The Well of Grief

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“Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.”
– by David Whyte

I lost someone 5 weeks ago. It has truly been the most painful experience of my life. I find myself at the bottom of the well of grief today- somewhat unexpectedly. It comes and goes in waves. Today marks the anniversary of what would have been a special day for our family.

I keep hitting the “replay” button in my memory of them the last time we parted. What hurts right now is I can’t press the “replay” button in life and redo that last time we spent together. I know I would have changed the tone of my voice, opened my heart a lot wider, and told them how much I loved them (and meant it).

I understand the process of letting it go. It doesn’t make it hurt any less right now.

I know how to comfort myself. I have the tools. Cry. Drink tea. Wail. Play music. Bawl. Go out for a walk. Scream. Phone a friend. Laugh at the absurdity of life and death… Give myself the gift of forgiveness for the judgments I am holding against myself- and the anger I still carry towards them. Do a reality check. The truth is I did the best that I could. The other side of the coin is that they did the best they could too. Always. My heart aches with longing to talk to them one last time.

Fast-forward a week. I’m grateful that I’ve climbed out of the hole of despair. I’m deeply thankful for my support network. It truly does take a village to support someone who is grieving.

I found some coins at the bottom of the well. Let me tell you about them. They aren’t shiny, or even pretty, but I earned them. My gold coins are the gifts I gave myself during the time I spent in the bottom of the well, drowning in grief.

The gifts:
1.) Clarity that I can forgive my feelings of guilt because I recognize all the ways I was courageous until the bitter end.
2.) Knowing that there is a wellspring of self-love inside me that is stronger than I ever knew- and it will carry me through anything.
3.) A distinct awareness that my heart has been stretched to its limits and expanded. It doesn’t feel broken. It feels bigger. Like a balloon that has been overinflated and then deflated. My capacity has grown. Because of this, my heart can love more deeply than before.

Most of all, I realize that these gold coins can’t be kept to myself. They are meant to be shared with others. I have gifts to share of wisdom and compassion for myself and the people I love, knowledge of the territory of transition and loss, and willingness to go down into the well of grief to find other people who are stuck there. I carry a rope to tie around their waists to help them swim back to the surface to and into the sunshine.

I discovered the “secret water, cold and clear” – it is having faith that deep down at the bottom of the well is the living truth that this too shall pass. No matter how dark, lonely or devastating it feels down there, being fully present with the feelings will help them move through. It is the realization that embracing my vulnerabilities is a source of true strength – the strength of heart.

If you find yourself stuck in the well of grief, it can be a dark and scary place. You might not know how to get out of there, but you have to trust in the process. There is a gift down there in the darkness. Trust in turning down below the surface, finding the small gold coins and drinking the secret water. You will re-emerge to climb out of the well and go out into the world a changed, but stronger person.

<3 Nina

11 Comments Add a Comment

  • Honnie Polman

    I have not met you yet, Nina, but I love you already.

  • Fiona C

    Beautiful, Nina. Thank you for sharing so wholeheartedly. I can sense the depths of your grief and wish you a full and gentle healing, with every help from beyond the veil as well as here. Blessings for the wonderful, soulful work you do.

    • Nina Hirlaender

      Hi Fiona, part of the grieving process for me has definitely been sharing in community. I am continuously struck by how important it is to have a supportive network of friends & family during times of loss. Life is so precious, and relationships truly are the gems.

  • Maire Daugharty

    Grief truly is something that must be met full on face to face, avoiding it leads to illness. Yes you do get through it, yes you are stronger, a brighter light with more to offer those around you- more honest, open, up front, forthright, living and feeling. This is a beautiful article, unsentimental and holding a truth of the difficult, unavoidable parts of life that we all must move through. Thank you for your warm, heartfelt and deeply meaningful writing.

    • Nina Hirlaender

      Hi Marie, thank you for saying so. It can be intimidating to MOVE THROUGH, but I’ve come to realize that it is the only way to find those little coins 😉

  • Liz Goddard

    I have been in that well recently as well… Through loss of a relationship for me. There are days I still go and hide down there, but I to found wonderful amazing things, although I am still in shock, on certain days I have clarity…
    I have been broken open over the last few months and the light was shinning in lighting me up, now I am picking up the pieces and getting ready to move forward.

    Love and light x

    • Nina Hirlaender

      Hi Liz,

      Thank you for sharing. It sounds like you are experiencing loss in its many layers…. sometimes it feels ok…. sometimes there is so much heart soreness that it blows you over. I’m glad to hear that you are opening, despite having experienced this challenge. There is a beautiful quote, “God breaks your heart over and over again until it remains open.” Bless you on your healing journey. <3


  • Karen

    I lost my dear sweet dog of 12 years yesterday. My heart is breaking. A dear friend sent me the Grieving Well poem. I am a thousand miles deep right now. But your words and this poem have made me realize all the many coins I have already found. The main one so far is that my Conan gave me more love than he took. He was the most generous soul in my life. The other is my husband of 30 years is my soulmate and we are growing as we try to drink the clear cold water and eventually come up for air. I will never underestimate the power of the love between humans and animals. I am forever changed.

    • Nina Hirlaender

      Karen, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. It sounds like your relationship was deeply enriching. It’s amazing how nourishing soul connections can be- that goes for both animals and humans! I wish you strength and healing. Take care and be gentle with your heart. <3


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