The Art of Grief

Lately we have heard of the tragic deaths of hundreds of people from all over the world. Many of their bodies will never be found or returned to their loved ones for a proper burial and memorial. Grieving families may never really know what actually happened to the jet planes on which their loved ones were traveling. The many unknowns exponentially magnify the questions and doubts we all have about death, God and dying.

Most of us are not aware that there are thousands of empty graves in the United States – with engraved headstones but no bodies or even urns with ashes within. This is not as strange as it might seem at first glance because the grieving human mind needs to make some order out of the desperate chaos of emotions when answers and reason are beyond our grasp.

Why is this so? It has been said that “grief needs time to do its work.” That work is thwarted when there is no clear beginning of sorrow and no final resting place as an end point because proof of death is denied to the grieving. As sorrowful as funerals may be, they allow an ending of sorts and very often a gracious parting so the rest of life can begin for those who mourn.

Often we hear of families “burying their loved one’s ashes at sea.” Many families save some of their ashes in an urn as a point of association. We do know that even though the bodies of our loved ones are gone, the emotional and spiritual ties can powerfully remain. They seem easier to maintain if there is a grave, a place or a physical reminder which can be visited to keep connection and memories alive.

Long, long ago our ancestors ritualized burial ceremonies to honor the dead and ease the grief of the living. Cemeteries and burial grounds are still considered sacred thousands of years later. These traditions have stood the test of time because they provide some comfort and regularity at unbalanced times of grief. We may well see many more unoccupied memorials as a result of these tragedies in the air and sea. Loved ones can have a sort of final resting place to visit and help with their need to feel connected with the ones who are no longer physically here.


“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
Rose Kennedy