The Hobbit’s Journey to Mordor, a parable of grief



When we lose someone we love dearly we embark on a journey, the hero’s journey if you will, to find meaning in our suffering and help heal the ache that throbs so deeply in our soul. We are on a mission, a spiritual quest to heal our heart, traveling into uncharted territories and bitter realities. The bereavement process is not unlike the brave Hobbit’s journey to Mordor in the Tolkien’s story “The Lord of the Rings”.

Like Frodo the main character we embark on an odyssey of seemingly impossible odds; a journey we did not choose but the where the journey chose us. Feeling small and infinitesimal against the looming gargantuan mountain of grief, we rest for a while in its long deep shadow and watch the rumbling clouds of storms gathering threateningly in the distant.

We rest; we gather strength for our long journey and find the courage to take that first step. We cannot go back, we have to cross the mountain, and leave what we have known for our whole life, leave behind our comforts and begin our journey. As Frodo wore the ring of power around his neck, so do we wear the ring of grief around our neck, “my loved one is dead, this is all I have it is my grief. We clutch on to that grief, it’s ours, it is our precious. If we hold it very tightly we too can become invisible, but like Frodo and worse yet Gollum if we stay there too long, we can get lost in the dark.

We continue on our journey using the ring of our grief to aid us in our survival. We struggle forward, always feeling the draw of the ring, our grief, our burden, our protector, our precious. There in lays the paradox for in Tolkien’s Tale, Frodo must throw the ring back into the fires of Mordor to save the world, yet lose his precious, his ring that can make him invisible and safe. The goal in our grief journey is to throw our ring of grief into the fires of acceptance to help heal our pain. The ring is a symbol or our cocoon of grief where we can hide in plain sight; it has been our safety net for a long time and not easy to release.

We soon learn it is not the metaphorical fires of Mordor in Tolkien’s trilogy that heals the hurt, anymore than The Wizard of Oz’s mechanical ticking heart allowed the Tin Man to feel compassion nor the medal that was given to the Cowardly Lion give him courage. It’s the journey itself that is the healing process. Slowly we feel our own heart beat again, we gain courage to move forward; reluctant warriors we face the dragon and fight for our lives.

We find out who our real friends are and who we really need in our lives. Like Samwise the hobbit that was Frodo’s best friend, we have friends who stay by our side, protect us when we are not looking, give us bread when they are hungry, put up with our intolerant moods; always there when we need them.
We meet angels, and monsters, good people and trolls, madmen and magicians; we see and experience more death, more pain on our journey. Everyone’s journey is different and it takes as long as it takes; a journey we cannot escape. Returning the ring is the acceptance part of grief, the ring to rule all the components of grief. We no longer need to become invisible or deny our own destiny. The components of grief come and go and they come when they are needed; the teacher comes, when the student is ready.

As Frodo did in the story we can become invisible when we feel the need too and escape from the world but we cannot stay there too long as it becomes harder to return each time. We need to hold on to our grief but not let it become our ‘precious’ and take over our life forever and define us. We must carry it with us on our journey, because it is the journey. We shall need many different friends to help and aid us as we travel to our own Mordor. We shall lose old friends, gain new friends, find friends in unlikely places, find warm kinship with strangers, and cold hugs from good friends.

As with Frodo it can be a struggle to let go of our grief, it has been our ‘precious’ for a long time and paradoxically can be hard to give up. Like Frodo we must return the ring, and find acceptance or become a miserable creature like Gollum enslaved to his catharsis, and a causality of his own avarice. We shall rest when weary, we will doubt our mission to survive, we will collapse from exhaustion, we will lose our way, and we will want to give up. But like Frodo we carry on wounded, hurting, forever changed and move slowly across those mountains.

Eventually like Frodo we release the grief, the grip of our precious and live by what we have learned on the journey itself. We don’t release the love for our child or the essence of our loved one; we release old expectations and lost dreams. We release guilt and anger; we accept that we have a new relationship with our loved one and accept our ‘new normal.’ Like Frodo, where he was wounded, it too will ache the rest our life, we shall always be bereaved… but not always be in grief.

We must live with our loss, we must experience it fully, we must express our sorrow, show our lamentations, wallow in our pain, and swim in our grief; it is supposed to hurt and we do not need someone to fix it. Grief is a natural process we have to allow to happen; not to be rushed, circumvented, delayed or medicated forever, it needs to be experienced and absorbed before true rebuilding can begin.

Recognize your journey and do not opt for the short cuts. Letting go is not letting go of love, it is letting go of what will never be. It’s not getting over it, is going through it, it is not moving on, it’s moving with, it’s not closure, its acceptance, it is not concentrating on what you no longer have, its embracing what you still have. It’s seeking joy and finding peace once again; living the loss and becoming an intentional survivor.

Proactive Grieving Post 1: Taking Emotional Risks In Grief Processing…learning the dance


Original drawing I created for and borrowed with permission from

When my nine year old died in 1987 I was thrust into a dark womb of despair and I felt my system shutting down. How can I possibly survive this? I did not want to, nor did I know how. The foundations of my existence were shaken, “this cannot be happening to me” I said over and over again as though it would somehow awaken me from the nightmare.  For the first time in my life I could use word “surreal” with an understanding of its meaning, as it seemed the only way to describe my waking hours as I experienced them.

