A Survival Guide for Life After Loss: Tending the Spirit

Photo By Lauren Cottrell Banner

1. Pray or meditate—in your own way or according to your spiritual or religious tradition. Consider spending part of each day in silence rather than seeking constant distraction. Meditation and prayer comfort us. In silence, we honor our loss and pray for our future. Breathe deeply and be with what is right now, even if your heart aches.






2. Build altars. Put fresh water in a favorite pottery bowl. Light candles. Make a changing altar of paintings, images, or a postcard sent by someone you love. Add feathers and stones and flowers. You might include a photo or message to the person you have lost. Consider writing yourself a note of love and empathy and put that on your altar, too. It’s easy to feel guilt or shame about grief. We need to be tender toward ourselves.

3. Create new rituals to honor loss and life. Do this within a religious or spiritual community, with friends, or on your own. Remember birthdays, last days, and anniversaries. Small rituals help us move through grief and honor our difficulties. Find a special place outside and leave flowers, stones, or pine cones there. I take my grief to the place where we buried my husband’s ashes and imagine leaving one drop of sorrow behind to lighten my load. Find more ideas in 6 Ways to Invite Love to a Death Anniversary.

DSC029424. Watch a sunset or sunrise. Nature’s transitions and the changing seasons teach us we are part of a Greater Universal Cycle of Birth, Death, and New Beginnings.

5. Open your heart to the pain of the world. We instinctively recoil from pain, but experiment with opening to other’s suffering when you feel able. The more I accepted the truth that we all suffer, the more I felt a wider deeper Love stronger than the isolation and loneliness of grief.

6. Watch the night sky. Notice the phases of the moon. Admire the evening Venus and the morning Venus. Learn the constellations. The vastness of the universe keeps our loss in perspective.


New moon Venus conjunct in the west

7. Take comfort from spiritual teachers and books that widen your view, such as Pema Chodrun’s When Things Fall Apart or Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life or John Tarrant’s The Light Inside the Dark. These books teach us to live life fully, no matter what we face. Look for healing in poetry and sacred texts. We are reminded that loss is a universal human experience and a powerful teacher.

8. Express gratitude for all that is good in your life. Notice beauty. Notice the gift of human kindness and friendship. Along with lamenting your loss, consciously and purposefully praise what remains.

DSC048169. Notice how the outer world and your dreams guide you. Dreams or seemingly “chance” events can be messages from our deeper Self. Meaningful coincidences between our inner and outer life (synchronicity) remind us of a Greater Intelligence and Wiser Guidance. 

10. Remember the words to the old Beatles song “Let it Be.” Take in the meaning of those powerful words. Sing it to yourself. When we surrender to what is, we give ourselves space to transform and grow.


“Let it Be. Let it Be.
There will be an answer. Let it Be.”


How do you tend your spirit in the rough times? How do you surrender to what is when you’re disappointed and hurt? I’m grateful to Jenna Farr Ludwig for suggesting I include synchronicity in this guide. For other posts in this three part series, see A Survival Guide for Life After Loss: Body and A Survival Guide for Life After Loss: Ten Ways to Nurture Your Soul.

  1. Very inspirational, dear Elaine. Thank you!

    • I hope practical, too. I find Spirit in what is easily accessible–times of silence, the teachings of nature, and simple ritual, for example. Then there are all those powerful books on my bookshelves. Thank you, Peggy.

  2. I am so happy to see your focus on the spiritual dimension of coping with grief. My faith in God as my source of hope carries me through.

    Once again, the photos with the main points make this post so memorable.

    • Thanks, Marian. I hoped to make spiritual points that work for everyone (this is what we do at hospice). I grew up without much spiritual teaching, but that changed dramatically in my twenties. In grief, the most holy and protected place was in my own woods. It wasn’t surprising, since I had always gone to the forest for solace and prayer. I felt the Great Mysterious Silence and an inner personal surrender to my new reality there. Thank you from one woman who appreciates photography to another.

  3. Thanks for always helping us remember to look at the beauty in life that is sometimes taken for granted my sweet friend. xo 🙂

  4. Thanks, Elaine, for your list. I find Pema Chodron’s writing the most helpful to me. And of course, sitting in meditation and spending time in nature.

    • And I see much spiritual power and beauty in your painting, too, Lynne. I can’t imagine what it feels like to paint those huge canvasses of intense color–it must lift you out of the ego perspective.

  5. Thank you, Elaine. This is so beautiful and succinct. I will copy it and keep it for a reminder! I love Jenna’s suggestion to include synchronicity. Perfect!

