Sometimes people share with me heartbreaking incidents of how they lost their loved ones. There are those who lost their son or daughter, a sibling, or a parent, untimely or unexpectedly. Many a time, it is so gut-wrenching that even as an objective listener my eyes well up. The shock, the trauma, the pain is unbearable for them, almost like they would never heal. They ask me what they can do to get over the pain. Let me share with you how I see it.
Death is inevitable. Everyone we know will die one day. All of us are on a train and each one of us must get off eventually. Some disembark sooner and others later than us. We know it is only a matter of time, yet it can catch one off-guard, like someone appearing in front of you out of nowhere. When one is mentally prepared, when one sits in expectation, in anticipation, it becomes relatively easy to prepare for even one’s own death. This is rarely possible though.
We may get the time to prepare ourselves if the loved one is terminally ill but it still doesn’t mean we have come to terms with it. The one who is gone is gone, the ones left behind face the greatest challenge, greater than the death itself.
Various religions offer different perspectives. Some promise rebirth, others, heaven, some salvation, and so on. All those are theories, their rewards of promises may inspire an individual to do the right thing while living, they may offer consolation to those left behind, such promises remain unproven claims though; nothing beyond that.
While on the topic of death and bereavement, I could quote from the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, or from Buddhist texts and the rest but I do not wish to offer you consolation, it is not my aim to introduce you to some philosophy. Instead, I just wish to share my own thoughts.
First and foremost, I want you to know that you will never be able to forget them. Any effort you specifically direct at forgetting them will only make you miss them a great deal more. This is the harsh truth. And why should you forget them? Would you like to be forgotten when you are gone? When you begin to understand and accept the fact that the departed one has a permanent place in your heart, in your memory, in your life, a subtle healing begins. Do not force yourself to erase them from your memories, to exclude them, just let it be for a while, let Nature take its own course, let it settle. Bereavement heals over time.
Grief has two key elements, namely, shock and denial. When you lose someone suddenly, to an accident, for example, it takes much longer to get over the shock. Primarily because Nature did not grant you the time to get ready, to prepare yourself mentally. We slip into a state of denial and disbelief. That leads to inner resistance. And such resistance leads to inner struggle, depression, and melancholy.
When you lose someone to a terminal illness or someone who battled for life for a long period before they passed away, the shock and denial is not any less, it is just of a different type. Either way, it is traumatic. Imagine losing a limb, no matter how dexterous or perfect the artificial limb, it can never match the original. The void created by the loss of a loved one can only ever be partially, imperfectly filled.
Acceptance is the key. I am not talking about accepting their death, I am referring to accepting the fact that it is painful for you, that it is hurting you, and that everything else is simply a theory. Allow natural healing to take place, allow your emotions to outpour, give yourself an outlet. You can’t afford to have them bottled up, that will make you angry and eternally sad. If you allow Nature to help you absorb and accept the loss, you will find it easier to live without their physical presence. Just like happiness, like laughter and joy, sadness and sorrow are basic human emotions. These make us who we are. Do not curb them, be natural, be yourself.
What do you do when you are happy? You laugh. Is it not perfectly normal then to cry when you are sad, when you are missing their presence?
A realized Zen master was seen crying at the funeral of a man. Most were somewhat surprised, they thought the master had risen above the human emotions. It was an unusual sight to see a monk cry. A child went up to him, tugged at his robe and said, “Why are you crying?”
“He was my friend,” the master said. “I’m crying because I’m sad.”
If the thought of them makes you cry, just cry, let it out. Don’t hold it in. Some may advise you to focus your attention elsewhere, to go out, to forget and move on etc. You can adopt any method, any philosophy, any theory that makes you feel stronger and better but the truth is, you can’t fake your emotions, you can’t lie to yourself. The greater the number of memories you have with the one you lost, the harder it is to forget them. No matter how intense the heat, puddles dry up quicker than ponds whereas oceans never do. You may also want to read about dealing with loneliness.
How long it will take you to move on depends on whether your store of memories is a small puddle or a gigantic ocean. You are going to miss them on their birthday, on the anniversary of their death, on your own birthday, at other important events, and during small incidents. This is natural. Let it be. You may as well make them and their memories a part of your life. After all, death is the other side of life. You are standing at one end of the river and they on the other, you are on this side of the horizon, and they on the other. Horizons don’t disappear, nor does the river of time cease to flow.
Our emotions make us human. Positively directed, they make us divine; misdirected, they bring out the devil. Self-realization does not mean you lose all human emotion. On the contrary, you become so compassionate that you could cry at the slightest pain of others.
“O Ananda!” said Buddha, “parting from loved ones is inevitable.”
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The loss of a loved one is devastating, crippling and one of the hardest life experiences to get over. No matter how bleak the situations appears though, know that there is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The questions below will help you understand better how to deal with the grief and eventually, let go and find peace.
I’ve always dreaded the loss of a loved one. Why does death create such pain and fear?
Death asked Life, “We are simply the flip side of each other, yet why do people love you and hate me?”
“Because,” said Life, “I’m a beautiful lie, and you’re the painful truth.”
Fear is our oldest acquaintance; it is easily recognized. Like with their possessions, humans have attachment to their fears too. If we change our perspective, the nature of the fear changes too. If you start to look upon death as a mere pause and not an abrupt end, you may even begin to like it, much less loath it.
The loss of a loved one also can help us view death differently. Nothing is dying, nothing is taking rebirth. Don’t let the illusion fool you. Matter is merely being transformed. No matter what your belief, irrespective of whether or not you believe in the afterlife, rebirth, or reincarnation, the real you remains the immutable soul. Read more here.
