A Conversation with Grief

Over the last week or so, I have been thinking a lot about about a very powerful post written by Brian Alger entitled: Grief and Bereavement: A Conversation with Grief on his site: http://exploring-life.ca/.

I have no doubt that anyone who reads Grief and Bereavement: A Conversation with Grief  http://exploring-life.ca/5911/grief-bereavement-a-conversation-with-grief/ will find themselves looking at grief from new angles and places and engaging with it in a way which, though unique to themselves and their own circumstances, will also show how intrinsic grief is to the human condition and not some sort of  personal journey on a desert island. 

Brian Alger wrote this post as the third anniversary of his mother’s death approaches and one of his central messages is as follows:

Grief, and the rhythm of emotions it coordinates, does not intend to inflict harm, it is simply looking for authentic expression.

These words struck quite a chord with me as I think it becomes all too easy to blame grief and try and do battle with it rather than embrace it and see it as a natural process.

When you think about it,  grief doesn’t get a great press and has all sorts of negativity associated with it. You know the thing: Oh don’t mind her, she’s going through the anger phase when someone raises issues around the death of a loved one with blatant insensitivity in the hours, days, months, years ….. following a loss.  From my experience anyway, loss has been associated with some moments of heightened awareness when I suspect others thought I was too upset to be aware of anything!  Brian Alger’s writing brought back many of these moments, both positive and negative, from losses over my lifetime. 

 … the nature of my grief has changed over time, and our capacity to move into conversation with it is an essential core competency in living. 

These words from Brian Alger also resonate strongly with me.  We just can’t assume that people are immune from loss until they are well into adulthood.  I can remember an inexplicable sense of ‘shame’ when my Grandmother died very suddenly when I was nine. It wasn’t that I felt I had killed her;  it was something different and I still don’t know even how to describe it.

Then when I was 23, the love of my life died from cancer in the space of eight short weeks.  I cared for him at home right to the end; I have no idea how ~ pure instinct, I suspect, but I found it incredibly difficult ‘to move into  conversation with [grief].’ It certainly wasn’t one of my core competencies and I ended up in all the ‘backwaters’ and ‘islands’  and lots more places of that nature, that Brian Alger describes.


Brian Alger and I share the experience of having had our parents in our lives until we were into our 50s.  He writes from Canada but, to me, he is a person with whom I know I have lots in common. I love the way he talks about how when we begin holding intimate conversations with grief, we begin to sense the emergence of a new threshold in life.

Losing my parents within sixteen months of each other was certainly not easy, but I feel that I have finally learned to hold intimate conversations with grief.  This experience is somehow a lot easier when one knows that others are in the same boat, even if they are in another ocean, river or lake.

Rosa 'Golden Memories'
Rosa ‘Golden Memories’

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

7 thoughts on “A Conversation with Grief”

  1. Dear Jean,

    I am quite touched by this writing, and the images you have presented are very compelling. The bench is a compelling reminder of the absence of what once was, the rough seas as the tempest of emotions that are so deeply intimate with grief, and the vibrant yellow flower as our own creative transfiguration and passage through a fundamental threshold in life.

    Thank you for “holding the conversation” in such a beautiful way.

    Kind regards,

    1. Hi Brian, thanks for writing and for posting the original article which has so many crucial layers. I feel i have only touched some of them in this response and would hope that the conversation will extend way beyond this initial exchange.
      I must say I was surprised at the extent to which your post keeps prodding me ~ even down to looking at choices of places to walk. The beach here in Tramore is three miles long and one can walk up and down the shore or go around by what is called the ‘Backstrand.’ The latter is hauntingly beautiful but doesn’t have the freshness of the open sea. Also, when the tide is out it has what looks like lots of tiny islands. Your references to ‘backwaters’ and ‘islands’ when we don’t engage with our grief has me thinking more and more of the Backstrand. Interestingly, it is tidal so it’s not a ‘bacwater’ in the sense you mean. I’m wondering how many of us seek the shelter of a place like the ‘Backstrand’ to engage with grief or to what extent is the conversation a more public and bubbly one, like the open sea with its waves and the far off horizon?

      1. Hi Jean,

        We are up at the cottage and the feeling of the landscape here is quite profound. My days are filled right now with watching all the activity around Windy Lake – a very appropriate name since the wind literally dances around here nearly everyday. I adore this place.

        I love how you connect experiences with grief to the landscape around you – this is quite remarkable. Would it be possible to see some pictures of the Backstrand? I really believe that it is essential to find meaningful ways to build a deeper sense of intimacy and belonging between our feelings/experiences and the landscape around us – to hold a conversation with our habitat.

        I hope you write more about the Backstrand and your own experiences – I would love to read about this.

        Isn’t it quite remarkable to be able to share experiences like this from two different parts of the world?

        Kind regards,

  2. A very thought-provoking article Jean. I know better now but I have been guilty in the past of that “make it go away” attitude when it comes to expressing or acknowledging grief, probably a way for me to protect my children. Yet it is so true that children feel it too, even differently than adults. And it helps to have that conversation with other travelers.

    1. Hi Nancy, the issue of ‘protecting’ children from grief is one that resonates with me too and indeed having ‘been protected’ as a child. It’s strange how Brian’s article made me think back to that indescribable feeling of ‘shame’ or ‘ stigma’ or whatever it was when my grandmother died. I’ve no idea where it came from or what it was all about but it was incredibly strong and even at that age I seemed to know that people wouldn’t know what to say, if anything, to me.

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