The Gift that Keeps Giving

Post by Dionne Ruff-Sloan for the Kind Kindred series.

print by PHOTOTROVE on etsy

The Gift that Keeps Giving

“You know she loved you very much,” I said to my daughter and preschool aged son as I threw clothes in the open suitcase, “you were her heart.” I was desperately rushing to be out the door and on to a red eye flight to Texas. My mother had died a few hours before. I remembered that brief conversation when I opened the suitcase the next day. All I had packed was pants and underwear. That is what my grief looked like. It’s now four years later and I can laugh at how completely out of my mind I was during that time. I can also appreciate the four biggest lessons grief taught me.

1. Be honest about true feelings.

C.S. Lewis once said “grief feels so like fear. I am not afraid but the sensation is like being afraid. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me…”

This is exactly how I experienced grief and I would also add that grief paralyzed me because I fought very hard to hide behind that invisible blanket by pretending to be okay. Doing so felt controling, as if I was denying the existence of the very real pain I was feeling, holding it tensely in every muscle in my body. As the tension built, I grew enraged at everyone and everything that dare to continue with life as if my heart had not been ripped from my body. I desperately needed the space to sit with grief and own it as mine. Once I honestly owned, welcomed, and embraced it, I was able to transform it. I started by telling the truth about my feelings. When someone asked ‘how are you?’ rather than give them the disconnected ‘I’m okay’ response I paused, took a deep breath and answered honestly. This turned out to be a great gift of kindness. Over and over I was surprised by the hugs, gentle pats on the shoulder and other loving responses I got from people. But what surprised me even more was the way I began to feel. By honestly acknowledging my feelings, I saw patterns within them and was able to flow with the patterns rather than against them.

2. Ask better questions.

I considered myself pretty capable of taking care of business and it didn’t occur to me that I’d be any different. However during the months that followed, I was so wrapped up in keeping myself together on a daily, sometimes hourly or even minute by minute basis. When people said ‘call me if you need anything’, that felt completely useless to me. I couldn’t rub two brain cells together to be able to pick up the phone to ask for what I needed let alone think of what I needed. How comforting it was to have people around me say “Can I pick up a few things from the grocery store for you?”, ‘Have you eaten anything today?’ and ‘Can I watch your preschooler so you can have a few hours to yourself?’ These kinds of questions helped to pull me out of the past and ground me in the present moments. Now I ask ‘how would you like to be supported?’ and give suggestions on what I can do to be of real help.

3. Silence is the most sacred gift.

Most people feel they have to say something to try and make you feel better but they don’t know exactly what to say. What I wanted most was silence but I didn’t know that at the time. A friend would call me every Friday. She’d always start our phone conversations by asking ‘how are you, really?’ and then she’d sit quietly listening as I talked. But the true magic happened when I paused. She didn’t rush to start a new conversation because she wasn’t uncomfortable with silence. She welcomed it, let it wrap around us like a blanket and held it there in anticipation of what would come next. She knew there was more that wanted to be heard and she knew it was waiting for the space to break free. She knew there’s nothing more precious than someone who is fully listening rather than preparing a response. Because of her example, I am able to give this gift to everyone I encounter, not just those grieving.

4. There is true power in letting go.

A little more than a year and a half past and I was feeling better. I still consciously sat down with my grief, yet my head and heart were still filled with shoulds, woulds and coulds. Grief said, “I want to show you something.” I closed my eyes to see my inner child sitting there, sad and alone. She longed for her mother just as the adult me did. In that moment watching her walk around looking so scared, so fragile and helpless I felt compelled to do something for her. So I let go. I surrendered all the endless chatter of what should have been, could have been, and would have been. I let go of all of that so I could make space to hold my child-self in my arms. When I got down on her level, I began to see the spaciousness that awaited me. I began to feel the incredible love and support all around me…not just from the people in my life but from everything. This vast space and connection to everything was within me all the time. But I had to let go in order to discover it.

I wasn’t always willing to accept these lessons, nor were they easy to learn, but I am deeply grateful for my time walking with grief. These lessons have turned out to be gifts that continually give.

I’m Dionne Ruff-Sloan, the Tea Priestess of Goddess Tea House. I offer up leaves of Goddess wisdom, serve up steaming cups of inspirational writings and offer plates of soul nourishment in workshops. You can find me at on Facebook, and on Twitter.


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