Books to Die For Video: Opening to Grief

Dec 29, 2020 | 0 comments

Claire Willis

Claire Willis, author of Opening to Grief

Do we even recognize the river of grief we are trying to navigate in 2020? Claire B. Willis, co-author with Marnie Crawford Samuelson, of Opening to Grief: finding your way from loss to peace, offers insights that can help.

Claire Willis is a clinical social worker who has worked in the fields of oncology and bereavement for more than 20 years. A co-founder of the Boston nonprofit Facing Cancer Together, Claire has led bereavement, end-of-life, support and therapeutic writing groups. She maintains a private practice in Brookline, Massachusetts. As a lay Buddhist chaplain ordained by Joan Halifax at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, she focuses on contemplative practices for end-of-life care.

In this new Books to Die For video, Gail Rubin talks with Willis about Opening to Grief and specific techniques we can employ to recognize and respond to our reactions to loss. These losses can come in many forms, not just death. It can be the loss of health, employment, connections with others, and the overall departure from “normal” the pandemic has wrought.

“I think often people don’t people don’t recognize what they’re feeling is grief because what people think of grief is sadness and sorrow. But grief is many, many feelings and some of the common feelings are anger, rage, irritability, and impatience,” explained Willis. “I think everyone is grieving something different, but everybody is grieving the loss of life as we knew it before.”

Watch/listen to this interview

Opening to Grief: A Conversation with Claire Willis

Notable Quotes

Here are some quotes from this interview with Claire Willis:

Opening to Grief book coverWe will never go back to the way it was. It may be that we return to something better. It may be returned something more difficult. It’s really hard to know. But unequivocally, it will be different. And I think one of the things, one of the positive things that COVID has done, if you can call it positive, is it’s put the word “grief” into the culture. We read about in the New York Times, we read about it in The Atlantic. It’s become a word that people are beginning to become familiar with and all the nuances of it. So not only have we lost a sense of life as we knew it, but a lot of people are finding that the the losses brought on by COVID have resurrected old griefs.

People are thinking about deaths that they experienced when they were younger, and losses they had that they may not have taken time or even had the sense of grieving about. COVID has brought its own griefs, but it’s also resurrected all the griefs we haven’t grieved. There’s a saying what we resist will persist and if we haven’t dealt with our losses, they’re going to raise up their little heads and say, “Pay attention tend to me.”

One of the messages of the book is that grief has as many presentations as there are people that grieve. Besides the range of feelings, grief has a lot of behavioral and cognitive impacts. For instance, people often can’t sleep or they feel tired all the time. They can’t concentrate. A lot of people find they can’t read, that their attention qualities have changed. There’s overeating, under-eating, over-exercising, under-exercising, and and for many people, there’s been a shattering of their faith. Like, “How did this happen?” Just a sense of disbelief and shock, in a way. It really affects us spiritually, cognitively, physically and behaviorally.

Techniques for Finding Your Way

Opening to Grief includes chapters on Beginning with Kindness, Feeling Grateful, Opening to Mindfulness and Meditation, Restoring in Nature, Making Art, and Writing as a Refuge. It includes techniques for deepening practices that can help, such as journaling, breath meditations, and self-compassion. It also includes a section with poems about grief, books to read and online resources. Events related to the book and links to resources are available at

About Gail Rubin, CT

Gail Rubin, speaker

Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®

Gail Rubin, CT, is a pioneering death educator, speaker, author, coordinator of the annual Before I Die New Mexico Festival, and president of the Historic Fairview Cemetery nonprofit organization. Known by her title, The Doyenne of Death®, she uses humor, film clips and outside-the-box activities to start end-of-life planning conversations. She was one of the first people to hold a Death Café in the United States. Albuquerque Business First recognized her with their 2019 Women of Influence Award. Her website is

A Good Goodbye