When I was 13, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She went through too many chemo rounds to count, and at one point was even in a state of remission. But ultimately — as many know who have also lost loved ones to this disease — it’s a silent killer and the cancer is often too advanced to be able to fully cure. At 15, I was at my mom’s graveside navigating my first experience with the other side of love: loss.
10 years later my beloved and only brother died tragically as a result of PTSD and untreated addiction. In a word: suicide. Where my mom’s death silenced me, my brother’s death pushed me into a deep pursuit of healing. As a teenager I was able to numb out and avoid my feelings, but when I lost my brother, everything changed. As painful as it was, I knew that I had to choose to live even more fully.
Over the past nine years since losing my brother, I have committed to discovering the light side of grief, to identifying and embracing the invitations that lay within its deep layers. What I’ve come to learn is grieving is actually a renewal state — a cycle of releasing and reconnecting. The tears and sadness are, quite literally, just a more fluid connection to love.
These are the four invitations I’ve found within the grief:
1 | The invitation to pause —
When someone we love dies, our whole world changes in an instant and forever. And with this disruption there is an opportunity for sacred inquiry that arrives as we pause and honor the present absence of our loved one. What impressions did they make on our lives? What will we miss? What will we do to continue to celebrate their lives? What did their story teach us? The pause orients us to love and, therein, the connection that transcends the physical.
2 | The invitation to connect with your breath —
With the intensity of emotions surrounding loss, especially when more sudden, breath can serve as our anchor. A simple remembering to close the eyes and breathe allows us to stay grounded in our body, mind, and spirit. In a more practical sense, as Max Strom speaks to in his Ted Talk, “Breathe to Heal”, there are certain patterns of breathing that can actually change how we feel.
3 | The invitation to feel —
Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler wrote about the five stages of grief in their book, On Grief & Grieving, but since everyone’s story and process is so unique, there is ultimately no linearity to the stages. If an emotion arises, allow for it. Feelings, after all, are just information about the state of your heart. The more we can give ourselves permission to be with where we are in our grief, the more at peace we will be in our process.
4 | The invitation to heal —
Healing is a verb, it requires action and commitment. We have to allow for the pain to heal, also remembering that, in doing so, we must keep our hearts open. We have to ask for help when healing because most of us can’t heal in isolation. There are many great therapists who specialize in grief, including LA-based Claire Bidwell Smith, who even has online grief courses. Body work, daily readers, and support groups are also great ways to continue moving forward.
Zen Buddhism reminds us that the obstacle is the path. And through exploring the invitations to pause, breathe, heal, and feel, we are able to arrive at the truth that grief is actually a sacred pathway into a deeper connection within our hearts.
Jasmin Jenkins is a plant medicine advocate and intuitive connector based in Los Angeles. She was most recently the Head of Partnerships at THINX, and is currently consulting with mission driven startups.