Out of Grief Comes Darkness

Sad man sitting in the tunnel

When grief comes, sounds go mute, the world fills with shadows, and we feel cold all the time.

Some of us push grief away by working harder and longer. Some harden their hearts. Others try to hurry through grief’s darkness by reading self-help books and stuffing positive thoughts into their pockets. There comes a point, though, when we realize that ignoring grief isn’t working because we still feel broken and miserable.

Grief is a dark place because no one taught us what losing someone we love feels like.

Grief is a dark place because no one taught us what losing someone we love feels like. It is then that we stop trying to cover suffering over. As we let go of our ego that says we should be strong enough to handle this, we allow grief to guide us where it will and when it thinks we’re ready.

Many people feel uncomfortable in the darkness, even when they’re standing in the backyard watching the stars at midnight. It’s as if the darkness can’t be trusted because we think this is where vicious animals and malevolent spirits live. Grief feels like we’ve been dropped into the darkness of the wilderness because we see no familiar landmarks and we don’t know what lives here.

There is a long, dark night in grief’s journey when we don’t know what to do. It’s not the same as St. John’s dark night of the soul, although they can dovetail. We feel lost, unable to move, and with a lethargy that weighs our body down.

Everything we’ve known and trusted has failed to hold us up, and when the darkness of grief lingers longer than we think it should, and dawn does not come even though we keep looking at the horizon, we begin to worry that we’re headed into trouble.

In the stars overhead, we feel the presence of those throughout the centuries who have looked up at these stars and found words of hope. If other people could make it through this, then so can we.

But as we wait in the darkness, we begin to find solace. Grief will challenge our faith to its core, no matter what religious tradition we follow, especially if this is the first death of someone close. It will pull down our belief that if we are faithful, if we keep our part of the agreement, then life and God will return the favor, and we will be happy and never suffer.

Grief brings clarity of sight, and we awaken to the fact that suffering is going to be part of everyone’s life.

Part of the darkness we feel comes from grief stripping away many of the illusions we have pasted over life to soften its harsh edges and enable us to endure without crumbling in despair when the evening news reports more death and destruction. Grief brings clarity of sight, and we awaken to the fact that suffering is going to be part of everyone’s life.

In the darkness, we find others who are grieving. As we share with them, community forms. We help each get through the day and find the courage to face our fears. Rather than trying to resurrect our old life out of the rubble of the past, we find the strength to begin creating a new one.

Grief’s dark night teaches us that only love is important, because it’s love that opens our hearts in compassion to the suffering of others.

Mark Liebenow is the author of Mountains of Light, a book that details his hiking in Yosemite to deal with his wife’s death. He writes a weekly blog Widower’s Grief that explores the landscape of grief.

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4 Comments

  1. Rick Beck on May 8, 2019 at 6:06 am

    Thank you, Mark, I have a friend who is a remarkable grief counselor. I’m going to forward this on to him.

    • Mark Liebenow on May 16, 2019 at 7:23 pm

      Thank you, Rick. The more we share with each other, the larger the community of those who understand grief.

  2. Leslie Levine on March 27, 2019 at 5:55 am

    I love Mark’s writing. His insights are always fresh, deep, and, for me, often well-timed. Whenever I read his work I want to forward it on to friends so that they might understand a little more what it is we mourners experience on a daily basis.

    • Mark Liebenow on March 28, 2019 at 9:06 am

      Thank you, Leslie. I write with friends like you in mind because we’re on similar journeys and I know you will understand.

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