Press Kit for Opening to Grief

“A wise and sensitive book, this guide to working with grief is a treasure.”

— Joan Halifax, Upaya Zen Center, author of Standing at the Edge and Being with Dying

“Full of sage advice, thoughtful suggestions, practical exercises, guided imagery, mindfulness meditations, healing prayers, inspirational poetry, and comforting words of wisdom that are at once both simple and profound. Open to any of the pages in this ‘companion guide,’ relax into its uplifting flow, and you will know that you are not alone on your journey back.”

Martha Stark, MD, Faculty, Harvard Medical School

“A succinct, comforting reference for those dealing with the loss of a loved one. The authors weave clinical observations, consolations, and practices (such as blessings to repeat and guided journaling prompts) into short chapters that explain the process of ‘opening to grief.’ Anyone suffering loss will find wisdom and helpful practices here.”

Publishers Weekly

Opening to Grief:

finding your way from loss to peace

Claire B. Willis

Marnie Crawford Samuelson


Foreword by Megan Devine

“You could think of grief as a sacred passage. You are torn from the life you knew before. You are not who you were, and you are not yet who you will become. Like everything else, you are changing. You are, in a very real way, between identities. This experience—profoundly different for each of us—is confusing, agonizing, and potentially life-transforming.”  —From Opening to Grief

            Opening to Grief: Finding Your Way from Loss to Peace (Dharma Spring, October 1, 2020) is an invitation to be with your grief in all its depths and to find your unique way to peace, balance, and acceptance. This slim volume encourages you to begin wherever you are and to offer yourself kindness at a time of losses and suffering. Open to any page and you’ll find comfort and inspiration, as well as profound practices anchored in mindfulness and meditation. Chapters describe how art and writing and spending time in nature offer paths to healing, and how we help each other when we act generously and create beloved communities. The essential message of Opening to Grief is that grief and love are intertwined.

            Drawing upon her experiences as a clinical social worker and bereavement counselor, author Claire B. Willis helps us deepen and expand our understanding of grief. When COVID-19 arrived in early 2020, we learned that the unimaginable can happen and that grief not only engulfs us when we experience a personal loss, such as the death of a pet or partner. In the pandemic, we have lost hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. Many have lost their livelihoods. And most all of us have lost our familiar daily routines and textures of work, family, and community. “Now we see that there are aspects and qualities of grief and grieving that are universal. We are recognizing that some of the feelings we are experiencing in these uncertain times—such as anxiety, despair, anger, and confusion—are grief. This is how we humans respond to loss,” Willis says.

Metta Meditation for Grief

Metta for Grief: Metta or lovingkindness practice calls us to the essential practice of being kind. It asks us to befriend ourselves just as we are, accepting all the feelings that accompany our grief.

Sample Chapters

For sample chapters from Opening to Grief please click here.

Claire B. Willis is a clinical social worker who has worked in the fields of oncology and bereavement for more than 20 years. A cofounder of the Boston nonprofit Facing Cancer Together, Willis has led bereavement, end-of-life, support, and therapeutic writing groups. Willis maintains a private practice in Brookline, Massachusetts. As a lay Buddhist chaplain ordained by Joan Halifax, she focuses on contemplative practices for end-of-life care. In addition to Opening to Grief, Willis is the author of Lasting Words: A Guide to Finding Meaning Toward the Close of Life.

Marnie Crawford Samuelson is a documentary photographer, filmmaker, and storyteller. The principal photographer of two books—The Wild Braid, a collaboration with poet laureate Stanley Kunitz and poet Genine Lentine, and Lasting Words with Claire Willis—her photos have appeared in national and international magazines including Newsweek, People, U.S. News & World Report, and Smithsonian. She has shot and codirected several award-winning short films, including Fire Station 88.1, Keeper, Inside Motherwell’s Dumpster, and By the Waters. Crawford Samuelson lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, and Berkeley, California.

Opening to Grief: Finding Your Way from Loss to Peace

Claire B. Willis and Marnie Crawford Samuelson

Dharma Spring  •  October 1, 2020  •  ISBN- 978-1590035122  •  Hardcover  •  144 pages  •  $18.95

Grief can hit us as quickly as a bolt of lightning or silently creep up on us before we even know we’re in its grip. Opening to Grief is a comforting and elegant collection of healing wisdom that offers differing paths to healing, through poetry, prose, mindfulness practices, art, and professional counseling experience. The perfect book for our times!”

—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness

Q & A with Claire Willis

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1. Q: What do you mean when you use the word grief?

A: We often think we know what grief is, but it’s actually hard to describe. Perhaps the first thing to say is that grief is a normal and natural response to a major loss that occurs when an important relationship is ruptured. And it is, for most people, immensely painful.

As humans there are obvious losses that will come to most of us – parents, siblings, friends, and relatives. There are also more invisible losses that some of us may experience, losses that are less culturally recognized, such as infertility, the loss of a beloved pet, the loss of a home, innocence, health, or the loss of capacities as we age.

Then there are the losses that I call macro losses, the degradation of the environment, economic chaos, or the losses caused by war. While we may not know the people involved in these catastrophes, there is still a rupture of relationship among humans.

Most recently, the glaring exposure of racism, police brutality, and systemic oppression of African-Americans across the US has become a source of deep grief and outrage to all people of conscience. African Americans and people of color have been traumatized physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually for centuries. We grieve our complicity.

2. Q: Is there a grief timetable or path, so people know what to expect?

A: No, there really isn’t a timetable or a single path. Grief takes as long as it takes. There are as many different expressions of grief as there are people who are grieving. I spend a lot of time in my clinical work normalizing whatever someone’s experience is, because there is no right way to grieve. I always say that grieving is a little bit like looking at the sun. We look at the sun, we turn away, we look, and turn away. We can’t stare at it, because it would burn our eyes. We titrate it in whatever ways we are able. Some people over-work, exercise vigorously, eat a bit more than usual, or have a second or third glass of wine. We all find different ways of bearing the impact of losses.

What is most important, though, is to avoid numbing out and to find your own particular ways of holding and being with loss. For some, it is spending time in nature. For others, art, meditation, or talking with friends, family, or joining a support group may help you make sense of your experience.

3. Q: In these unprecedented times, many people are sensitized to losses and inequities in our society that have actually always been here, but are now revealed more starkly. These include inequities and disparities in the health care system, the impact of systemic racism, a growing gap between the rich and poor across the country, and massive losses due to global warming. How do we begin to hold all this searing grief, as it tumbles in all at once?

A: The pandemic has peeled blinders off our eyes, and so have the traumatic killings of people of color by police. People of conscience can’t turn away, now that we see systemic and global injustices.

But the Corona virus has also catalyzed many unexpected acts of kindness, generosity, and love. While it is natural for our minds to turn toward what’s difficult and painful, it is important to also linger with and take in positive experiences of joy and harmony. Researcher, psychologist and author Rick Hanson suggests that when you notice something that is beautiful or loving and draws your attention, linger with it and let your mind and heart stay with it for at least 20 -30 seconds. Allow this basic goodness to wash over you. See whether this practice helps you develop resilience and strength, so that you are better able to be with and bear suffering that is present everywhere.

Suggested Topics of Discussion for Claire Willis, co-author of Opening to Grief

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Understanding Grief

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Eileen Duhné  •  Direct & text: 415.686.8679 •  •