Has Grief Changed Me or Expanded Me?

April 3, 2024


I recently attended a Ravi Coltrane concert, and he said something that has stayed with me. He was talking about his father’s (John Coltrane) music and its evolution over time. For those who don’t know his music John Coltrane was a highly influential saxophonist and composer of jazz music. Throughout John’s career his music evolved and those who were not in favor of it lamented the changes in his music. However, son Ravi identified the music not as a change but as an expansion. I started to think of this in relation to grief. Does grief change who we are or expand and evolve who we are?


If we think about the definition of “change” it might include; altering, modifying or replacing with something else. By comparison the definition of “expand” would include; to make more extensive or to give a fuller version of.  These two words are similar yet subtly different. How we define something influences how we feel about it and can determine our outward presentation.  Grief feels expansive because it asks us to find a new version of ourselves. Yes, our old self is modified and altered – no doubt. Grief asks us to go forward with our loss and create new meaning and perspective. Trying to change the old meanings and perspectives feels difficult. Trying to expand of what we have and know feels growthful. Expanding also feels positive as so much of the work of grief is finding hope and optimism amongst tragedy. By contrast we can push back against change. We don’t like change, we like stasis. Even if the stasis is not good it can feel better than having to embrace change and the uncertainty that accompanies it.


Grief is often described as a journey. This is inaccurate. Journeys have a beginning, middle and end. Grief doesn’t end. Grief has also been described as a process. This feels more accurate. Processes unfold over time. They grow, expand and can be a pathway. What if instead of only thinking about being saddled with grief we also thought about grief as a pathway to expanding who we are? We can do both. We can be more than one thing. We can have times of struggle and it is those struggles that are lining the path to our own expansion. While grief leaves a whole in us, we can also live a “full” and expanded life.