“Excellent and simple and as clear as a needed glass of water in the desert. I cannot think of a better companion for our current time.”
– Katy Butler, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Dying Well
All of us experience loss. Some of us have lost a spouse, or a child, our parents, a beloved pet, a dear friend, or neighbor. In the pandemic, we have lost hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States and around the world. Many of us have lost our livelihoods. All of us have lost our familiar daily routines and textures of work, family, and community. And the losses are not over.
Opening to Grief is a companion to this tender time. With the demeanor and tone of a loving friend, the authors offer an invitation to grieve fully, to turn toward your emotions and experiences however they arise, and to follow your own path toward healing.
The book explores the deep truth that grief and love are richly intertwined. Because we love, we grieve. And when we fully feel our sorrow, we open to loving ourselves and other beings more deeply.
About the Author
Claire B. Willis is a clinical social worker working in the field of oncology and bereavement for more than 20 years. She’s a former staff member of The Wellness Community, a national organization, and cofounder of the Boston nonprofit Facing Cancer Together. For more than two decades, she has led bereavement, end-of-life, support, and therapeutic writing groups. She has co-taught Spiritual Resources for Healing the Mind, Body, and Soul at Andover Newton Theological School. She maintains a private practice in Brookline, Massachusetts. As a lay Buddhist chaplain ordained by Joan Halifax at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, she focuses on contemplative practices for end-of-life care. For the past five years, she has been a student of Koshin Paley Ellison, a founding teacher at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care.
“A succinct, comforting reference for those dealing with the loss of a loved one . . . The authors weave clinical observations, consolations, and practices (such as blessings to repeat and guided journaling prompts) into short chapters that explain the process of ‘opening to grief.’ Anyone suffering loss will find wisdom and helpful practices here.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Opening to Grief is a wise and gentle companion, a refuge as we move through the pain of loss. We learn to honor and cherish what has passed and to embrace our living moments ever more deeply.”
— Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion
“What’s special about this book is it offers a way to engage with grief that doesn’t seek to remove or erase it at all. The book helps you meet loss on its own terms, not as a problem to be solved but as a sign of deep love.”
— Megan Devine, author of It's OK That You're Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn't Understand
“Grief can hit us as quickly as a bolt of lightning or silently creep up on us before we even know we're in its grip. Opening to Grief is a comforting and elegant collection of healing wisdom that offers differing paths to healing, through poetry, prose, mindfulness practices, art, and professional counseling experience. The perfect book for our times!”
— Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness
“Opening to Grief is a compassionate, tender, and lovingly crafted guide for those who
have suffered any kind of loss. Full of sage advice, thoughtful suggestions, practical exercises, guided imagery, mindfulness meditations, healing prayers, inspirational poetry, and comforting words of wisdom that are at once both simple and profound.”
— Martha Stark, MD, faculty, Harvard Medical School and author of Relentless Hope: The Refusal to Grieve
“Opening to Grief is as excellent and simple and as clear as a needed glass of water in the desert. I cannot think of a better companion for our current time of losses, named and unnamable. This trustworthy and poetically-written handbook of solid, helpful practices is a wonderful guide to the landscape of grief and the rites of passage of mourning. Without ever suggesting that grief is something to ‘get over,’ it points the way to the reconstitution of identity that can follow a great loss. May it help you grieve with an open rather than closed heart.”
— Katy Butler, New York Times bestselling author of Knocking on Heaven's Door and The Art of Dying Well
“Opening to Grief invites readers to approach and be with their grief, rather than turn away and try to avoid it. The authors mix reflections with simple yet profound practices anchored in mindfulness. It’s easy to read and a wonderful addition to the grief literature.”
— Sue Morris, PsyD., director of bereavement services at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA
“A wise and sensitive book, this guide to working with grief is a treasure.”
— Joan Halifax, abbot, Upaya Zen Center and author of Standing at the Edge and Being with Dying
“Reading Opening to Grief is like sitting with a wise friend who has walked the difficult road of sorrow ahead of you. Full of gentle and nourishing practices, this kind book offers a supportive hand when the ground beneath you has been shaken by loss. Listen to these two experienced travelers in the land of grief and you will find your way through the darkest of nights. A beautiful gift to all."
— Francis Weller, author The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and The Sacred Work of Grief
“A clear, concise, and tender companion book . . . Having myself facilitated thousands of support groups, including ones centered on bereavement, I appreciate the emphasis on not trying to shoulder the burden entirely by oneself. The book quotes Mary Oliver: ‘Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.’ The authors gently encourage the reader to accept and fully experience their grief, which ultimately will lead to new discoveries, greater compassion, and a deeper understanding and appreciation for life. Included are many helpful suggestions and guidance on turning to art, nature, meditation, and writing to aid in the process.”
