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The Alchemy of Grief: Your Journey to Wholeness

by Nancy Loeffler

Praise for Nancy’s Book

“Losing her is too high a price to pay to not live the life I am meant to live.”

Who are you meant to be?

That is the question this book will guide you to answer as it leads you down a path of healing from inextricable loss and grief.

To know loss is to be human, which is why I say Alchemy of Grief is an opportunity for anyone who seeks meaning from life, at all stages of their journey.

Not only does Nancy demonstrate a process of being with yourself, wherever you are in your journey of grief, she presents an opportunity to appreciate life, with all of it’s twisted turns and beautifully heart-wrenching moments.

Nancy offers tools that balance gentle, compassionate, and firm love. Through her generous sharing, she helps you negotiate your desire to indulge the present moment while remaining committed to moving forward, finding meaning, and remembering that you are whole.

Nancy’s true gift is in framing grief as an opportunity to live in alignment with the truth of who you are. She skillfully removes all shame from the experience and gifts you with a sense of peace and permission to be exactly where you are. This is not a book designed to teach you how to grieve, so much as it is a book that will invite you into yourself, connecting you to your own knowing, and giving you permission to claim your own path.

– Dawn M. Dalili, ND


The Alchemy Of Grief is so much more than the story of a mother’s tragic loss.  It is also a very readable, simple examination of the various stages, levels, and types of grief that one encounters throughout life. Along with the touching story, Nancy Loeffler provides reflective questions and activity examples that serve as a map for almost limitless grief healing pathways.  The book, which can be referenced time and again, is suitable for any individual’s personality and needs.  Personally, the last chapter really “spoke to my heart,” and as a whole, I feel that this wonderful book should be on everyone’s bookshelf.

– Mary McNaughton


Experience The Alchemy of Grief and awaken to the many ways life changes impact our total being. By sharing her story of loss and by providing reflective prompts and exercises, Nancy Loeffler leads the reader along a path of healing and renewal.

– Rob Nerius


Chapter 1

You’re Never Prepared


A New Reality

When a catastrophic event happens, your life changes in an instant. It may take some time for you to arrive to your new reality. Your life can take on a surreal quality. You may be in shock; you may feel like you are living in a haze, where everything around you seems distorted. You may be unable to concentrate on anything; everything may be hyper clear, or moving in slow motion. Your thoughts may explode in a millions directions. There is a fracture in your life. You don’t know how you are going to fix the fracture. You want to fix it, and you remember, yet again, that nothing will ever be the same. It is the space between the way things were yesterday and the land you are forced to move to, without wanting to move there. The suddenness of this fracture may mean that it will take some time for you to catch up with all the changes, both energetically and physically.

The space between the land you used to live in and the one to which you are moving can be hard to inhabit. It can be a rocky road that literally knocks you off your feet. When you take the first step across the border, you are likely to be confused, disorganized, or disoriented. I remember that I felt spacey for the first time in my life when I stepped into this place. Be gentle with yourself wherever you find yourself. All of these qualities can be characteristics of shock, and the land in between realities can serve as a protection for you. It can be a way of shielding you from the harshest reality that you now find yourself inhabiting. At the time the splintering of your life occurs, you may be not be prepared for everything you will encounter. I know I wasn’t. It has been only with courage, love, and support that I was able to traverse the territory in between my life before Leah died, and the inevitable life without her physical presence that followed. I was able to emerge with the ability to live a meaningful life again, and to come to know my soul in a way that would have been impossible under any other circumstances. Your own passage through grief and loss offers the same possibilities.

Entering a New Country

When I finally arrived at the hospital, it was the first time that I saw Dan that day. We hugged, holding on for dear life and hoping that when we let go, we would be back at home, waking up from a bad dream.  I asked him if he knew what happened, but he didn’t know any more than I did. Leah’s guidance counselor and principal were there to meet us in the waiting room. They both had grim looks on their faces, and we began to gather information about what happened as we were obliviously beginning our Friday. Leah was in an accident on her way to school.  She hit a tree—the only tree in the middle of a cornfield. She was alone in the car. She called 911. She had massive brain injuries and had gone into surgery. They told us she was a fighter. She was fighting for her life.

