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The Weight of Grief

A person looking through photo albums

A person looking through photo albums


Once upon a time, a wise teacher walked around the classroom teaching on stress management. As she walked and talked, she carried, in her hand, a glass of water. When she stopped and raised the glass of water, the students were certain that they would be asked if the glass was half full or half empty. Imagine the student’s surprise when the wise teacher, with a smile on her face, asked, “How heavy is this glass of water?

[Wait! Did you see that coming? “How heavy is the glass of water?” Really? Personally, I was ready for a bit of half full, half empty pondering. How would those students begin to know how heavy the glass was? Why does it matter anyway? Keep reading.]
The wise teacher received a variety of answers to her query, ranging from 8 ounces to 20 ounces.

The wise teacher responded, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.

As she continued, the wise teacher concluded her remarks by reminding her audience that the glass of water is like the stresses or worries in life. Think about them for a while, and nothing much happens. Think about them a bit longer, and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you’ll feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.

Quite an interesting story, isn’t it? The wise teacher had good words to help in dealing with the stresses and worries of life. In the wise teacher’s words, I find an appropriate connection with grief. If we see the glass of water as the many components of grief, we may see the impact the grief can have upon us.

Grief is a normal response to our losses in life. The greater our loss, the greater weight our loss has on our lives. In the death of a loved one, our memories become major components of our grief. We play our memories over and over in our minds; they are easily ignited at the least little sight, sound, or smell.

Memories are not only normal in grief; they are necessary. It’s the way we use our grief memories that make a difference. Like the glass of water, the longer we hold on to a memory, the heavier it can become. The power we give our memories makes the difference in our being able to celebrate and enjoy our memories favorably or allow them to weigh us down. Every keeping us stuck in our mourning.

Good grief involves the ability to put our memories to work for us as we move through our grief. Our memories have the ability to empower us in discovering who we are in our loss and how we will live after our loss. Our memories also have the ability to stop us in our tracks and hinder our movement through our grief. It is up to us to give a memory its proper perspective. To continue to carry memories that bring pain and regret is not helpful towards moving through grief. Such a memory may need to be acknowledged and let go in remembering it; however, it often returns, giving a measure of forgiveness when needed. The memories which give respect and dignity and joy and insight into your new relationship with your lost loved one will be the memories you will want to keep close by, for they will give you strength. As with the glass of water in the wise teacher’s hand, the weight of the memory never changes, but the length of time we choose to hold the memory makes all the difference.

At Hospice & Community Care, we value you and the many memories you carry of your loved one. We are here to support you, listen to you, and be with you in your grief. Give us a call if you would like to talk with someone individually or join an online support group.

In close, let me give a big THANK YOU to Dr. Terry Dodge, a physician on our medical team. The account of the glass of water, while not his personal experience, was something that he shared with our Hospice team in a meeting. While the account is reported as a true event, I took the liberty to tell it in a “once upon a time” story with a connection to grief. In the meeting with Dr. Dodge, as he shared the glass of water account, he simply left “stresses or worries in life” open for us to interpret in our own ways. It was from my own perspective that I made the connection with grief. A I see it, grief is, indeed, an important part of the stresses and worries of our lives. Also, please note that this “once upon a time” story presented here doesn’t end with, “and they lived happily ever after.” That ending may or may not be the case, for it depends on each individual and how they choose to navigate their grief.

Remember, we are here for you!

Lee Ann Livingston
Spiritual Care Provider

The Hospice & Hospice Team has a number of resources available for helping families walk through grief and loss.
Learn more about the support and services available to you.

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