Grief and Remembrance – A Heathen’s reaction to the death of a loved one

This has been a difficult year for many of us.  In addition to economic troubles being very common, it seems as though the death of comrades is becoming increasingly common.   That may just be a sign of this heathen getting older.   I recently had a college classmate pass on to the next world, and a good friend posted a quote that, to summarize, said that grief was the last gift we give the departed.

As I thought of this, from my heathen chair, I disagreed.

As we think of the Heathen philosophy, we look for purpose in everything.  As an example Havamal 19 states in part:

“speak needful words or none.”

So I asked myself, what is the purpose of grief, and what other emotions or  actions do we engage in with respect to the departed, and what purpose to they serve.


As I thought of grief, I concluded that, with a few exceptions, grief does not serve the dead, it serves ourselves.   Those who have departed have no use for our grief, it doesn’t serve a purpose, other than to remind them they have passed on.    Instead, as I thought about it, grief serves us.  For us, grief is a method of closure, and a method of healing.  It allows us to “come to grips” with the loss of a loved one.

When I replied with this, someone retorted “That makes grief seem like a selfish act.”

And, well, it is.  But the word selfish is a pretty loaded word.   Its so often used in a negative context, implying that a selfish act is a bad thing.   What’s important to remember is that we need to engage in selfish acts, first to heal and take care of ourselves, but also to affirm our own worth.

So as I look at the concept of grief, it is an act of love, but its not an act of love focused on the deceased, its an act of love for ourselves, its allowing us the time to heal from the wounds caused by the loss of another.


Which brings me to the question, what is the final gift for the departed?   For me, I’ve concluded that its remembrance.   Havamal 76 and 77 state:

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well 

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But I know one thing that never dies,
The glory of the great dead 

So remembrance is the gift we can give the departed.  If we remember them, they never truly die.  The tales of their deeds, and who they are, will live on beyond their existence on this world.

As I come to this conclusion, I raise a toast to those who have passed in the last year, and will remember who they are, and were, and will give myself the time to come to grieve for my loss that they will never sit at the feast table with me again, until I join them beyond the veil.





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