November is the month of gratitude, and so I wish to express my love and gratitude for my companion and teacher, Bentley, who died in my arms October 2nd. Bentley was a Lhasa Apso who came to me at a profoundly difficult time in my life and journeyed with me through an amazing thirteen years.

I’m no stranger to grief: I lost father, brother, husband, stepfather, uncle, grandparents, friends and pets all by the age of 32. But Bentley’s passing reminded me yet again of just how difficult grief is. What makes it worse is that there is no social etiquette, no cultural wisdom or ritual to cope with death any more. No one knows how to deal with loss: not the bereaved, and not those around them. We all would prefer that death just go away. We pretend it might. This is such a mistake, because not only is death part of life, it’s what makes our lives meaningful.

It’s sad to think that we need guidance in how to grieve, how to be with someone who has gone through a loss. It’s as basic as The Golden Rule: treat others as you would  be treated.  Simple as that sounds, we don’t do it. We freeze up when faced with death.  Between the tremendous fear and ignorance in our culture regarding grief and mourning, no one knows what to do, what to say, how to be.

In light of this sad state of affairs, I offer this, my Guide to Grief.


EXPRESS. As horrifically painful as it is, allow the grief to have it’s way with you. Let it rip while it’s fresh and tearing your heart to shreds. Cry an ocean. Write. Paint. Do whatever you do to get it up and out. Do not worry about being a certain way for other people. Do not censor yourself. Repressing is not normal and it is not healthy: it will make you sick.

NO JUDGEMENT. Do not judge yourself for anything you feel or don’t feel. Do not put a timer on your feelings, or think you should be “better” by a certain point in time. Do not think something is wrong with you if you have a good day. Likewise, do not think something is wrong if you fall apart at a movie ten months down the line.

DO NOT CONFUSE HEAD WITH HEART. You may know that the death was inevitable, that the person/animal is better off not suffering, but this does not obviate the feelings you have about it. Do not try to keep yourself confined to the realm of logic, as if that should take care of everything. You know what you know, and you feel what you feel.

CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS WISELY. Be careful about whom you allow into your experience. Choose only those people with whom you feel safe, those whom you believe will understand and be able to comfort and support you. Try not to tell the whole story to the clerk at the grocery store, or the casual acquaintance who you brush by at Bi-Mart. This does not serve anyone, especially you.

DON’T PUSH. Don’t try to do things you are not ready to do. Don’t try to be cheerful and nice if you’re not. Don’t allow anyone else to push you. Be honest with yourself, and remember–no judgment.

BREATHE. It’s not easy to breathe when you hurt. The body tends to hold the breath under duress, perhaps because breathing releases emotion and there it all comes again and you’re a mess sitting there at the red light. I often found my chest hurting and would think What’s wrong? only to realize that I’d forgotten to breathe. Breath is life. For better or worse you’re still here. Breathe.

ALLOW GRIEF IN. Because it is so god-awful painful, there is a strong temptation to avoid grief at any cost, through diversions of work or alcohol or even clinical depression. This only serves to prolong and complicate the process. Trust me. The Sufi poet Rumi wrote: “ That hurt we embrace becomes joy. Call it to your arms where it can change.” If you don’t embrace it, it will sit and fester and rot at the edge of your heart. It will steal your life.

TAKE YOUR TIME. Know that it is normal to grieve for a long, long time. A year is considered completely normal by psychological standards. Take two if need be. You do not need to be medicated (unless you are in danger of hurting yourself). There is nothing wrong with you. You have lost a part of yourself. It will take time to put yourself back together. There’s no schedule, no order, no right time to “move on.”

REMEMBER LIFE. Even In the midst of your sorrow, be aware of the solace and beauty around you. Find just one, small something to be grateful for each day. And remember, death is not the opposite of life, it’s the opposite of birth. There is no opposite of Life. Energy cannot be created or destroyed: it only changes form.



Katherine Ingram

KATHERINE INGRAM, M.A., is a writer and soul coach living in Southern Oregon. She received her B.A. from Northwestern University, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and did doctoral work in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. For almost two decades she has actively studied Jungian psychology, Taoism, metaphysics, and Native American spiritual traditions. She consults clients from all over the United States, writes a monthly newspaper column, “Soul Matters,” and is a contributing writer to a numerous on-line journals. Her first book, Washing the Bones: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation, is now available on

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