Thinking Out Loud: Onion of grief

John T. Catrett III
ONHL Hospice Chaplain

It is my prayer that these articles in the newspaper are encouraging to you in your grief journey. Hopefully we have been a blessing to you as you progressed in coping with the loss of someone near and dear to you. Healthy grieving takes time and emotional effort to learn about ourselves, about our family, and about how we are created.

Helen Keller wrote, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of overcoming it.” We pray that you have felt some comfort, strength and yes, even some victories in handling these waves of grief that came your way. Someone compared grief to “peeling an onion, as it comes off one layer at a time, and you cry a lot.” I like this comparison because it allows for great flexibility and meaning. No two onions are exactly alike, and the same is true of grieving experiences. Each one is unique unto itself. Each person grieves in his or her own way, and on his or her own timetable.

We, my company ONHL Hospice and I, hope these articles have been encouraging you to peel back the different layers of feelings of the onion of grief. The first major layer of the onion was the dry hull. The shock of death striking so near causes such a flood of emotions, but we realize we are moving through a healthy stage of grieving.

The second major layer is called the reality deposit. This layer gradually comes after the shock, but it will come, and then reality begins its slow takeover. We may feel loss, hopelessness, and even unbearable emotional pain. There seems to be no way out and no way to survive, but we discovered four realities that can help us to cope.

The third major layer is what I call the reaction, or the fighting back level. This is when we talk and express ourselves to special people in our lives. If we don’t communicate our grief with friends or family members, then we become angry, bitter, mad, and hateful people to those whom we dearly love. The key to overcoming this layer is sharing what’s going on in our hearts and minds with someone special.

The fourth and final layer of grieving is rebuilding. We do not get well. The pain does not go away. We do not forget or stop honoring our loved one, but the day comes when we turn the corner in the way we cope. As the journey progresses, we begin to discover things that speak to us. Some find Scriptures like the 23rd Psalm that reaches out and touches our hearts and souls. For others, there may be a poem or a statement someone wrote or said to us in the right moment that made it meaningful to our lives. One day we wake up and for some unknown reason, we experience inside our heart real comfort inside our hearts. It comes gradually as our hearts are healed.

Here is a reading by Doug Manning that I would like to close with, and it’s called, “When Memories Become Precious.”

“Grief is A Journey…We move from seeing the person by sight

To seeing them in memories. Memories are also in constant movement

At first they are too painful for endurance, and every memory breaks our hearts.

Gradually they help us establish the significance of our love and our loss

In time, our memories become our most precious possession.

The ones that once hurt the most become the ones we never tire of telling.

And our loved one is reborn inside of our hearts.

That is called the journey of grief.”

May this reading be a blessing as you journey on the upward road of rebuilding your life!

Once a year my company likes to know if the time and effort that we invest in these articles are meeting the needs of the readers. Would you be so kind and tell us what you think? Our telephone number is (918) 352-3080, or you may want to write me on gmial ( Thank you!

John T. Catrett III is chaplain for ONHL Hospice. He can be reached at (918) 352-3080 or