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Holding Space for Grief

April 18


About This Episode

This is the second in a series of three practicasts centered around “holding space,” a concept we learned from Heather Plett, author of “The Art of Holding Space.” Our co-creator for this series was our OneOp colleague, Kristen Jowers.

(Season 5, Episode 16)

In this episode, Kristen Jowers shares two practices to help us prepare to hold space for someone experiencing grief.



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Jessica Beckendorf: All of us experience grief and loss. Having someone hold space for us during a difficult time can be just the balm we need. Being able to hold space for someone else is a skill we can all develop. Hi, everyone, this is Jessica Beckendorf and welcome to this week’s Practicing Connection Practicast where we highlight a specific practice you can use in your life and work. In this month’s Practicast, we’ve been talking about different ways to hold space for others.

Holding space refers to the act of being fully present with someone else, without judgment or distraction, so that the person can share their experiences and perspective. We have a special guest today, Kristen Jowers. Kristen joined the OneOp team in 2023 as a program coordinator. With more than 8 years working in higher education, Kristen uses her background in psychology, child development, and marriage and family therapy to enhance her work at the University of Kentucky.

Part of her personal development goals this year include getting out of her comfort zone and leaning into new experiences, like doing this Practicast. Kristen enjoys reading, resting, and can be found taking pictures of her dog Copper, the Basset Hound, who is, I can confirm, incredibly adorable. Kristen will be guiding us through the practice in a few minutes, but first let’s learn more about it. Hi, Kristen.

Kristen Jowers: Hey, Jessica, thanks for having me on. I am a long-time listener and first-time contributor, so thanks for having me on to talk about holding space for grief. Before we jump in, I did want to provide a quick content note as this episode discusses death, grief, and loss. We encourage listeners to pause or take breaks as needed to take care of yourself. A transcript and other resources are available on our website at

Jessica: All right, thank you so much for sharing that. Kristen, let’s start with talking about what grief is. Can you share a little bit about that?

Kristen: Oftentimes, grief is thought of as the loss of a loved one. Today, I want to expand that and include grief in the context of major changes like separation and divorce, natural disasters, school or job changes, and illness. Grief is one of those human experiences that comes with living and loving. All of us have experienced or will experience grief at some point in our lives, and some of us may be living with grief right now.

You may have heard of the five stages of grief by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They’re often thought of as stages, but they don’t define a linear process or timeline. The stages of grief are not consecutive, so you might feel some, all, or none of these emotions. There really isn’t a timeline for grief, and you can intersect with someone at different points in their grieving process.

Jessica: Wow, I actually didn’t realize that. Maybe if I thought back to the times when I was experiencing grief, I may have realized this, but I didn’t realize that you may feel all, some, or none of those emotions. I found that to be really interesting. Given that that’s the case, how can we hold space for people who are experiencing grief?

Kristen: Yes, Jessica. There’s a lot of different complexities that surround grief and loss, and so the response is nuanced. Heather Plett describes in her book, The Art of Holding Space, a collapsible container or silicone bowl, like one of those bowls that you’ll take camping or that I take to the dog park with Copper. The bowl can be shallow, medium, or deep to fit the size, space, and need.

For example, we hold shallow space when someone shares about how tired they are from having a new baby. We hold medium space for when someone shares about how their community has been affected by a natural disaster, and we hold deep space when someone has lost a loved one. Being the bowl is how you serve when you hold space for others. The container provides protection, support, and safety. We help them to see that they’re not alone.

In Plett’s words, we give them space for the waiting that they must do before their new story emerges.

Jessica: Oh, yes, because with a lot of grief and loss comes change, right? What keeps us from holding space for grief?

Kristen: I think there are a lot of reasons this is hard, Jessica. There’s this delicate balance we all manage as we provide care for each other while taking care of ourselves. Heather Plett talks about emotional labor taking more energy than physical labor sometimes. She talks about telling people when we’re at capacity as a way to communicate when our bowl is full. Another consideration is our own experiences of grief and how that might impact how much space we have in our bowl.

Even when there is space, our own fears and discomfort can get in the way. I think sometimes we’re worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, or feeling like when everything is going wrong for someone else, it’s uncomfortable for us. Our instinct is to want to fix it for them.

Jessica: Yes, especially someone we love too, we want to fix, we want to make them feel better. Let’s get started. I know you brought a practice or two with you today. Please walk us through them.

Kristen: I’m going to talk about two practices today. The first is keep your ego out of it. With grief, there can sometimes be this feeling that other people don’t understand what you’re going through. I think it’s really natural to say, “I’ve been there, I know what you’re going through.” Even if you have been there, no two people experience things exactly the same way. You don’t want to claim to know what the other person is feeling or compare your grief to theirs.

Lean into your curiosity about their experience. Ask if they like to talk about it. Sometimes what you say is less important than just being with the person. In The Art of Holding Space, Heather Plett says that one of the hardest things about holding space is that it can feel like you’re doing nothing. It’s going to sound crazy to say this, but there is an art to doing nothing when there is nothing to be done. Sometimes just being is enough.

Don’t be afraid of spending time together in silence.

Jessica: That can be tough for a lot of people.

Kristen: Yes. For the next practice, I want to introduce the acronym SPACE, created by Gina Ballard and inspired by the work of Harrison Owen, author of Open Space Technology and The Power of Spirit. SPACE is something you can remind yourself of as you’re being the container and holding space for someone’s grief. SPACE stands for Safety, Presence, Acceptance, Challenge, Emptiness.

S, Safety. Enhance safety through curiosity and non-judgment. Non-judgment of yourself and the one you’re holding space for. P, Presence. Use breathwork to become increasingly aware of the present moment. A, Acceptance. Acceptance looks like being with the person. Sit with what is. C, Challenge. Remember you’re not there to fix the problem. The challenge or opportunity rather is to be with the person. E, Emptiness. Allow emptiness and silence without filling the space.

Grief can evoke a lot of emotions. Anger, sadness, powerlessness, hopelessness, feeling that life is happening to us. As space holders, we’re saying we’re here. We’re here to listen, to support, to liberate, to empower. We’re here and you’re safe with us.

Jessica: Wow. That was beautiful. I feel like we should just end the episode on we’re here and you’re safe with us. Thank you so much, Kristen. Absolutely loved hearing your practices and your perspective today.

Kristen: Thanks for having me on, Jessica.

Jessica: That is it for this episode. Thanks so much for joining us. We hope you’ll give this practice a try and share your experience in the Practicing Connection LinkedIn group where people supporting military families practice the skills that empower us to work together so that we can positively impact our communities and help families thrives. Certainly the SPACE practice and keeping our egos out of it are both something that will empower us to work together.

You’ll find the link to the group on our website at We’ll be back next week with a practice for holding space for new opportunities. Until then, keep practicing.

Kalin Goble: The Practicing Connection podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense, under award numbers 2019-48770-30366 and 2023-48770-41333.


[00:11:11] [END OF AUDIO]


April 18
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