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Struggle vs Surrender

waves of grief


Resistance: the refusal to accept something, the attempt to prevent something by action or argument. The opposition to, hostility to, the struggle or unwillingness to accept something or become something.

Resistance is much the same as struggle in the context of grief and is pretty much the opposite of acceptance!

Surrender: The idea of “surrender” often holds negative connotations. By definition, surrender means “to yield to the power or domination of another.” There is also an implication of giving up in surrender.

In the context of grief, surrender can take on another meaning. “Surrendering to your grief” means allowing yourself to be where you are at without judgment, to allow your emotions to be felt and to accept (in small steps) the new reality of your life. It also means facing the realities and difficulties, as well as the pain and sadness of your grief journey as and when they happen to you. (Amanda Hillman, Pathways)

Surrender, in this more positive sense also means not fighting against or resisting your grief or your needing to  grieve andbecomes a positive process through which each person can potentially find their own unique way when they are ready to do so.

Setting the Stage:

Hiding our Grief, Hiding from our Grief or Facing our Grief:

We all know that grief is painful and sad. It may be amongst the hardest and most emotionally difficult things we are ever faced with in our lives.  But, we do have choices we can make about how we will react to that pain and sadness.

1. We can choose to be (seemingly) strong and stoic and try to hide (struggle against) our feelings of grief and the emotions they contain and not express them. We can try to control them and keep them to and maybe from ourself, locked away inside. 

2. We can also hide from our grief. We can get super busy and try to put the pain and feelings off by doing lots of other things because we hurt so badly. We may even think that the pain and sadness have gone away…

3. A third choice is to face our grief (surrender to it) as and when it comes over us, to not turn (run) away from the pain and sadness but to embrace it and experience it as it happens, even knowing that it will be a long and painful journey. 

Grief is part of life and love and perhaps we are here to experience it all and learn from it as part of our journey through life and also as a way to honor our love.


When we do any type of avoidance, like struggling against our grief, hiding our grief or hiding from our grief, my experience and that of others I’ve talked to, is that the feelings of grief, pain and sadness don’t really go away. What we’ve done if we are actively avoiding our grief is to find ways to let the feelings and emotions become hidden. We may have kept so busy or acted so stoically that we didn’t take the time to feel them. Because we were not really dealing with them, they remain unresolved and can build up inside us where they still remain even if we don’t think so. 

Since we haven’t learned all the things we need to learn, our grief and the emotions within it may even get more intense tucked away inside us until they find a way to come out sometime later down the road. Sometimes they explode as anger, sometimes they just build up and return to the surface with even more overwhelming pain than before.

It’s definitely ok and can be a positive part of your journey to remain engaged in life if you want to, to do things and be with people when you want to. But, along with the interactions, it is important to find a healthy mix that includes experiencing, facing and surrendering to your grief, so that you talk about and think about and work on the healing process as well.

So, this discussion is about:  Should we fight our grief, should we struggle, deny, or resist it, or should we not fight our grief, but surrender to it, experience it in all its parts and learn to go with the flow of it?


As we’ve often talked about, rather than being a constant feeling, grief rises and falls and periodically crashes over us like waves at the shore. The image of “Waves of Grief” has a flow about it that perhaps we can use to guide us.

Images from an old Oceanography Instructor:

1.If you are washed out to sea in a riptide, a seaward moving current that goes away from shore, it is usually way stronger than you are. If you fight it, you will eventually tire and run out of energy and by fighting the strength of the current, sometimes people don’t have enough energy to make it back to shore. 

But, if you let the current take you, don’t fight it, surrender to it and let it carry you with its energy and take you out towards the sea (even though that doesn’t seem to be where you want to go), eventually, the current will run out of energy. Once it does, you can use the strength and energy you didn’t use fighting it to swim to the edge of the current and then turn and swim back to shore.

