The alchemy of grief

When I saw those words in my calendar – Grief workshop 10am-6pm – I thought “What the heck was I thinking when I signed up for that??!” And then I thought, I don’t have anything big to grieve anyway. I will feel like an imposter. 

But a few beats later, I remembered: Your marriage. You need to grieve the death of your marriage.
Oh yeah, that.

We do so much to distract ourselves from loss. We get busy. We numb. We hang out on social media, so we don’t have to feel our sorrow. Our aloneness.

As I walked into the meditation center where the workshop would be held, I felt it begin to bubble up in my chest… and the tears began to pool in my eyes. It was as if my body was already thanking me – thank you for inviting me to the party. Thank you for putting your attention on me. I never get invited to the party!

And I found myself so grateful that I had finally been invited to inhabit and express my sorrow somewhere. There was something to do with it other than suppress it or contain it.

Francis Weller writes and speaks beautifully about grief. I’ve watched this talk over and over again. (Watch the whole thing. It’s life-changing) He talks about the extent to which we can carve out space for our sorrow is the extent to which we can make space to feel joy. He talks about how we have become a flatline culture – with a narrow range of what we’re allowed to feel. He talks about coming together in community to grieve as part of our “soul hygiene.” That to “speak of sorrow works upon it.”

He spoke about how we have undigested sorrows… and that grief is a capacity we can build, a skill that we can strengthen. It requires courage and vulnerability. It requires a willingness to be with things as they are.

He says: “Grief might be the remedy that heals us. Grief is wild. It’s feral. And when we touch it, we are alive.

There were about 70 people in the room and we began drumming and singing. I was amazed by the beauty of all the voices (just regular people singing, young and old) and how it sounded like the most exquisite church choir.

We broke out into small groups to share and did several powerful writing assignments using prompts like: I remember.. I wish someone would ask me… and my real grief is… 

Then the ritual began.

We had all brought special things to put on the altar – photographs, flowers, rocks, anything that felt sacred. And while the whole community sang a kind of mantra (putting us in a kind of meditative trance) we each went to the altar to grieve. You could do whatever felt right up there – shout, cry, be silent – while the rest of us held space for you. When you came back you were received by the community with hugs and loving attention.

The alchemy of this process was palpable. You felt transformed by it.

Francis spoke beautifully about how it was an alchemical process – “how bringing some heat to it transmutes it into medicine. We feed the fire with our attention, our compassion, our curiosity and our affection.”

It’s taken me months to write about this, but as I ride new waves of grief, I needed to remind myself again.

That by bringing our sorrow into the light we have the opportunity to heal.
That by bringing loving attention and compassion to it, it softens and changes in our hearts.
That by taking it out of the shadows and into community (even just another person) it becomes an offering of healing for all of us.

Thank you for being part of my loving community that helps witness my process – my joys and my sorrows. I believe we are all lifted up by this energy and I’m so grateful.



  1. Posted August 10, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Wow. “Undigested sorrows. A flatline culture.” Yes. I feel that. Two young mothers have recently died of cancer in my community. It feels scary to touch the grief in these losses. Thank you for this perspective and example of holding space for and inviting grief. I can feel the power here.

  2. Posted August 10, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    So much YES to this. I’ve been bearing witness to my grief, and just gave a talk about it. *GULP* Even posted it to my website. We can’t selectively numb — we have to feel grief and sadness to feel joy and gratitude.

  3. Barbara
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I have experienced insomnia most of my adult life. Just yesterday I looked through my AJ notes and the notes I have from classes taken with you. I’m looking for what might apply to the grief I’m feeling, even the shame, for years of insomnia. I’m working an online program for it and am realizing how sad I feel about this.Your intuitive desire to share with us all always comes at the right time. Sometimes I say, been there done that and finished. Other times like today, I feel like I’m not the Lone Ranger. You are there dealing healing and growing too.

  4. Posted August 10, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Oh Andrea! This touched a tender place. A place that is usually tucked deeply away. I lost a friend this week and it holds so much. Deep grief of his loss merging with the gratitude for knowing him and relief for the release from him pain. Joy at the shared memories and happy times.

    Alchemy is something I think about a lot.

    …alchemical process – “how bringing some heat to it transmutes it into medicine. We feed the fire with our attention, our compassion, our curiosity and our affection.”

    Thinking of it as transmutation and medicine is a balm for me today. Thank you for always being curious and candid. For sharing your journey and allowing the lessons to wash over us all. XO

  5. Norita
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    thank you for being courageous enough to post this & not feel the need to hide or store your grief alone – or stuff your sorrow with addictions, etc. You are so healthy & a wonderful positive example of going through the grieving process in a healing way!!
    Why are so many people afraid of grieving? It sucks yeah, but I love & cherish the links you’ve posted here, the information you’ve given to others that will most likely need it. Thanks for being the light that you are. Your actions and writing are service to many!
    much love & appreciation,

  6. Cathryn
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Andrea, thank you for sharing your process, and so beautifully. Such truth. We cannot go around grief. We must go through it.
    Sending love and light your way … with gratitude.
    ~ c

  7. Leslie
    Posted August 11, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    This post is timely. Grief and the death of a marriage affects so many. As the mother, mother-in-law and grandmother to my sweet 1 year old grandson, the death of my son’s marriage is breaking my heart. Thank you for sharing your life.

  8. Shannon Watson
    Posted August 12, 2016 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    Brave Sweet Andrea.. as you continue to share how you go deep within and feel your way through the waves of grief, you are shining a light to others. You are such a blessing. Much love to you.

  9. Posted August 12, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your brave words. So powerful and palpable. Someone once told me…
    You can’t go over it.
    You can’t go under it.
    The only way – is through.
    Sorry the path through is so painful. xo

  10. Melissa Melnitzer
    Posted August 16, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Oh my, so deeply true. Thank you for this reminder, at a crucial time for me. And thank you for the wonderful video, a “life changer” indeed.

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