Living in the Ashes

In some ancient Scandinavian cultures, there was a powerful grief custom. Anyone grieving a loss was asked simply to tend to the fires in the middle of the longhouse for a year. Little was expected from the grieving person except for a period of living in the ashes and the hope of emerging from those ashes renewed.

James Hillman quote on living in the ashes: “Ash is the ultimate reduction, the bare soul, the last truth, all else dissolved.”

Unfortunately, we often don’t – or can’t – take this time for our grief. Rather than a communal mourning experience, we smother our sorrow, bury it away, stifle it. We value “moving on” rather than “moving with” our grief, we take pride in “getting over” our agonies. And often we do it alone.

If you are reaching for this blog – or this blog has reached for you – it is likely that you are in a grieving season and your loss is calling for you to embark on your individual journey of transformation:

Latest from Living in the Ashes emoir
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Whether you greet your grief and listen to its teachings, or whether you stifle your grief and ignore its lessons, your loss will change you. The power to allow a positive transformation lies within you, but it requires a period of living in the ashes of your loss.

While nobody can tell you how to grieve, I hope the stories and strategies you find here will help you in doing the delicate soul work that it takes to greet your grief and to transcend with the ashes of your loss.

We are most alive at the threshold between loss and revelation. Every loss ultimately opens the way for a new encounter. Quote by Francis Weller in the Wild Edge of Sorrow

The stories I share here are adapted from a memoir I am writing about my own grief journey. Or, rather, two grief journeys. Both journeys are revealing, vulnerable, and transformative, but they are opposites of one another; they are yin and yang.

I know just how important it is to greet your grief because, at first, I didn’t do it. I stifled the acute grief that I experienced when my then-husband abruptly left me after just five years of marriage.

Deep down, I think I knew I shouldn’t marry my ex-husband.

That grief wanted to transform me for the better, but I didn’t allow it. I shoved it into the unreachable places inside – the dark places labeled shame and fear. In doing so, in harboring and sheltering that pain, I cultivated blame and anger instead of forgiveness and peace, and I acted out instead of activating my soul.

7 Books to Read While Grieving

I anesthetized my pain by drinking too much, and I shielded my heart by using my body to express love rather than consciously choosing to love and accept love in return.

I spent no time living in the ashes.

It took 10 years, but I did meet a soul mate who knocked down the walls surrounding my fortress heart.

With Jeff at a football game before he was diagnosed

But I had only 296 days with Jeff before he died of cancer at the age of 40.

Cannon Beach, Ore.
My late partner, Jeff, in Cannon Beach Oregon. This is where I spread his ashes.

Ten years separated my acute grieving seasons. This time, I chose to live in the ashes; I quit my corporate job and traveled the world solo, tending to my grief. And, in the end, I unearthed the tender places where my neglected grief resided.

You are reading my intertwined grief journey and soon you will be able to hold it in the form of a memoir. I hope the stories and the strategies for greeting your grief that are found in these posts (and in the future pages of the book) will help you to transcend through and with your grief.

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Accepting loss as an inevitable part of life isn’t easy, but once you do, you can greet grief as an indispensable stepping stone on your life’s path.

I am endlessly grateful for the following books that inspired my memoir and are helping me to write it:


Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach for a blog post cover


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