    You’ve pretty much described my spiritual practice. Of course, I’d have to add writing because that puts me in the “flow” of eternity more than almost anything I do. But that’s me! Everyone has their own passion and portal for accessing Spirit.

    • Ah, my disclaimer in the beginning of this post: The divisions collapse. Everything flows together. I listed writing in the second of this series–Soul. Many years ago, I learned from Marion Woodman not to divide Body/Soul/Spirit–but I tried anyway. Writing is a primary portal for me, too. and my passion. Thanks for your comment, Jeanie. And your constant inspiration. Yes, Jenna had to remind me of what I already know–as did you.
      With much gratitude,

  6. Elaine,
    I love these suggestions about ritual and attentiveness. I need to be reminded every day about how important it is to appreciate what is here, what is not, and how to connect those two dots in the universe.

    • True, Kirsten. Ritual is a way to stay awake. I carry a camera everywhere because it helps me watch for interesting and beautiful images–such as another knockout sunset tonight. Keep the juices flowing for when I make it to LA.

  7. Never more important than during loss to know that our true nature is spiritual, and eternal. Thank you for this great series.

    • Thank you, Susan. I hoped these were appropriate for anyone of any faith, or no faith. Hospice training is careful to be universal yet devoted to serving the person on all these levels. You’re my test case. Thanks for your appreciation and your reflections.

  8. Elaine,

    This whole series is such a gift to to those of us experiencing loss and dealing with the grief that follows. I agree with you that each category does collapse into the next, but it is helpful to see each delineation…to see where/if we have been neglecting part of our practice. For me, what has often gotten neglected is the body. I have tended throughout my life to push myself beyond the limits with which my body is comfortable and have paid for that in not only a physical sense, but an emotional and spiritual lack of inspiration as well. I have been so fortunate to have loved ones and wise mentors like yourself to remind me to honor all parts of my being when doing the healing work. Thank you for you for mentioning my suggestion to watch for meaningful coincidence as a way of feeling spirit’s support; that is something that has helped me to see the bigger picture of my life, as both you and Jeanie know from your own experiences. Much love, Jenna

    • Jenna, I was a nutritionist and personal trainer and taught classes in women’s health with a focus on bone health. Vic and I stayed healthy together. It’s hard to take care of my body as well as I did when he was my training partner. We motivated each other. Now I sit at this computer too many hours. I make excuses to avoid the bitter cold of the last month so don’t get into the woods some days. I made myself a pot of soup today (score for the good guys) and went on a good snow shoe hike (second point). We keep practicing.

      I love knowing you and Jeanie. I began studying Jung when I was in my early 20s and never looked back.
      Much love to you, too,

  9. Body/Soul?Spirit do seem to blend and I love your outlook on all three. A helpful list, with beautiful photos. Thank you for sharing your ideas to help others who are new (or veterans) to grief.

    • Hi Patti. My teacher Marion Woodman taught me body/soul/spirit are one from a feminine perspective. Interwoven and interdependent. I’m ready to write a good story about early days with Vic–maybe a good hippie story would make me happy now. I’m pondering a few. Hope you’re doing OK in Alaska, taking photos and writing words.

  10. Beautiful, Elaine ~ Just beautiful. From my heart to yours, thank you ♥

  11. It’s beautiful, Elaine.

    • Thanks, Robin. We had a good life. Very little friction in the early years, but of course that didn’t last forever. In the last years, the small stuff didn’t matter again.

  12. I found your Survival Guide Part 1 on Facebook. I read it and felt so inspired. Like, I can do this. I can choose one or two to focus on. Then I read through the next two guides and I feel so overwhelmed. Maybe I pick one thing from each guide to focus on. Maybe it’s too early. I just lost my dad tragically and unexpectedly and way too young just 3 weeks ago. And learning how to cope and move forward is so hard. I will use these. I do believe in each word you’ve written. In each step and suggestion. I just need to figure out how to apply them. 🙂

    • Dear Kerrie,
      I’m glad you found my blog, but please don’t burden yourself with a grief to-do list. I just looked at your blog and saw how recent your dad’s death is. I’m so sorry.
      Maybe choose one thing or two–something most natural to you. Since you’re a writer, you will may want to keep a journal of your grief experiences. Everything that feels like nonsense now will be so important later. I’m grateful I did that, since writing about my husband’s illness and the new world I found myself in after his death led to a whole new life. My book was published earlier this month.
      If you keep writing about the wild things going on inside and outside, you’ll know what you need to do to take care of yourself. As the stillpoint in your heart? Grief is a wild ride, but writing keeps us tethered to the earth. No words? Get a crayon and create colors. I did lots of painting, and I’m no painter, but it soothed me.
      Wishing you well in all ways,

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