— Bob David, Manager, Cancer Support Programs, Boston Medical Center, Boston, MA
“In a world of increasing isolation and deep sorrow, Opening to Grief offers the medicine needed: a companion of voices, deep reflection, and masterful guidance.”
— Koshin Paley Ellison, cofounder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care and coeditor of Awake at the Bedside
“This simple and powerful book is an invitation to let the light of awareness touch, love, and heal our deepest and most impossible sorrows. In this warm and supportive guidebook the authors lead us through practices that tend to our broken hearts and illuminate the unseen places we keep grief locked away.”
— Will Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness and meditation teacher, member of Spirit Rock Meditation Center teacher’s council
"Opening to Grief affirms that expression and self- compassion in grief are soothing to the soul and that allowing our feelings to simply be is the most helpful way to move through and integrate them, no matter how painful. In this lovely book, Claire Willis and Marnie Crawford Samuelson invite the bereaved to meet grief with compassion and intention and lovingly show the way.”
— Karla Helbert, author of Finding Your Own Way to Grieve and Yoga for Grief and Loss: Poses, Meditations, Devotion, Self-Reflection, Selfless Acts, Ritual
"Any time we make a change, there’s grief on some level. Leaving a job, a relationship—even a toxic one—can be painful. Losing a beloved companion can be insufferable. With the support of a spiritual friend or the guidance of a book like Opening to Grief, we can learn to be mindful in the midst of it all. And eventually, when we stand up after all we’ve been through, we can see the beauty of it all."
— Spring Washam, author of A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage, and Wisdom in Any Moment
“Opening to Grief is a simple and profound book for all who grieve. The authors are sure-footed, trustworthy guides on this complicated journey, and they lead with loving-kindness. This small book brims over with compassion, mindfulness, gentle guidance, permission and well-chosen poetry to enhance the lessons of each chapter. A helpful appendix lists the often-asked questions about grief with respectful and accessible answers. I will have more than one lending copy on my office bookshelves.”
— Kathleen Adams, psychotherapist, founder and director of The Center for Journal Therapy
“Opening to Grief is a gift to anyone who is bereaved. With beautiful language, comforting
thoughts, useful suggestions, and accessible practices, Willis and Crawford Samuelson bring
healing and community.”
— Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C, Manager Oncology Social Work, BIDMC, emeritus, author After Breast Cancer: A Commonsense Guide to Life After Treatment
“Opening to Grief is a little treasure that invites us to read a chapter at a time, little by little,
allowing the blank pages to remind us to give space to whatever we may be experiencing and to
pause a minute before passing to the next chapter, as tempting as it may be. Beautifully written, Opening to Grief is a jewel waiting to be discovered.”
— Brita Gill-Austern, Philip Guiles Professor of Psychology and Pastoral Theology, emerita
“Opening to Grief is a treasure— a book destined to support and inspire anyone living with grief, whether recent or from the past. The authors, skillful and experienced guides in lighting the way through grief, have assembled a sensitive, caring approach to one of life’s greatest challenges. Written as a companion or guide for handling grief, the poems, meditation guidelines, and many creative suggestions contribute to making this a reassuring, beautiful, and heartwarming book.”
— Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle, author of Aging with Wisdom and Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows
“Never have I seen this much useful information about grief presented in such a clear and inviting way, in so few pages. Opening to Grief is carefully and exquisitely structured to include grief education, easy to understand meditation techniques, simple actions, inspiring poems and quotes, and blank pages for personal writings. Generously filled with resources, it’s a practical book of wisdom that I will recommend above all others.”
— Connie Baxter, Bereavement Program Coordinator, Brattleboro (Vermont) Area Hospice
“Opening to Grief is a comforting and insightful companion for anyone navigating life after loss.
During a time in life when so many of us feel lost and disoriented, Opening to Grief offers
validation, solace, and compassionate insight into the universal yet very personal experience of
grief. Chapters on art and writing, as well as meditation practices, empower readers to do
important grief-work, while simultaneously cultivating self compassion and coping skills that
will last a lifetime.”
— Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT, author, Mindfulness & Grief, Thanatologist, Yoga Therapist
“In a relatively compact book, you've packed a lot of gems for practice, support, wisdom,
companionship and even an honoring of the celebration of all the gifts that have come our way.
I can see this book being a wonderful companion as we grieve, regardless of the reason or the
circumstances, or where we are in the timeline.”
— Deborah Ross, LPC, CJT, co-author of Your Brain on Ink: A Workbook on Neuroplasticity and The Journal Ladder (It's Easy to W.R.I.T.E. Expressive Writing)