The sacred work of sorrow: Finding wisdom in the depths of loss

Grief is a profound human experience that shapes our lives in ways that are often difficult to articulate.

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Stephen Jenkinson and Francis Weller, two prominent figures in the exploration of grief and loss, offer unique insights into the nature of sorrow and how it can transform us. In this article, we will delve into their teachings to understand grief not as an obstacle to be overcome, but as a sacred process that deepens our humanity.


Grief

Stephen Jenkinson, also known as a “grief whisperer,” is a teacher, author, and the founder of the Orphan Wisdom School. His work, particularly in his book Die Wise, challenges the modern denial of death and the avoidance of grief. Jenkinson sees dying well as a moral obligation, a communal act that enriches both the individual and society.

Jenkinson’s approach to grief is poetic and deeply philosophical. He believes that grief is not a problem to be solved but a profound teacher. “Dying wise is an obligation,” he writes, suggesting that how we die—and how we grieve—has significant implications for the living and for generations to come. His teachings encourage us to sit with the discomfort of grief, to let it shape us and to allow it to reveal the depth of our love for life and for each other.

Francis Weller, a psychotherapist and writer, offers a complementary perspective on grief in his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow. He speaks of grief as sacred work, a process that requires us to acknowledge and honour our losses. Weller emphasises the importance of community in the grieving process, noting that grief has traditionally been a shared experience, and it is within the community that healing occurs.

Weller’s work highlights the intimate relationship between grief and gratitude. He suggests that it is through the broken heart that we learn to love more fully. Grief, according to Weller, is an “apprenticeship with sorrow,” where we learn to hold and transform our losses into wisdom.

Both Jenkinson and Weller view grief through the lens of love. For Jenkinson, grief is a testament to our capacity to love deeply. It is the price we pay for the depth of our connections. Weller, too, sees grief as a measure of our love, stating that we can only grieve what we have loved. This interplay between grief and love suggests that to deny our grief is to deny our love.

In modern society, grief is often seen as an inconvenience, something to be hidden away or quickly resolved. Jenkinson and Weller challenge this notion, arguing that grief is not only natural but necessary. It is a force that can crack us open to new depths of understanding and compassion. By fully embracing our grief, we become more authentic, more human.

Both thinkers advocate for rituals and practices that honour grief. Jenkinson speaks of the need for “death literacy,” a communal knowledge of how to deal with loss and mortality. Weller offers grief rituals as a way to collectively mourn and find solace in the presence of others.


Our relationship with grief

The teachings of Stephen Jenkinson and Francis Weller invite us to reconsider our relationship with grief. They ask us to see grief not as an enemy but as a sacred companion on our journey through life. By fully engaging with our grief, we open ourselves to a deeper understanding of what it means to be alive. In the end, grief is not just about loss; it’s about the love that remains, the memories we cherish, and the wisdom we gain.

In embracing grief, we find that it is not the end of our story but a crucial part of our ongoing narrative—a narrative that honours the full spectrum of human experience, from the depths of sorrow to the heights of joy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Edinburgh EH6 & EH9
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Written by Blair Bowker
Edinburgh EH6 & EH9

My life's passion is understanding the heart and mind. As a psychotherapist, I spent 25 years exploring global therapies and my own self-discovery. This revealed that inner peace is key to transformation. My experiences fuel my writing, offering insights into personal growth and the power of compassion.

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