One pivotal day  in those early years of gray I found myself holding myself in a deep soul embrace; I  was really unsure who was in control, yet deep inside from some internal gyroscope I felt a faint harmony  that I had never felt before; a quiet  sacred balance, a moment of new direction, of moment of new meaning. Just a flicker of hope, a spark in the abyss, but it was real. I was stirred from my slumber of dried tears and as surely as a butterfly emerging from its cocoon I said “I need to breathe…I need to fly” and I broke through the chrysalis, a chrysalis that always seemed so imposing but yet I soon discovered to be so very thin.  I emerged a newborn baby into a world of the unknown, and although exhilarated that I could breathe I did not know how to fly…and I was frightened.  I found that I missed the womb of deep grief, its protection, its security and its lostness. I had to rest and dry my wings before I could fly, but fly again I did.

We start over again in real years, in real time following a major loss. What is vitally important in our journey is what we do with those years. I proclaimed to myself “If I am going to start all over again I am going to take risks.  I am not speaking of physical risks, I am not going sky diving or mountain climbing although that may be healing for many, for me it was a needed shift in consciousness. I am going to take emotional risks. At risk of sounding prosaic I wanted my light to shine.

Through grieving my son I have discovered myself and have begun to like what I have found beneath the layers of emotional armor. I am a much better person, more compassionate, a more affectionate person, a more feeling person than I have ever been in my life; I laugh harder; I cry harder.  I take emotional risks to reach out to those in pain. I find it helps my own pain and builds my own hope in the process. It can also provide us a platform for change, our future and the world’s.  We can use the power in our grief to become better or bitter; or we become apathetic and another life is gone. We have choices.

Take the risk to be you, reach out to yourself, and reduce or remove filters (with discretion), express yourself, admit your pain, admit your flaws, admit your misgivings, admit your dreams, admit your joy, admit your potential…admit your gifts.  Use your masks whenever you need to get through a bad day, and to survive -but not every day.  Use your gifts to rebuild your life. Grief is hard work and there is no shame in hard work. It takes guts to be an intentional survivor. As Winnie the Pooh said “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”.

We as a society and a species we tend to process personal loss from the experiences of those around us processing theirs; it is a skill that is not taught in basic education but only in the school of hard knocks. Death is a natural flow in life and it cannot be denied; we will experience grief every day that we live, it happens.

The death of a loved one in your life is like coming upon an imposing river on your journey. It has no bridge and is deep, cold, dangerous and swift. We have four choices when we stand on its shore, we can try to cross it somehow,  we can try to fight the current and go upstream, we stay on the shoreline or we go with the flow downstream… all valid options. When someone we love dies we find ourselves standing on the shoreline unsure what to do and where we are truly confronted with our own fears and ignorance of the great mystery.

When my son was diagnosed with cancer we came to an imposing river and we chose to go upstream to try and save his life; when he died we went back to the shore and again looked at our options. The shore was not the same shoreline we left; we had no strength to go upstream, no desire to cross to a new shore, so we went with the flow and were open to see where it would take us. That is what I call faith.

When coming to grips with death and dying, our own death or someone we love we come to a crossroads of faith.  We may cling to our religious beliefs with more tenacity than ever before and strive to understand its teachings with a different eye or we may fall away from our faith feeling detached and abandoned. We may even turn our anger toward God for not preventing the tragedy.

We have those that claim God can heal everything with enough faith, including miracle cures and a even resurrection from clinical death. When that does not happen, the most ardent of the faithful may be tested and be at odds with a creator that would not answer their prayers. Often times it is this passionate believer that seems even more frightened of death and fight death as the enemy when paradoxically they strive to live a life with a goal to get to heaven.

On the other hand some say there is no God, and that there are no miracles. Interestingly enough these people that do not believe in a God or an afterlife  often feel just as frightened and alone in regards to death and dying as are some of the deeply devout find themselves .

The angst of death seems most apparent in these extremes of spiritual philosophies.  The more we know the more, the more we know we what we don’t know. The grief experience that we find ourselves in is a new slate, one we did not choose but one in which we have a choice in how we process it into our reality.  We can survive loss but I believe that to truly thrive again, that a belief in a divine intelligence and an afterlife is critical.

Everything in life is in a cycle of polarization, a sine wave to maintain equilibrium with no exceptions; darkness/light; heat/cold; pressure/vacuum; concave/convex on and on ad infinitum. This includes human birth and death. Life is not linear it is a true circle.  Then light at the end of a tunnel is the same on either end.  Going upstream or downstream whether you reach the spring or the delta both are source. There are no real endings only new beginnings.  Basic physics concludes that energy does not die nor is it consumed, it continual reinvents itself.  There is no real death only transformation, which in turn allows for hope of some kind of continued existence beyond our corporal one.

Through the experience of suffering a significant loss in our life, our faith and endurance is tested to its limits. We become are stronger in the broken places or we become crippled for life.  Our grief is an opportunity to use all that we have, and all that we can muster to let our heart light shine; we take the risk to be better than we have ever been. What can hurt us more? We can become bitter or better; we have choices. Grief is the price we pay for love, and it is directly proportional to our investment in that love. Allow that love to continue to give us proceeds as we rebuild our lives proactively by living the loss and not postponing its grief.

Sorrow yields hope when we discover our part of the symphony -is just that; the music goes on and we have the choice to sit it out or dance. I hope you dance.

Peace , love and healing

Mitch Carmody