Uma Girish answers the question:

What is the nicest thing a non-family member has ever done for you?


Well, the person who comes to mind is the nun who taught me psychology in college. Her name was Sister Valeria. Back when I was in college, I was dealing with my father's alcoholism at home. I would go into college feeling really broken, wanting to cry, but having to hold my tears. And because I couldn't tell anybody, I was carrying a lot of shame and hurt around my family circumstances, so I wasn't able to talk about it with anybody. So I pretended that life was okay at home, and listened to all my friends talk about the weekends they'd had and the fun stuff they'd done. I didn't have any of those stories to share. And with every story that I heard, I would feel this deep sense of disappointment and despair about, Why is my life so terrible? What did I do to deserve this? Why is God so mean to me?

And one day, I was sitting with this nun at the end of one of our psychology classes. Everybody else had left the space and I was in the room with her. And she looked into my eyes and said, "There's something going on with you, child. If you're willing to talk about it, I'll listen."

And those words just triggered a cascade of tears. I started crying almost hysterically, just couldn't stop, and I told her everything that was going on at home. And she listened. She held my hand, she listened, she comforted me, and she tried to get me connected to God. I was resistant at first because I thought, "Oh, here comes the nun who's trying to tell me how wonderful this God is, and I want no part of this because he hasn't been present in my life ever."

But she didn't force anything. She merely heard me. She listened to me with ears of her heart, and every time I sat down with her and had a conversation and told her what was going on at home and how disturbed I was and how I was feeling, I felt a little lighter. I felt a little comforted. I felt like there was someone in my corner who really knew the truth of what I was going through, the truth of what I was feeling. It was such an incredible gift for me to have this gift of listening.

I'll never forget what Sister Valeria said to me, because even through those tears and the heartache, I was able to take in those words. They took a while to take root, but I heard, I listened to the words she said, and this is what she said to me.

She said, "Child, God is carving a statue. You are that statue. And while He's chiseling and hammering, you're feeling the pain, the sting, the struggle. But when He's finished with you, there will be a beautiful statue that will bring so much beauty and joy to everyone who comes across it."

I didn't understand what she meant by it, but it sounded significant. It sounded important. And so I let it land in my heart.

All these years later, everything makes sense to me. Today, I offer the gift of listening to other people, and I know that all the struggles that I have been through have great meaning for what I'm doing in my own life and how I'm being of service to other people. But if it hadn't been for Sister Valeria and her words of wisdom and all the hours she was willing to give me, to listen to me, to hold my hand, to help me find my way back to the Divine, I don't think I would be sitting here doing the work I'm doing today.

So what a precious gift. How precious it is when we can be with another human being in their most broken self, letting them know that they still have value, letting them know that there is a purpose to their pain.

I think of Sister Valeria many, many times. I stayed in touch with her for the longest time. She passed away many years ago, but I carry her in my heart to this day. And everything that I do with regard to the work that I bring to the world today, I feel has Sister Valeria's heartprint all over it.

Uma Girish is a grief guide, life purpose coach, and award-winning author. With an International Diploma in Teaching and Training from Cambridge University in the UK, a certification in Dream Coaching, and mentoring with some of the top experts in the grief and loss industry, she helps people move through their grief and loss to live lives of joy, meaning, and purpose. She has trained and served as a hospice volunteer, sitting by the bedsides of the dying, and holding space for their friends and families. 

Uma’s view of healing is rooted in a deep connection with the Divine. It was her personal loss — that of her mother in India — eight months after she and her family moved to Chicago that led her down the path of grief healing. As she learned the tools she needed to heal her own pain, she gained clarity about what she was meant to do with that pain. Using her pain to serve others became her mission.

Uma’s first book, Understanding Death: 10 Ways to Inner Peace for the Grieving, addresses the top 10 questions most grievers have about grief, loss, the soul's journey, death, dying, and reincarnation. Uma’s second book, a transformational memoir titled Losing Amma, Finding Home: A Memoir About Love, Loss, and Life's Detours, tells the story of how her mother's death completely shifted the course of her life. 

Her third book, Lessons From Grace: What a Baby Taught Me About Living and Loving, captures life lessons inspired by a spitting, drooling baby. Baby Grace reminds us that we all started life as pure essence, trusting in the perfection of divine guidance. We lost our way and forgot our origins, but we can relearn the values of simplicity, joy, and presence.

Uma writes a blog titled The Grammar of Grief and hosted a podcast by the same name. She has interviewed experts on topics related to grief, loss, resilience, and rebounding with purpose. Click here to visit Uma’s website.

Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in: 2020 Catalyst, Issue 2: Grief