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Navigating Your Way Across Grief


Today, the morning after the elections, I woke up in deep grief, needing some comfort – to just keep going.

Chop wood. Carry Water….keep going. Or in my case,  Feed Horses. Drink Tea. Read poems.

My eyes still swollen from too many tears, I looked to the work for the late Irish poet John O’Donohue for solace.  I dove into his work “On Grief” and read the thoughts of his one who loved him, reflecting on the grief of losing a beloved.

She offered this image from Ireland, where mud can make the roads impassable to donkeys going to market.

We used a ‘ciseach’ when bringing out turf (peat) from the bog with donkeys and baskets. The journey of the turf laden donkey from the bank of turf to the solid road would often be mined with soft, marshy spots into which the donkey would sink. To enable him to travel safely over it, we would gather sticks and rushes to form a strong layer of skin over the marshy spot. This was a temporary measure. It had to be patched up regularly with fresh bandages of newly cut rushes. We need a temporary ‘ciseach’ as a patch on the boggy ground of grief to help us to solid ground. We must recognize that we are patching just to be able to mind what it is that we are carrying, knowing that it will not be a permanent bridge.”

That’s what today is about for me: searching for a  temporary ‘ciseach’ until I get to the other side of this despair.


Her words, directed at the loss of her beloved, helped me deal with the loss of a dream.

“In grief our grounding connectedness to the earth becomes severed and we are at the mercy of the ebb and flow of the unknown. This will happen anyway at different stages in the journey of grief but if we learn to be gentle with ourselves and attentive to the cry of the heart then we have a better chance of entering into the new presence that’s waiting to embrace us…

John [O’Donohue] used to always say that ‘nothing is ever lost or forgotten”’..

After we let the flames of sadness and despair rage through us, like flash fires erupting in parched grass, it is the overflowing of the well of tears that quenches the fury. Then comes the time of picking our footsteps among the patches of scorched earth. As this ground cools it is already inviting new growth…

This time of healing is full of fear, excitement and guilt. This strange ground holds a promise of new life yet one might feel guilty about the necessity for all the destruction and pain that has carved this path towards a new threshold of promise…As the dawn drives the darkness back we come to trust that there is an overall plan that is teasing a rhythm from the chaos all around us.”

Tomorrow, I can start looking for hope. Today, I need to focus on just building that ‘ciseach,’ that temporary bridge. To just keep walking.

And then I found in the words of John O’Donohue himself more comfort – substituting that sense of loss of a dream for the loss of a person.

On Grief  (excerpts chosen for those who are grieving today)

When you lose someone you love, [or substitute “a dream”]
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens…

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop…

From “For Grief” by John O’Donohue. Text as published in To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (Doubleday, 2008).

grassToday, I send you my thoughts of comfort in whatever challenges you may be Facing.

And I ask you, and would really love to hear your comments:

What is the ‘ciseach’ you have found to help you traverse grief?

6 Responses

  1. On grief and the pain of heartache:

    To be still in nature, and receptive to the beauty and healing power of it…this is how I deal with grief.

    Thank you Sally!

  2. Today, numbness, shock turned to tears, and fears. Walking, tea, friends and silence hold me. The awareness, that this is why I am, we are here, more palpable than ever. I am encouraged to find the perceived (others, myself) and meet in the room of the heart, where together we can chart a brave new story. For now, I am still in the garden of my heart composting what does not serve, and gleaning seeds for what to plant.
    Thank you Sally, the authentic expressions now serve as a healing balm.

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