Dr. Deborah Frances, RN ND / Beautiful Little Dancing Crow

Sage advice for the modern world

Navigating Grief with Grace

When the king in the fairy tail “Goose Girl at the Spring” throws his daughter out of the castle for not stroking his ego the way he would have liked, the girl is forced to flee to the forest, crying great tears of grief as she wanders alone. In time she comes upon the humble forest cottage of an old wise woman, who takes her in, cares for her and mentors her.

As time goes by the king begins to miss his daughter and regrets his hasty decision. He sends his hunters and warriors across the kingdom to search her out. When at last a young man returns with news of the princess’s where abouts, the king rides out into the forest to the cottage of the wise woman. There is reconciliation and the princess agrees to return to the castle with the king. As she leaves, the wise woman says to him,

“(As a parting gift) I shall give her the tears she shed because of you. Each one is a pearl more precious than any they find in the sea and they are worth more than your whole kingdom.”

  • Pullman, Philip, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. Penguin, NY, 2012


I was staying with a few close friends at a cabin in the woods shortly after several significant losses had occurred in my life, one after another. Though I felt at peace in this beautiful place, I woke the second morning so full of grief that even my body felt heavy and swollen with the weight of it. I knew what I needed was to get to the Great Flowing Water of the nearby River. She would encourage, support and nourish the flow of my tears as no other could.

Two friends offered to accompany me to the River. As we hiked along the trail the angst I felt at losing so many loved ones in such quick succession began to spill over. I could contain it no longer. Already Grandmother River was pulling the tears from me.

One of my friends began offering words of wisdom, spiritual pearls gathered from the sea of her reading and meditation practice. Though she meant to bring me comfort, she was coming from her head and I was in my heart. I only felt judged and suppressed by her sensible words. I did not need to be consoled out of my pain. What I needed was to go through it, to allow myself to be immersed in the emotion welling up within me while lending a compassionate listening ear to the deluge of feelings flooding through me. I had no desire to wallow in it; only to release it and to make the space for healing. I knew from experience that the wisdom of which my friend spoke would arise spontaneously from within once I had a good, sobbing cry. Seeded by the tears of my grief, this wisdom would sprout from the rotos of my heart, grounded in the physical earth of my grieving body.

My well meaning friend persisted with her advice in spite of my gentle remonstrations. Each time she spoke, the grief in me grew even stronger. I felt blocked and even my body symptoms intensified at the sound of her words.

Finally I turned to stand directly in front of her. Placing my hands on her shoulders, I addressed her sternly,

“LouAnn! Your words are very wise but they are not what I need right now. I just need to be allowed to have my emotions!”

LouAnn really is a wise friend. She got it immediately and switched from offering spiritual platitudes to listening and allowing the space for my process. I felt instantly better, both physically and emotionally. When we arrived at the River, I set up an altar to call in my Spirit Helpers and create a gateway to connect to the spirits of my loved ones, now on the other side.

Feelings just need to be felt. They are not toxic until we make them so by blaming ourselves or someone else for our pain, suppressing and projecting them or basking out from them in destructive ways.

The fear and despair that are rising in so many of us in the face of social, economic and environmental upheaval must be allowed a space to express before the wisdom and strength seeded in our souls can be expected to sprout and take hold. The trick is to go into the feeling with an open mind and a compassionate heart. Dialogue with the feeling; listen, interact, ask questions. At first we will hear what we expect to hear, but we must continue to dialogue to go deeper.

“Okay,” we might reply. “What else?”

This dialogue should be continued until the emotion feels heard and acknowledged. Often at this point there comes a sense of peace as healing arises spontaneously from within.

The healing we call to ourselves through this process is medicine that can be planted in the Earth for all others who need it, seven generations past and seven generations forward as well as others incarnate with us in present time. We can plant the seeds of our healing through intention, chanting or prayer. Alternatively we might choose to blow our medicine into a small stone, a creek or glass of water or seeds we will plant in the garden. Whatever object we use can then be placed into the Earth in a spot that feels right to us.

The Mayans tell us that in these times, it is our job to plant seeds for future generations. We must never underestimate the power of the smallest prayer, or the simplest ritual. Even the tiniest acorn has the potential to become a great oak tree.

Mayan shaman Martine Prechtel tells us in his recording entitled, “On Grief and Praise,” that the tears of our grief pave the way forward for those who have passed on to the Spirit World. My own experiences confirm this. When we began our ceremony with Grandmother River, I felt my tears, shed in the sacred container of ritual space, proved a cleansing that allowed my loved ones to heal, release and let go so they could move on more freely to the light.

I pray the tears of grief so many of us have shed for lost species, environmental destruction and lost loved ones clear the way for these precious ones, so their journeys to Spirit may be smooth and blessed and so they know they are much loved and missed.

Mni Wiceni, we say in Lakota. Water is Life; even the water of our tears nourishes life and life does not end when we exit our earthly bodies.

Martine Prechtel’s recording “On Grief and Praise” is available through his website www.floweringmountain.com. I cannot recommend this recording enough. Prechtel is an adept at blending humor with the wise indigenous teachings he shares.

When emotions threaten to consume us, it is important to seek professional help. Homeopathy, herbs, and other naturopathic therapies can be highly efficacious in releasing us from stuck or overly intense emotions without suppressing the process. For information on the use of hawthorne in negotiating grief, please refer to the chapter on hawthorne in my book “Practical Wisdom in Natural Healing” available at my website www.drdeborahfrances.com or through Amazon.


May Beauty Surround You,

Dancing Crow

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