Seeing Light in Grief's Darkness

Sylvia Castelino Derby   |   April 14, 2021 

I am amazed at the range of emotions we have as human beings. When we tap into those feelings, we can understand ourselves better, communicate clearly, empathize with others, and have healthy and meaningful relationships. Nevertheless, while it is easy to experience the positive emotions of feeling happy and excited, we struggle to allow ourselves to feel sad and grieve.

Grief is how we feel internally when we experience loss. All of us have just completed a year living through a pandemic, and across the globe, we are experiencing tremendous loss: loss of loved ones, loss of health, loss of work. But we have also lost the day-to-day things that sustain our emotional health, which we often take for granted: having people over for a meal, the physical touch of hugs or handshakes, going into a physical office space and working with a team. We are isolated from one another, unable to participate in routines and rituals where we celebrate or grieve together as a community. As a result, our society seems to be going through a process of collective grieving.

We also experience loss during life transitions: when we go to university, get married or divorced, become parents, relocate to a new city or country, or leave a full-time job to retire or to take care of our kids. During these life transitions, often we experience loss about what we have left behind. We sense something is wrong, but we struggle to know how to manage the discomfort, so we ignore it and move on.

Acknowledging and naming our sadness and grief is very important. Sometimes, like a toddler, we struggle to understand how we feel inside and throw a tantrum. Recently, when a friend’s dog named Mac died, my 3-year-old daughter Diya said it made her sad. The day went by with the usual routine of eating a meal, playing and taking a nap. But when she woke up, she was grumpy, difficult, and playing hard to get. Something I read in a parenting book urged me to ask her what she was feeling. Diya instantly responded that she was sad Mac had died. After acknowledging how she felt, Diya and I were good to move on with our day.

A children’s books called “Sulwe” speaks about the beauty of night: we can see moonlight and stars only at night and more importantly, it is only in the darkest part of the night that we experience the deepest rest that enables us to grow. In the same way, we need to ask ourselves - "How can we find light in the darkness of grief? How can we welcome this darkness so we can grow?"

Here are some thoughts from my own experiences:

1. There is something powerful about naming sadness when we feel it. Grief expert David Kessler says, “Emotions need motion. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Fighting our feeling doesn’t help as our body is producing that feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way and it empowers us. Then we are not victims.

When I gave up my job to be a full-time mom and left India to relocate to the U.S., I felt a deep sense of loss and missed everything and everyone familiar. One way I processed this loss was to be vulnerable and acknowledge it. I gave myself permission to feel sad. I chose to acknowledge that I was not doing well. That it was okay. I didn’t need to have it all together.


2. Grieving is a natural reaction to loss. It requires us to sit with our pain and feel the kind of sadness that makes many of us uncomfortable. Sometimes, we are either scared to let ourselves grieve or we feel we need to be strong and move on. I separated from my first husband and lost my brother within a span of a month. Both were huge losses and because it felt so enormous, I chose not to grieve. I felt I needed to be strong for my parent’s sake and move on with life. Nine years later, a random incident triggered me, and I cried continuously for days. As I spoke with a friend, I connected my crying with unprocessed grief from my brother’s death. It felt like a cleansing for me, like a burden lifted from my shoulders; a sense of release and setting myself free to heal and enter a new season of life.

Often, we avoid allowing ourselves to feel pain from our losses. We may fear that our emotions will be too intense to bear, or we will remain in a dark place forever. But grieving is essential to the healing process. No matter how strong our grief, eventually the sadness quiets and becomes still.


3. After we acknowledge our grief, how should we deal with it? Each person processes grief differently. While someone might need time alone, another person grieving a similar loss might need to spend time with family. Even Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance – aren’t meant to be linear. Each person moves through these stages in a unique way. We must, however, give words or expression to our grief. In Macbeth, William Shakespeare said, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.

We speak our grief in different ways: it might mean heart-to-heart conversations with close friends and family, or, if we are uncomfortable confiding in someone, we might write or journal as a way of releasing our thoughts and feelings. Some people use art, like poetry, drawing, painting, music or dance, to release their emotions. We might go for a walk, run, or any form of exercise that helps our body release emotions.

For me, I love to cry. I find it therapeutic. As we choose to speak and release our grief, however that might look, a deeper healing occurs. We are able to still our hearts and create space to invite God into that place of loss and grief. Author Ruth Haley Barton puts it beautifully, “You are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.

As I reflect on my own life, I realise that it is in the darkest moments that I have grown the most. In those times of grieving, I have discovered myself more and experienced God in intimate ways.  My friendships and relationships have become more deeply rooted. Grieving helps us heal and makes us whole. The poet Amanda Gorman expresses this thought perfectly:

We ignite not in the light, but in lack thereof,

For it is in loss that we truly learn to love.

In this chaos, we will discover clarity.

In suffering, we must find solidarity.

For it’s our grief that gives us our gratitude,

Shows us how to find hope, if we ever lose it.

So ensure that this ache wasn’t endured in vain:

Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.



Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

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Sylvia Castelino Derby

Sylvia was raised in Bombay, lived in Delhi and most recently moved to Fresno, California with her husband, Jon and toddler, Diya before which she served as the Director of Human Resources for International Justice Mission for nine years. When she can get some free time, Sylvia enjoys some deep conversations with her husband and friends, a good cup of coffee, some time to journal and being by the ocean.

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One comment on “Seeing Light in Grief's Darkness”

  1. Sylvia, I found your article so powerful and so relevant in these times. I enjoyed reading it very much and relate to almost everything you've said. The most powerful sentence I read is giving ourselves permission to feel sad and to grieve. Keep 'em coming girl!!!!

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