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What Does "Rest in Peace" Mean, Really? David Kessler Explains

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One of the world's leading grief experts offers gentle thoughts on our feelings after a death

In their bestselling book You Can Heal Your Heart, self-help luminary Louise Hay and renowned grief and loss expert David Kessler, the protégé of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, came together to start a conversation on healing grief.

This week, Legacy.com invites those who are grieving to join David for a Facebook Live Q&A this Thursday, March 29 on the topic of how to cope with the grief that comes on special anniversary days in the year(s) following a loss.

For those who haven't heard David speak before, consider this short but powerful story he shared in the pages of You Can Heal Your Heart, explaining the true meaning behind one of the most common things people say about a death:

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Christina was a young woman who was diagnosed with early-onset ovarian cancer. It was very aggressive, and it seemed like everyone in her life was trying to deal with the news when things shifted to the fact that she was dying. In an unusual twist, sometimes people who are very young find it easier to accept death than their parents do. In Christina’s case, it was her mother, Debra, who was struggling to keep up with the events that were happening. Christina was an interesting, brave soul who had an insight into her world about what she could change and what she could not. She knew that she was dying and accepted it, which brought her a certain kind of peace.

During her illness, she and her mother would often argue. Debra would say, “You’re just too young to die.”

“Well, how do you explain the fact that I’m dying?” was Christina’s reply.

“Your life is incomplete; you can’t die so young.”

“Mom, there are only two requirements for a complete life: birth and death. Soon my life will be complete because I will have lived and I will have died. That’s just the way it is, and we have to find peace in it.”

If anything kept Christina up at night, it was worrying about her mother. After Christina passed, I would see Debra every few months, and I still think about how Christina wanted peace so much for her mother, and yet it eluded her. But years later, I ran into Debra and immediately sensed a shift that I couldn’t explain. I asked her if anything had changed, and she told me, “I admitted that I wanted Christina back more than I wanted peace. Eventually, I realized that I wanted peace for myself and for Christina. I finally understood what it meant to want someone you love to rest in peace.”

“To this day,” I told Louise, “Christina and Debra always remind me of how important it is to want that peace.”

Louise agreed. “We forget to feel and understand the words from our upbringing. Think about those words rest in peace. We’ve all heard them, but in Debra’s situation, she ultimately wanted her daughter to find that peace, knowing that love is eternal and never dies. And likewise, Christina would have wanted her mother to rest in peace every night as well, acknowledging the bond that death cannot sever. Now Debra rests in her firm belief that they will one day see each other again.”

Whatever kind of loss your grief stems from, it’s vital to hold the thought of wanting to find peace and to find a healing of the heart. It is comforting and powerful to know that fully grieving and finding peace is always an available option. In fact, this book contains a number of options that you may not have considered before, including challenging your thoughts and using affirmations to change unhealthy thought patterns.

Just remember that healing your loss and your heart is possible. People do it successfully all the time, but you must always keep in mind that your grief is as unique as your fingerprint. You must recognize your loss and your grief in order to heal your heart fully. People often get mad at friends who don’t understand their loss. They may not and perhaps never will, but only you can truly appreciate your loss because it is you and you alone who can heal it.


Read the complete book You Can Heal Your Heart, by Louise Hay and David Kessler.


join David Kessler and Legacy.com for a Facebook Live Q&A this Thursday, March 29 on the topic of how to cope with the grief that comes on special anniversary days in the year(s) following a loss.