We often hear about how the loss of a loved one changes someone permanently. Can we lessen the impact of loss if we are prepared for it?
Loss in (and of) life is not a question of if but when. Whatever we are attached to or hold dear in our hearts, losing it is only a matter of time. It is inevitable.
Ask yourself if you wish to feel differently. If so, begin with the assumption that nothing or no one else is going to change. They are where they always have been, they are exactly where they are supposed to be. Develop a broader view, distract yourself positively, look at the brighter side, practice loving-kindness towards yourself and others, and gradually, your perspective will begin to shift. When it does, everything else will shift with it.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Loss is unavoidable, grief isn’t. Death is certain. And life, well, life isn’t certain. Its uncertainty, unpredictability, even irrationality, is what makes it what it is: worthwhile, a blessing. You can see its attributes as appalling, boring, and cunning or as adventurous, beautiful, and captivating. Your choice. That’s the ABC of life. Read more here.
The loss of a loved one, after a long illness, has left me drained and broken. Is she at least at peace now so that I can find my own?
It is one of the most agonizing, most painful experiences — to see a loved one wither away in front of your eyes while you put a brave face and watch helplessly. We are more fragile and more caring than we would ever know. The greater we care about someone the more their pain we feel in our own hearts. Is there any way to be at peace during this difficult time?
Even if there’s no afterlife, even if there’s no heaven or hell, it doesn’t really matter because an infinite existence awaits us. All rivers eventually end up in the sea regardless of their course, all the drops of rain either merge into ponds, rivers, lakes, oceans or they are absorbed by the earth. If nothing, they simply evaporate and go back to the source. Either way, from infinitesimal they become infinite.
This is the nature of Nature. Everything must return to its source in its pristine form. It’s not about living or dying, it’s restoration of our original state. Death is not the end of life, but the beginning of it. If you have faced the loss of a loved one, know that they are free now. Read more here.
I have faced difficulties all my life and the loss of a loved one recently is the final straw. Will I ever be happy?
Your bad time will end the moment you stop seeing it as bad. The “bad” will go away and time will continue to tick, for Time, in its own right, is beyond classification, it never stops nor ends. Everything is impermanent, transient, and interdependent. It’s a passing phase. It is unreasonable, even foolish, to expect that time will always be “good”. Time, like nature, like everything else in our infinite universe, moves indiscriminately.
Life does not know what you want, it only sees what you do. And even if it could understand what you want from it, it is too unattached, too wise to take you too seriously. Have you ever noticed how it flees in a split second? This is the life we dearly hold, protect, cherish, and cling to for decades. But, when it leaves, it does so abruptly, even cruelly. And so it goes even with the loss of a loved one.
Whatever is your present, learn to be grateful and enjoy it. This is the way to take care of yourself. And, care, I may add, is a peculiar and a paradoxical sentiment. If you don’t take care, it’ll wear you out and you’ll be careworn. And if you do take care, it will set you free and you’ll be carefree. You choose. Read more here.
For the people left behind after the loss of a loved one, how can life be lived more meaningfully?
“I don’t know if I have changed but I feel and think differently now. I’m in immense pain but still, I’m not angry with my circumstances, life, or God. I’ve realized that I’m the creator of all my sufferings. All I have is a deep love for every person I ever met. They are all me.
There was a time when I had energy and life but no idea what to do with it and now when I’ve gained a pinch of wisdom, there is no energy or life left. I wish I could get a chance to put it to good use with the right intent. That’s my only regret.”
The loss of a loved one puts life into perspective. Please know that one day it’s going to come to an end. Live your life like you love it and care for it. Petty thoughts, emotions, grudges, resentment, negativity, we really don’t have the time for all this. And, if you think you do, think again.
Make up or move on. Read more here.
The loss of a loved one has left me consumed with guilt because he took his own life. How do I deal with this?
Suicide is one of those things: difficult to come to terms with. The ones left behind are never released from the rattling chains of “why” and “what-if” feelings, that, perhaps they could have prevented it when they noticed suicidal signs. No one is responsible for a soul’s departure from this world, not even the person committing the suicide, or with a person with suicidal signs because my view is that while it may seem one has done it out of choice, in reality, life or death, such an extreme step represents the mind’s failure (and not a conscious selection) to convince itself to remain committed to life. Suicide or suicidal thoughts are not a choice but a fixation.
The loss of a loved one can be a wakeup call. Life could do without our judgments on everything. On the choice of life or death, when someone lives gratefully, it’s their courage and will, and when they decide to be unhappy, it’s their choice. Yes, the loved ones around make all the difference, but in a progressive society, in an evolved consciousness, we do not hold others responsible for our choices. Abundance or paucity is our own doing (or undoing). Read more here.
The loss of a loved one, an elderly relative, has left me feeling scared of growing old. Old age means death. How do I get over this fear?
Aging is not only inevitable, it’s alright. Really, it’s okay. It’s fine. It’s beautiful. For, there’s no substitute for the grace, wisdom and stability that comes with aging.
I think one of the greatest rewards of aging is the maturity of the mind. It’s utterly liberating when you are doing the best you can but you couldn’t care less how or whether the world is valuing it.
If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one and its impact on your life, remember, no one can take away your dreams from you. The blows from the hammer of time can crack your skin, it can make your bones fragile, but it can’t dent your soul, your heart. The brain may slow down but the wisdom and peace you carry within are ageless. As long as the desire to live is alive, so long as there’s something you aspire to learn, you are not old. Read more here.
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