2. When I first moved to Florida, I thought that if I lived on the coast, I would want to have the strongest reinforced concrete pilings I could find to build my house on so they would survive the winds and waves of a hurricane if it occurred. I was surprised when I went to the coast that many of the homes built at the back of the beach had been and still were being built not on concrete pilings but on wood posts, much like telephone poles, that were driven deeply into the sand.

When I started trying to find out why, because it didn’t make sense to me to use a less strong material, I found out that because concrete is not only strong but also rigid and inflexible, in the wind, it was actually often too resistant. Concrete isn’t going to bend much at all, it will just rigidly stand there and eventually break and collapse because it couldn’t be flexible. 

Wood pilings, however, are like palm trees, they flex and bend in the wind and while a house built on them may sway and shift, except under the most extreme conditions, the pilings don’t usually fracture or shatter, they just tend to be flexible and bend under the force of the wind and waves.

Another image to consider:

3. In electrical and computer systems, resistance reduces the flow of electricity available to do work in the system by changing some of that energy to heat. Since there is a loss of energy along the way, the more resistance there is, the less energy there is that’s available to run the system. 

A reason I chose to Surrender to my Grief:

As we talked about before, one of the important lessons I learned early in my grief was that I would not be my grief, I would be me living with grief. Another realization that came to me at the same time was that instead of fighting it as if it was an illness like the cancer Andi was fighting, I would surrender to my grief and let it wash over me. I would face it head on and experience it, including the pain and sadness, as it was happening but still remain myself within it, let it change me if it did, but learn what I could from it.

I know that not everyone’s spouse got to fight to the end through a long illness as Andi did. Some were taken quickly or suddenly but I believe this lesson still applies. At some point, when we are ready, we will each need to decide how we want to deal with our grief in the reconstruction of our lives.

A final thought about surrender: 

I believe that much of my own growth, healing and wellness was due to the early choice I made to surrender to my grief, to experience it fully, to face it head on, to allow it to knock me to my knees if it did, and not to run away from the pain and sadness.  I chose to cry as often as the pain and sadness made me cry. I chose to remain flexible and after each wave, to learn, slowly, to get back up and stand, and get ready for the next wave to break. 

From that surrender, I was actually able to build a strength within myself that allowed me to move forward, to move through my grief and find wellness in my life. Rather than squandering my strength fighting and struggling against it again and again, I believe that facing it allowed me to move through it more easily (although not less painfully) because I wasn’t resisting it. 

When you are ready to take some control, how will you choose to grieve? Will you choose struggle or surrender, resistance or avoidance; or maybe choose a little bit of both? Does it have to be all or nothing? Can you use some of each depending on the situation you find yourself in or the people you are interacting with?


  • What does struggle mean to you? How about surrender?
  • Can you relate any of the images we talked about to your journey?
  • Are you resisting or avoiding your grief? How do you think that effects how you grieve and how you might move towards healing and wellness?
  • Can you think of other places or situations where surrender is a positive force that you might use as a model for applying it to your grieving?
  • What coping skills, social skills and life skills do you think you need to learn to move forward and surrender to your grief as opposed to resisting it?
  • If you have not yet reached a point of choice, based on who you are, would it be better for you to be rigid and inflexible (struggling against, resisting, and/or denying your grief) and possibly fracture or would it be better for you to be more malleable and bend under the force that is applied to you by your grief (surrendering to your grief)? Would it better for you to struggle or surrender?
  • Where are you now? Are you hiding your grief, struggling to control it, hiding from it or facing, accepting and surrendering to it. Or are you doing some of each?
  • If you are struggling, what does your avoidance look like?
  • If you are surrendering to it, what does that look like for you? What do you think helped you the most to choose that path?
  • Why have you chosen the path that you have? Did it just happen or did something “push” you towards the direction you are following?
  • Where are you at in the process of learning to accept what has happened in your life?
  • If you have gone through any of the “big firsts” on your journey, how did you choose to do them (struggle or surrender) and what did you learn from your choice and your experience?