In my dreamwork with hospice patients and their families, with grief groups, grief may be felt in the moment or it may be waiting in the wings to make its unexpected entrance. In my work with dream clients, each and every one, even when there isn’t a recent death, there are moments in their dreams, in all of our dreams, where grief and loss are the underlying feelings.

I’ve read several articles recently comparing the death of a loved one to an explosion…whether it is sudden or extended over several months, the death can have a huge impact on us, take us out, blow up our life as we have known it. The same is true for many kinds of trauma, again, a kind of death to how we knew life to be.

And that explosion is followed by an eerie silence as people and life around us seem to return to normal, seem to expect us to return to normal…yet we know something has been changed forever.

In an explosion there is flying shrapnel that causes further damage to many parts of the body. Some shrapnel can’t be removed and so it stays with us and has long term effects. Some shrapnel, even years later, can move…even ever so slightly and we are back in the memory and pain of the explosion.

Shrapnel of the grieving kind embeds itself in our heart, this most tender part of who we are. One of the first things we become aware of and surprised by when we grieve is that there no timetable to grief. Months and even years later we may be in a moment where we are feeling okay, our days have longer moments of lightness and then a piece of shrapnel moves…a memory, an occasion, a smell, a song, a photograph…and it can take us out and we are back in the depth of our pain, grief and loss.

Can we be kind to ourselves and each other in these moments? It’s not something we are doing wrong or right. We wouldn’t judge or be impatient with someone who had pain from a piece of shrapnel in their leg or back. We wouldn’t expect them to get over it, to not feel it.  We would understand that this is part of the long term effect of a wound. It can make itself known unannounced and unexpected. We are now beings that carry these hidden pieces of life as we knew it, loss as we know it and when someone or something bumps into a pieces of shrapnel, we feel the sharpness of our pain…the tenderness of our loss.

Image by Clagget Wilson


Mary Jo Heyen is a certified Natural Dreamwork Practitioner working with clients throughout the country and abroad in person, phone or Skype. Learn more about her work with dreams at or