February 26, 2013

Gratitude and Grief: Healing Ideas from Paul Bennett’s Loving Grief

Vic 2006
Vic just before diagnosis, 2006

It was easy to feel gratitude for our close marriage when my husband Vic was alive. Whether we were in a chemotherapy treatment room, in the stem cell transplant unit, or struggling with illness at home, we could count on each other. He was sick and I was his caregiver, but he supported me with hugs, concern for my emotional pain, and consistent gratitude. No matter how Vic struggled or how exhausted I became, we stood together. Then, cancer won and he died. I had to go it alone.

Even though I knew that our great love was worth the grief that flooded my life, my heart was broken and my life derailed. Fortunately, I found a book that helped me understand grief as a normal expression of deep love.

In Loving Grief, Paul Bennett described his experience of his wife’s death this way: “Grief is how loving her feels. My grief is …nothing more or less than my love for her.”


Thich Nhat Hanh advises us to embrace our difficult feelings “like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby.” My thoughts of Vic were thick with longing for what I could not have, but my grief echoed a sadness I felt before Vic’s death. In Bennett’s words, “There was no sharp line between loving her in life and grieving for her in death. I loved her and grieved for her as I held her; I loved her and grieved for her when she was gone.”

I knew I was being taught essential life lessons and wanted to stay with my sorrow and allow it to transform me. Childhood losses, great literature, and opera had already taught me that love has a tragic ending with someone left behind to grieve.

I also sought comfort, and Bennett’s discussion of self-created ritual gave me words to describe the solace I felt when I took flowers to the place where Vic’s ashes were buried or the peace that descended when I visualized Vic being released to other realms in daily meditation.

“…the gift of rituals is the gift of simple presence: A ritual makes you completely and honestly here, right now…. If you give yourself the right ritual—something simple like standing on a bridge with water running under you, or sitting in front of a candle with a picture of that beloved person whom you are never going to see again—it is so simple. There is absolutely nothing for you to do but to be there. And that is a tremendous gift.”

“I can choose to accept or resist my grief,” Bennett writes, “but I cannot end it, and I would not want to, because grieving is the other face of love; it is the inevitable consequence of change,… of life.”

And so it is.


How have you navigated grief? Have you created rituals for yourself? For other blogs about learning from grief, see Creating a Grief Ritual, Small Goodbyes, or Flowers for the Living, Flowers for the Dead. An earlier version of this piece was published by gratefulness.org in 2009.


  1. December 5, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Lauren Banner


    That picture of Vic really startled me when I came across it on Facebook. It always does every time I see one of him. Time and presence are such mysterious phenomena.
    I had two sisters. My oldest sister Devon died years ago. I have a picture of my two sisters and me on a small altar in my house. The other day while going through some of my late mothers stuff I found a sweet silver three part frame with us in the same position but as small children. I placed it next to the shot of us in our twenties and thirties, and smiled. I also felt a big wave of sorrow.
    When I feel that sorrow I find my body, my chest, gets heavy. I collapse a little. The collapse is subtle but noticeable. I try to not run from it but feel it AND at the same time take deep breaths to bring some new life into my body. I want to mix the old sorrow with the new lifeforce. I stand up and pull my shoulders back to open my chest and heart.
    The heart – a vessel for the alchemy of life and death.

    1. December 6, 2018 at 10:28 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Images of Vic still have such power for me, Lauren. Maybe it’s a reminder of the mystery of presence and absence. More than ten years after his death, Vic is still a frequent visitor in dreams and I feel him everywhere on the land. I’m glad you have those photos with Devon. We see those transformations through time so clearly and now–when I share a photo of Vic–I notice how I am aging and he is not. Even in dreams, he never gets older than the age he was when he died.

      It’s important for me to be conscious when that collapsing happens and to remember what it is. Now when there’s a “grief deflation,” I turn toward it, take a deep breath, and say inwardly or to the natural world, “I love you, Vic.” This softens my heart and makes me grateful he was here and we shared so much of this life. It sounds like you have your own version of this exercise. I think we’re making space for the gratitude that remains in this life-death soup. Sending you so much love, E

  2. March 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Becky Livingston


    Hi Elaine,
    I am so glad to have found your site. Finding joy and comfort in the healing journey has become my work, my passion. January, 2013 was the 3rd anniversary of my daughter’s death. In the past two years I have travelled (and house sat) all over the world with her ashes tucked inside my backpack. I have a ritual of leaving them in beautiful places. It’s a way of honouring her love of travel and healing myself, letting her go little by little. Joyful mourning, I like to call it.

    1. March 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Dear Becky,
      I’m glad you’ve found my site, too. I’m deeply sorry about your daughter and moved by the power of the on-going ritual you’ve created. I have been spared the experience, but feel that losing a child is the hardest loss of all. And it’s amazing how you transform grief into action–not leaving it behind since I’m sure your grief is in that backpack going everywhere with you, too–but allowing it to push you toward new possibilities.
      I love your words and wish us both joyful mourning,

    1. February 28, 2013 at 4:39 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks so much for sharing my blog. For some reason, I can’t connect to stunnedbygrief.com this afternoon, but I’ll keep trying.

  3. February 27, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Jill Swenson


    Paul Bennett’s book, Loving Grief, came into my hands only months after Sam died. Sent from my friend Carolyn Byerly who met Paul Bennett through her participation with the Quakers. It was the first time I felt affirmed in my own grief. Death ends a life, but not a relationship. His book helped me come to understand that.

    1. February 28, 2013 at 7:18 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Jill, thank you. When I met you in 2011, this book came up in our conversation. We had both read it and been moved by it. With peaceful surrender, Bennett accepts the inevitable connection of grief and love. As you say, he affirms our experiences of grief and recognizes its meaning and value. I’ll still grateful.

  4. February 27, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Robin Botie


    This was a great article for me just now as I come up on the 2nd anniversary of my daughter’s death. I’ve been wondering what to do on The Day. Flowers and candles, yes. Taking a hike with her sweet dog and eating sushi – she loved these. Listening to her music and walking around her pond, good. And then I need to do something a little wild, a little crazy, because that’s how she lived, even before cancer. I need to live more like she did, to treat each day like it’s a holiday.

    1. February 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      These all sound like wonderful ideas, Robin. I quietly celebrated the 4th anniversary of Vic’s death last summer. Took a walk in the woods with a good friend who was with us at Vic’s death, picked lupines to put at his cairn, put some on an altar with his photo, too. It felt right to put aside time for grief and love. I’ll be interested to hear what wild thing you choose to do.

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