In that one moment my world was tipped on end. I felt like I was in an altered reality. It did feel like I was in a different country, one that I had never even heard of before. Everything changed from being all about me to being all about Leah. I was a mother wanting nothing more than to protect her child, her baby.  Nothing else mattered—not my job, not what any one else thought about me, not my failure as a mother.  I told myself, “Once we get her through this I’m going to be the mother she needs me to be,” but I couldn’t stop shaking. We were taken to the critical care waiting room.  I couldn’t sit still. I paced back and forth, praying for my daughter’s life. We called Peter, our son at college. He made plans to join us.  Somehow I knew in my bones the magnitude of what we were experiencing, and after an agonizingly long wait, our lives changed forever.

Looking back on this scene from my vantage point today, I understand that the thoughts I had when the police office came into my office and told me about the accident, were normal. If that had not been the day of my daughter’s accident—if she were not fighting for her life—thoughts of what she had been doing, concern for my job, and thoughts of how to help her would have been countless threads in the fabric of a normal mother-daughter relationship.  At the time I felt guilty and full of shame.  I ran all the “if-onlys” and “what-ifs” through my head. If only I had been home with her that morning, if only I had talked to her longer that morning, if only… I could have prevented her from having the accident, of fighting for her life.

As we live our lives, raising children, helping them learn to make good decisions as teenagers, there will be many moments of doubt and confusion.  We will question our children and ourselves.  We will have these same normal, universal thoughts that I had when I learned of Leah’s accident. We want to control our lives and everything that happens in them, and we learn that there is really nothing in our control. We learn to trust and to have faith. At the time of my daughter’s accident I was at a point in my own journey of learning to trust my intuition. I was learning how my intuition helped me to be a better mother.  As I waited at the hospital, I felt that I had failed. I hadn’t learned these lessons in time to keep her safe.

Dan’s Perspective

My husband Dan shared a lot of similarities with me in his experience of Leah’s accident, but he also felt a lot of differences. He always says that thinking back to the day of Leah’s accident and thinking that she might not survive, invited him to dive again into a sea of sorrow that he floundered in for many years. When he places himself back into that time, he says that he always begins with remembering the night before.

Dan and I took turns making sure that Leah heard her alarm and was up and about. That morning when I headed out, Dan stayed behind to make sure Leah was awake and beginning her morning. Knocking on the door to her room before he left, he asked if she would be ok. He heard her say she would, so he told her goodbye, and to have a good day, and started his own morning drive. He often remembers his own “what if” moment. He wonders what would have happened if he’d insisted that she come to the door, or waited until he heard the shower running, before he left.

When Dan received my call that morning, he headed to the Frederick county line as instructed, wondering—like me—what had happened. It took a while before Dan and I could share our thoughts about the early events of that significant day in November. We were each in our own world, feeling shock and fear within the surreal and sterile environment of the hospital. I eventually learned that he knew from the way the police handled their unpleasant task that the news would not be good; that, however, did nothing to prepare him for his first sight of Leah. The sight of her broken body hooked up to machines took him back to the last time he had sat with her, talked with her about her day, and received her last embrace the previous evening. He had hugged her and watched her bounce down the stairs as he headed out to walk the dogs. He had a smile on his face as he thought about what would be his last conversation with his daughter.


Things to Try:

When a catastrophic event happens in your life, here are some things you can do.

  1. When you hear bad news, breathe. Take a few deep, slow, abdominal breaths. Tell whoever you are with to slow down and let you catch your breath.
  1. If you are alone, call someone to support you.
  1. Ask for what you need. If you are not getting answers that make sense, ask someone to help you get the answers, if you can. If not, stop and tell the person what you need to know.  Sometimes, if we can get the information we need, it can help us to assimilate the situation and calm down a little.
  1. When tragedy occurs, we can feel helpless. Acknowledging your helplessness and knowing that it is ok to accept help can be difficult. You may see it as a reflection of failure. Learning to forgive yourself and others is a part of your journey. Accept offers of assistance when offered.
  1. Take time to write down your feelings, or the sequence of events. Your memory might not be as sharp as usual, and this written record can be helpful to you later on.

Questions for your journal:

  1. How did you feel the moment of a sudden change in your life?
  1. Describe the landscape in between the place you left and where you are headed.
  1. What do you need right now? This will change from day to day, or even moment to moment. Ask it often.