Grief has been on my mind these past few weeks, as I have witnessed so many people experiencing losses of loved ones. We know anecdotally that January is a busy month for dying, and I have seen this phenomenon repeat itself over and over as each day more people share news of their Beloveds dying, sometimes suddenly, but more often after an illness.

We, too, have experienced loss in our community, with two candles lit these last few Sundays for lives of people that we have loved. In any given day, we are faced with small and large losses that touch the well of grief within.

My sadness has drawn me to seek out familiar words of comfort, and I recall the Mary Oliver poem, “Heavy” –

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying.

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It is not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

When you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind and maybe

also troubled—
roses in the wind,
The sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

Grief is a complicated emotion, and each of us experiences it differently. When I first learned about the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – I expected that I would move through them one by one, check them off, and be finished with my grief process. How wrong I was! I have come to understand that grief is much more like the water table, which flows under the ground all the time, and I interact with the water when I dip a bucket down into a well, wade into a pond, or trip over a puddle. As Oliver says, “It’s not the weight you carry, but how you carry it.”

We all manage our grief differently as well, using different coping mechanisms to work through the process. There isn’t a right way to do this. The most important thing is to be gentle with ourselves and with each other. Remember, that each new grief recalls the ones we have experienced before. Make space for your grief, and know that you are not alone. Remember that “We need one another when we mourn and would be comforted” (George Odell)

May you each find respite from your own well of grief, and may the simple daily actions of your life bring you solace.