There is a time when the world will come along and it will reach inside of you and lay a cold hand on your heart. It will pull from you some essential piece of yourself and you will no longer know how to be in the world. This loss will leave you lost. A whisper in your ear will say, “So, this is loss, this is the emptiness they speak of when grief comes to call.” And you will know.

You are not alone. As much as you feel like you are the only person who has ever cracked open with the depth of a grief that could not possibly be survived, I promise you, you are not alone. Others have travelled this path before you and have emerged whole.

They have climbed the mountain of grief on bloodied knees and come to a place where grief has not conquered them, but instead has become a companion, walking every step of the journey alongside them.

Although many have gone before you and many will come after you, grief is a journey we all walk alone, finding our own way up the mountain. This is the map from my own journey that I offer you to navigate through a darkness with no light. So that however you travel, you will find yourself at the top of the mountain, arrived in a place where your heart has broken open rather than closed.

You are allowed to cry, to ache, to break open with the sadness that is in you. You are allowed to let other people down to take care of yourself. To be afraid, to feel lonely, to be hopeless and full of fear. To cry for days, to grieve your losses and fall apart. You are allowed to turn off the phone and pull down the blinds and eat popcorn and watch bad movies. You are allowed to escape. To try and forget this aching pain. You are allowed to feel this devastation at the depths of who you are and to let it break you open and take you closer to your own centre. You are allowed to cry in public. You are allowed to not cry at all. To want to forget and escape. To be angry. To feel sorry for yourself and rail at the injustice of the world.

You are allowed to ask people to touch you or to not touch you, to bring you food or to leave you alone. You are allowed to talk incessantly about this loss, this unbearable grief. To wail out at the unfairness of it all. To weep often and uncontrollably. Life is messy. Death is messy. You are allowed to be messy. And in the midst of the messiness, know that you are complete and whole and you will survive and come together again. Yes, you will be different than you were before. Closer to your centre, more raw, more real, messier.

You too, will carry grief with you for the months and years to come. It will shift and change with the movement of time but it will be there, some of your happiest moments will be tinged with sadness, what might have once caused you pain will fail to hurt you because you have a perspective borne of loss. Grief will be your life’s companion and it will make your life richer, your love and relationships deeper and more potent, because you know now what loss can do and who you can become in the face of loss.

You are allowed to do anything you want to right now. You are allowed to be lost and sad and momentarily incomplete. To do what you want, when you want, how you want. You are allowed to feel your pain and your grief and your sorrow. To be angry at the world for all that you have lost, including precious parts of yourself. You are allowed to do everything wrong. To be imperfect. And still perfectly lovable. You are allowed to get lost in this grief, to feel it deeply and disappear into it. To take a sick day or two or ten.

But only temporarily because life with all its beauty, rawness and messiness is waiting. Waiting for your full attention so it can show you a stunning sunset, the northern lights, a child’s giggle, a wild ocean, a branch enfolded by frost, a tulip opening in the springtime, a raindrop on a perfect spider-web. Life is waiting to show you its gentleness as well as its harshness. It is waiting for you to heal enough to open to the beauty around you. So a friend can wrap her arms around you and another can bring you a beautiful meal, a song can touch you and move you not to tears but to dancing, the smile of a stranger can fill you with a warmth you had forgotten was possible.

Your life is waiting to give you one small gift after another. You can again embrace life with all its beauty and its messiness, knowing it is absolutely and completely yours. Because you have survived it, over and over, you have survived the intensity of all that your life gives you, you have dived into it, immersed yourself in it and been opened to yourself and the world around you. When you’re ready, when your heart has broken open to the world, your beautiful, painful, messy life is waiting with open arms to give you all the gifts of yourself.

Walk into it, slowly, trusting life to heal you with the same love that has broken you open. Carry that love with you and hold it up to the light and when the tears come, let the tears come, and when the joy comes, let the joy come. Let it all come, let it all fall out into your centre and live your life from that centre. Because you know now, what the world can take from you, and you know also, what the world can give you. This knowing makes everything sacred. So go into the world with all your hard-won wisdom and your broken open heart full of love and grief and wonder and live the gifts that are yours and yours alone.