Finding Our Way to Wisdom Through Loss and Grief with Claire B. Willis

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All of us experience loss. It could be loss of a spouse, a child, our job, our home, a beloved pet, or a dear friend. During the pandemic of 2020 & 2021 we are experiencing a collective mourning of hundreds of thousands who have died from the coronavirus. This is a loss on a global scale. Every person has their own timing when it comes to grieving and our guest suggests that grief is a sign of deep love rather than a problem to be solved. The landscape of grief can be unspeakably difficult. Claire Willis recommends that we allow ourselves to remain in the great brokenness of loss with our eyes and hearts open—thus grief can be seen as an invitation to grow and eventually can lead to finding meaning in the experience of loss. This dialogue explores various practices that will illumine our broken hearts. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Claire B. Willis is a clinical social worker who works in the field of oncology and bereavement. She is a cofounder of the Boston nonprofit Facing Cancer Together and regularly leads bereavement, end of life, support, and therapeutic writing groups. As a lay Buddhist chaplain, she focuses on contemplative practices for end-of-life care. She maintains a private practice in Brookline, Massachusetts.

 Claire B. Willis is coauthor with Marnie Crawford Samuelson of: 

  • Opening to Grief: Finding Your Way from Loss to Peace (Dharma Spring 2020)

To learn more about the work of Claire B. Willis go to

 Topics explored in this dialogue include: 

  • How grief is a sign of deep love rather than a problem to be solved
  • What President Biden said on the eve of his inauguration in a ceremony of collective mourning at the reflecting pool
  • What was the unexpected grief that overcame Justine in a grocery store on Valentine’s day
  • How grief can coexist with anger, irritability, regret, gratitude, and joy
  • How do we know the difference between grief and depression
  • Why grief is not linear and does not unfold in neat stages as proposed in the stages of death by the late Elisabeth Kubler Ross
  • What is Willis’ advice when friends and family encourage us to get over our grief
  • What is the difference between grieving a sudden death of a loved one or a long-lingering death
  • What is an alternative to the temptation to comfort someone in the midst of their deep grief
  • What is Willis’ advice about the saying, “Don’t speak ill of the dead”
  • Why do some people find it easier to cry over their animal companions than their human ones
  • What are some of the disenfranchised sorrows we silently carry when in the company of others
  • How can we better befriend someone after all the activity surrounding death has subsided and the loneliness grief sets in
  • Why is offering ourselves loving-kindness important at the onset of grief
  • How keeping a gratitude journal and writing as refuge helps with rewiring our brain
  • How can we create “continuing bonds” with loved ones who have passed
  • How can creating art be helpful in the process of grieving
  • Why it is important to have a “grief friend” and a bereavement group to avoid the cave of isolation 

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 1/21/2021   Program Number: 3724

Music Playlist

From Album:  Fresh Impressions
Artist: Georgia Kelley & Stephen Kindler

Opening Essay: Track 01 - Sicilienne
Music Break 1: Track 03 - Giverny
Music Break 2: Track 01 – Sicilienne (reprise)
Music Break 3: Track 09 – Pastorale d’Ete