by Robert Wilkinson
After long reflection and meditation, I decided it was time to write something on grief and bereavement, since events that throw us into deep grief can safely be called an "intersection of fate and free will." Losing a loved one is one of the hardest, and occasionally THE hardest, thing that happens to us humans. The price of love is grief, since if we choose to love another in this impermanent world, one of us must go first, and the other is left to grieve.
Grief is an acknowledgment of the love that we shared. It happens to all of us, sooner or later, and when it does, it creates a rip in the fabric of our lives. When a loved one dies, whether our parent, child, spouse, sibling, grandparent, friend, or pet, our lives change forever, in big ways and small. It triggers major inner changes, and offers us a chance to know what is truly important to us and what is not. Though difficult, we must learn to heal if our lives are to be lived with purpose or meaning after the death, and not simply be an unending struggle with feelings we don't want to have.
Regardless of who, or where, or how, the death of a loved one triggers an immediate grief response. However, it is important to note here that grieving is more than just feeling badly; it is a sacred work that must be done if we are to heal from the loss to whatever degree is possible, and move into our future unencumbered by the shock and heaviness resulting from the death. Either we choose to heal, or we suppress the pain and our world goes pretty flat and gray.
For some, healing is relatively quick, while for others it can take many years to come to peace with the loss. What works one time may not work at other times, and even when you feel like you've reached a relative level of peace, you may occasionally find yourself going still deeper, with painful feelings coming up again. Then it is important not to judge yourself for feeling badly, and instead appreciate that your self-awareness is deepening, and therefore your capacity to love and show compassion to yourself and others.
There are many ways to grieve, and I have found that each is an "expert" on their own grief process. There are many feelings to be experienced, most of them difficult. Often well-meaning people will try to "help" the newly bereaved by offering platitudes, advice, or unfortunately, forms of controlling behavior, such as telling the bereaved "don't cry," or "it's okay to cry." Most of the hundreds of bereaved people I've known and worked with do not want to hear these kinds of offerings, and do not need to be coaxed into behaviors that may or may not work for them in that moment.
People who grieve are walking between two worlds, life and death, and have to deal with deep feelings the best they are able. While it is appropriate to suggest forms of therapy, meditation, worship, and healing rituals, ultimately those who grieve must find their own way through the darkness, which may not resemble anything that others can understand.
It is important not to isolate when in grief, even though that is a normal response due to feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed with feelings that are out of control. The death of a loved one is certainly a time when we need caring, compassionate people around, and those who are dealing with death need support. A support group can be especially valuable when doing deep grief work. It is also normal to sustain feelings of loss, heaviness, and sadness long after the event.
Just keep in mind that too much grief is not good for a person to sustain over years, as it can turn toxic and affect every part of your life, whether you know it or not. If you know someone who has sustained a major loss and they are still having difficulty years after the event, they may need professional help.
The result of healthy grief work is not that it becomes more morbid, but rather the departed loved one and associated memories become incorporated in the life in forms of deep significance. One component to the grief process and healing is the importance of honoring the various anniversaries that come up connected to our departed loved one. Since we'll be remembering them anyway, we may as well use the time to reflect on what they meant to us, and how our lives changed for the better as a result of our time together on Earth. That way we honor the bond of timeless love that we shared, and can find a deeper compassion for who we are in our imperfect and wounded human condition.
I wrote "Love, Dad" hoping that it could help those bereaved who are struggling with the death of their nearest and dearest. I have received a lot of feedback over the years that it succeeds in that modest intention. If you know someone dealing with a significant death, you may find that some things I offer in the work can help your grieving friends and loved ones to find their way back to a more purposeful life, or at least ease their suffering even a little. Even though it was written about my experience with a specific type of death, I have found that there are some universals in grief work, and that by understanding the process, all forms of grief can be healed keeping those universals in mind.
If for some reason you can't get a copy from your local bookstore, I keep a number on hand for sale. If you would like to purchase a copy from me, or find out more about the specifics of the work, please email me at email@example.com and we can take it from there. And now, a couple of pieces from "Love, Dad:"
From "Love as the Ultimate Healer:"
... Most are eager to learn and grow in ways that will make their lives better and lessen their pain. I have encouraged each to find the healing way appropriate for them, as long as the process remains harmless. Harmlessness allows love to come forth.
The more you embrace love as the ultimate healer, the less you want to harm or be harmed. True healing always seems to lead to less fear. As fear is diminished by an increasingly compassionate view, our life is transformed. Love is greater than any loss, making it a universally valid constant in all grief work. Love yourself, love your child, love your mate, and love everything and everyone else. It is guaranteed to be safe under all conditions, and universally leads to more love.
Still, as loving as you are, be careful how much grief you take on at one time. It takes time to heal your grief, and your feelings will occasionally get overloaded. Just keep loving yourself. As you heal, you will outlast and outlive the stinging acid of your sorrow. Since you do not know when the process will end, live and love one moment at a time. You do not have to push the river. Let it flow, and move through your deep feelings. Find your own level, and shift as needed. There are no medals for pushing yourself beyond your level of grief-endurance, so when in doubt, love and breathe and love. Ultimately, your emotions bind you to all others in your Soul-field within time.
At some intangible points in the process your pain becomes compassion for the pain of others, and your sorrow, the grief of the world. This opens the door to a deeper mystery around how you may be a comforter of others, thereby losing your personal sorrow in a selfless Soul service.
From "The Quest:"
Being a vast mystery, death creates a void, and impels you to accept a quest, whether for meaning, purpose, or simply relief from suffering. In any case, your life will never be the same again. You really cannot do anything about the past, except learn from it. You can, however, do something about your future, which has been altered irrevocably. It helps to take an inventory of coping skills by looking at past losses and how you handled them. See your strengths and identify what you need in your present pain. Merely revising your attitude is not enough to heal deep wounds. Learn to use the ego-shattering experience to examine and change your life patterns as needed.
In this process of self renewal, notice carefully the tremendous changes going on inside yourself, involving your feelings, impressions, interpretations, and realizations. These inner changes are related to the changes going on in your outer world, and they are the signposts for a new life. See how you are the same, and how you are different.
Of course, there is always more to be explored. More grieving, more healing, more work, more play, more joy to be found, uncovered from the depths of the hell you have been through. It is a lifelong mystery to be worked (and played) with, an ego-challenge like no other. It is a facet of the mystery of your life quest for purpose. This is a pivotal point in your life story where you may find understanding and meaning. We all have a higher potential in action, thought, and feeling. Confronting death helps us to glimpse that potential. To what end will you use your experience and feelings and insights? How are they serving you? Are you learning patience, relevance, and forgiveness to find peace of mind? You can use the silent spaces to listen to your heart.
On this sacred day, I hope that all of you reading this, and especially those who grieve for a dead loved one, find some measure of healing and true peace of mind. Aum and blessings.
Copyright © 2006 Robert Wilkinson