These gifts of grief were always meant to be mine

In 2011, my mom lost the man she’d loved for 18 years, the one who gave her back her heart, wrapped up in kindness and sealed with adoration. He loved my brother and me, too, showed us what gentle strength could look like, how simple, steadfast caring could tumble silent walls. 

The following year, my dad died. I was at his bedside in the hospital when he took his last breath, slipped, luminous and peaceful, beyond the veil. And though we’d had our challenges, wounded each other across an often-strained divide, in those final days, all that moved and breathed between us was love. 

The year after I said goodbye to my dad, I walked away from a loving, long-term relationship, aware of its immense beauty and deep joys — and all the ways its painful patterns were tearing at my heart.

These are not new stories. I’ve written about them, talked about them, let myself be defined by them for several healing years.

But tonight I held these stories with a fullness I’ve never experienced, felt a well of gratitude and wonder for the journeys they initiated and wove together, the gifts they broke me open to, the self they helped me meet.

Tonight, I completed my online training to become a certified grief coach to help others navigate the wilderness I often claimed my own grief to be. As my classmates and I shared final thoughts about the program and our instructor saluted us all with affirmations and blessings, I was surprised by a swift, brimming emotion. I let the tears fall through our final goodbyes and then collapsed, sobbing into my hands. 

It was not the reaction I expected. Not when just a month ago, I’d practically floated out of the room where I’d received my certification to become a death midwife. Then, I’d felt giddy, excited, energized by all the possibilities stretching out before me. 

From the moment I’d stumbled upon the field of death midwifery earlier this summer, something tugged at me. I was drawn immediately to the idea of creating and holding sacred space for the dying, helping them to transition with dignity and peace, being a compassionate companion to them and to their loved ones. When I discovered there would be a training in Philadelphia in the fall, after researching other programs in other states, I knew I had to be there. 

Around the same time, serendipity similarly led me to a grief coaching program, with a focus on helping clients move through and from their grief to a place of gratitude and renewal. This, too, spoke to me, and with little hesitation or analysis, I committed myself to both trainings.

My own experiences with grief and holding vigil over my dad with his siblings and a niece in his final hours revealed to me that death has so much to teach us about life, that loss can be fertile ground for transformation and awakening, that how we face these inevitable passages can be deeply powerful.

I was so excited about my journey into this territory that I expected only elation at the end, a sense of accomplishment, the anticipation of what would be next. 

Yet sitting in a heap of tears after my final coaching session tonight, I felt Lou, my mom’s late partner, and my dad infinitely close to me. I felt their loss keenly and also my arrival at a place I could never have known without their deaths. It startled me, this exquisite ache, the loving and missing them and the certainty that this journey was always meant to be mine. That losing them would always lead me here. That every step I’d taken in those long years of grief, and working through that grief, held a purpose I could not see.

There are many things I’ve thought of doing with my life and many things I’ve done. Most have involved writing. Several, like my work as a wedding officiant, have come by the pull of joy. I never would have imagined I would find my way to these twin spheres of grief and dying, that somehow my losses were preparing me to be with others in their wilderness, to affirm the beauty of death. 

And yet everything about this, now, the path I am traveling feels right. More right than I ever knew it would. More me than the other incarnations with which I’ve flirted. 

Last week, while driving to work, I was listening to a podcast whose creator described himself as a “maker.” When he said those words, I heard my unbidden rising response, soft yet strong and clear: “I am a healer.” 

 It seems I am finally ready to own that gift and I now have the tools to share it. I don’t know how any of this will look or what the unfolding will bring. But I have faith and trust in what’s to come.

And I have Lou, my dad and other dear ones who have died beside me, guides in the profound art of living fully, loving deeply and inevitably letting go. 

12 thoughts on “These gifts of grief were always meant to be mine

    • Me, too, dear friend. I’m so honored to have you as a wise, loving, creative beloved among the path. And I agree, definitions can be constraining. Yet this one feels so broad and freeing, even as it totally surprised me and even as a facet of the greater All.

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  1. Dear friend, I believe not only are you meant to be a healer, you already are one. I’ve known you for just a short time — three years? — and yet whenever I see you, I see only light. Light seems to carry you; you seem to carry light. It’s no wonder your presence heals, whether you are in a tiny village on a faraway continent or in a bustling suburb. Your light, without fail, is reflected in the faces of those around you. It shows in photographs, and it’s apparent wherever you go. You reflect light and joy. That’s why you are a healer. I wouldn’t be surprised if you discover in time that you are, in fact, a powerful healer. Maybe you had to take this journey to realize that everything you sought was already within you.

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    • Well, this reflection just made me blubber. Thank you, dear friend, for filling my heart and affirming my path with these words. It means more than I can express to know you see this in me. Thank you for being there to support me and cheer me on as I journeyed through these classes, especially when I doubted myself or felt cranky and overwhelmed by it all. I’m so grateful to have you along for this most miraculous of rides called life.

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  2. It’s amazing how you can always put words to how I am also feeling. Congratulations on the self realizations and the training you’ve undergone. You are an amazing individual and certainly will be/are a powerful healer.
    My father has not visited me..I do not feel his spirit and it pains me but I have faith that each path must be trodden in it’s time, as impatient as the traveler may be. Death is hard on the left behind but one day those we have lost will be found again. Bless you Wise Woman!

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    • Thank you, Wise Woman!!! I appreciate your support and look forward to sharing more when I see you. I am sorry your dad has felt absence…I’ve heard that sometimes there’s so much of their own healing that needs to happen on the other side that they can be silent for a while. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t with you and of course you will find each other again. You’re doing you just beautifully and opening up space for that connection to resurface in new and healing ways.

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      • Thank you. Yes, with such a sudden death for a man that was not very spiritual I would imagine he wasn’t quite prepared. I hold no anger for the decisions and failures of his life and hope that in this new state he is healing and thriving in the love and happiness he, and we all, desire. Can’t wait to see you and talk more. The end of the year is always such a good time to sort out how the year went and i’m very grateful to have gotten to do that with you these last few years.

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  3. Oh Naila, I am so glad you decided to follow this path. I agree wholeheartedly with everyone else who commented here. You ARE a healer. This more than a calling. You are the vessel through whom the Divine acts to bring grace, beauty, joy, love, peace and comfort to everyone you touch. I’m so privileged to have you for a friend. Wishing the Blessings of Christmas to you and your loved ones. Can’t wait till we get a chance to spend some time together again.

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