December Topic:

The Gift of Grief

When The Late Show Host Stephen Colbert was 10 years old, he lost his father and two teenage brothers in a plane crash near Charlotte, NC. In an interview with journalist and author Anderson Cooper, he talked about “learning to love the thing you most wish had never happened,” and how “it’s a gift to exist…with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that, but if you are grateful for your life, then you have to be grateful for all of it.”

With the holidays around the corner, it may seem "a bit off" to talk about grief as a gift, but if we can look at how grief is an extension of love, we can begin to view it in a different way. Don’t get me wrong. Losing someone we love is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. Grief is one of the deepest emotions we can experience and it can change us in profound ways. 


Novelist Lynn Hightower writes in an article titled The Gifts of Grief (Psychology Today), “Grief is love…it is only human to have intense and prolonged feelings that are tsunamis on some days and gentle ripples on others.” She discusses how her therapist helped her “celebrate the gift of grief. The thrill of heightened, intense creativity. The blistering clarity that gives you the freedom to celebrate who and what you love in your life, and to ditch everything else.”

Sean Grover, LCSW, writes in When Grief Brings Gifts (Psychology Today), that times of grief can provide periods of reflection, particularly on our own priorities in life. “It fills me with questions: Am I spending too much time away from home? Do I tell my family that I love them enough? Am I too task-focused when I should be more relationship-focused?”

“So here’s what loss has taught me: Don’t ignore your grief. Don’t rush back to work and put your blinders on. Take time, honor it, embrace it. Let the tears flow. Don’t hold back or be ashamed. Mourning is an essential part of life; it awakens us, gives us pause, and forces us to stop and reconsider our very way of being,” writes Grover.

He recommends creating time and space for grief. “Write a letter, call a friend, jot down notes in a journal. Such tasks will do more than bring you comfort; they will open the door to a more meaningful existence. After all, grief is the ultimate annihilator of petty concerns. When honored and processed, it can cause profound changes and shifts. We may forgive an old grudge, reconnect with a distant friend, or value our time with loved ones more.”

In an article titled Grief: Coping with the loss of your loved one, the American Psychological Association offers the following strategies to process and cope with loss:

  • Talk about the death of your loved one with friends or colleagues in order to help you understand what happened and remember your friend or family member. Avoidance can lead to isolation and will disrupt the healing process with your support systems.
  • Accept your feelings. You may experience a wide range of emotions from sadness, anger or even exhaustion. All these feelings are normal and it’s important to recognize when you are feeling this way. If you feel stuck or overwhelmed by these emotions, it may be helpful to talk with a licensed psychologist or other mental health professional who can help you cope with your feelings and find ways to get back on track.
  • Take care of yourself and your family. Eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep can help your physical and emotional health. The grieving process can take a toll on one’s body. Make sure you check in with your loved ones and that they are taking the necessary steps to maintain try to their health.
  • Reach out and help others dealing with the loss. Spending time with loved ones of the deceased can help everyone cope. Whether it’s sharing stories or listening to your loved one’s favorite music, these small efforts can make a big difference to some. Helping others has the added benefit of making you feel better as well.
  • Remember and celebrate the lives of your loved ones. Anniversaries of a lost loved one can be a difficult time for friends and family, but it can also be a time for remembrance and honoring them. It may be that you decide to collect donations to a favorite charity of the deceased, passing on a family name to a baby or planting a garden in memory. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you to honor that unique relationship in a way that feels right to you.


If we live long enough, we will all experience the profound loss of a loved one and the grief that comes with that loss. Ironically it was on Colbert’s The Late Show that Actor Andrew Garfield shared his feelings about grieving for his mother who had recently passed. He said, “This is all of the unexpressed love…the grief that will remain with us until we pass because we never get enough time with each other, no matter whether someone lives until 60 or 15 or 99. I hope this grief stays with me because it’s all of the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her, and I told her every day…”


Garfield’s words went viral because they weren’t what we would expect when we talk about grief and loss. Grief is something we usually want to get through and put away. If, however, we can look at grief as a gift and an opportunity to reflect on those we have lost and those who remain in our lives. What can we do with this gift that has been given to us…this expression of love?


Before I conclude, I’d like to recommend Anderson Cooper’s podcast “All There Is,” which is an exploration of Cooper’s own grief and includes conversations with others on how they have dealt with grief. It is beautifully done and, I have to admit, I’ve cried a few times listening to it.


I want to wish everyone a happy holiday and a joyous New Year. For those who are grieving and hurting, I hope each passing day lands a little more gently for you.

Take Action

Explore new ways to think about grief. Check out the

All There Is Podcast as one way to hear how others have dealt with grief in their lives.


Share your thoughts about this topic on social media using #MHACCTheGiftofGrief

Facebook  Instagram  Youtube  

MHA has curated mental health resources for various audiences at MHA Emotional Toolboxes.

Contact us at 704-365-3454

or mha@mhaofcc.org

SINCE 1933

Our mission is to provide help, offer hope and promote mental wellness through advocacy, education, and prevention.

3701 Latrobe Drive, Suite 140, Charlotte, NC 28211 | www.mhaofcc.org | Privacy Statement | Form 990

Facebook  Instagram  Youtube