquered or avoided in the long term.
- Death/grief avoidance yields death/grief illiteracy
- Contemplating death, dying, and grief enriches life.
And with that, we’re off…
To a running start, that is.
There is a lot to cover on the subject of Grief, Loss, Death, and Dying. And so much of it is of grave importance.
The writer of this section embarked on a long journey of research, collection, and curation and there is much to share.
The result will be a transforming and comprehensive restructuring of how you handle some of the greatest challenges of life. We hope you’ll take it with us.
You can go through the section in the order we provide by following the buttons at the bottom of every page.
Or, feel free to click around on the visual map of the section below.