by Robert Wilkinson
Those of you who know my life story know that January 9 is a sacred day for me. 26 years ago my life was thrown into chaos and I abruptly found myself shipwrecked in hell. That singular event marked a line between past and future, and set me on a quest that has taken me into the deepest Mystery I never dreamed of before that moment. An Eon has passed since then.
Over the past 9 months I have again been visited twice, ”up close and personal,” by Death. These deaths, one last April, one last October, of two who were as close to me as my own heart, again forced me to confront the Void, and put me “in the Zone.”
Their deaths reminded me anew of the fragility of life and how fast our loved ones leave us when it’s time. And that we have absolutely no power to negotiate with Death. We accept it, in humility, awe, and reverence, as part of the Divine Mystery.
The two major deaths I’ve experienced over the past year have again reaffirmed a great Truth I learned many years ago. In this life there are only 2 really important moments: birth and death. All else in between is commentary. That’s helped me step back from petty dramas and distractions. It also taught me to value giving and receiving Love in the moment, and not waiting for tomorrow, for often, tomorrow never comes.
I’ve learned to value the preciousness, if somewhat reluctantly, of each opportunity to learn how to live with Death, since these have taught me how to live with Life. I believe it requires a conscious honoring of both Life and Death to come to peace with who we are, why we’re here, why we love others, why others love us, and why we must accept that sometimes it’s time to say goodbye, at least in this world.
And so this year I am again in the Zone, with fresh memories of the deaths of two of my closest loved ones. Still, I’m truly feeling good, feeling strong, feeling the love, feeling the beauty, and feeling the tenderness and connectedness of all life. I am living proof that what did not kill me made me stronger. I transformed my conditional love into Unconditional Love. That’s one blessing that comes from overcoming the fear associated with Death.
Of course, it took conscious effort to steer my “ship of personality” so it didn’t get destroyed on the rocks of my own suffering and pain long ago during the first 7 years of this journey from Death to Life. I included elements of what I learned on that quest in my book, “Love Dad,” so that those who also find themselves on the bleeding edge of the void that accompanies the death of a loved one might know they are not alone.
We all grieve something and/or someone. That’s also a universal of the human condition. If you’ve ever loved, you’ve known grief. The Way to Wholeness is through the Valley of the Shadow. It helps to know how to navigate that Valley.
Some techniques that have worked for me over the years can also work for you, regardless of where you are in your own grief process. I’ve written about them in the book and in my January 9 articles across the years. I’ve included links below for those who want to take the journey of a lifetime.
It’s also true that some of the techniques of navigating deep grief may or may not work in a given moment of suffering, since part of the process involves feeling deep feelings. These are often hectic, chaotic, and painful. However, there are universal elements in a healthy grief process and we can learn them. This knowledge helps us move through our own grief process, as well as when we find ourselves experiencing pain with a loved one who is lost in deep grief.
The problem with not learning healthy modes of grief is that eventually we’ll confront Death and not know how to navigate the fear, shock, denial, and stunned numbness we feel when a loved one dies. Then our lives shatter. How well we put our life back together is determined by our ability to move through the process of reclaiming a meaningful life after an old life died and we felt some very heavy feelings of sadness and frustration.
I remember past years when January 9 came. In the beginning, they brought hurricanes of grief. Overwhelming, turbulent, tempestuous feelings that threatened to drown me even as I was smashed against the rocks of deep grief. The death of a child will do that to you.
The moment of her death blew my “doors of perception” wide open, setting into motion a 100 foot tsunami of feelings which oscillated between Life and Death. In learning to surf those intense waves of feelings, I also learned radical compassion for others, since we’ve all ridden those waves in this life as well as others.
That overwhelming wave form of sadness beyond description persisted for many years, not constantly, but it recurred enough to make me wonder if it would ever end. However, over time I learned to ride those waves into a greater understanding and a deeper and broader love. That let me experience the universality of Death and the connectedness of Life.
Over the years, I have found that consciously walking between worlds, regarding Death not as an enemy to be feared but as a manifestation of God that blesses us to embrace unconditional Love, helps us experience our mortality while also showing us the way beyond fear. The direct experience changes our perspective, and we learn to hear, feel, and know much deeper levels of existence.
The great Spiritual Master Astrologer Marc Edmund Jones wrote about the nature of human existence as a combination of the “horizontal” and “vertical” elements of life. The “horizontal” of our existence represents our interactions with the world. The “vertical” of our existence represents our connection to Spirit, showing our foundation and aspiration to flower and fulfill our life purpose.
Blyth’s death taught me to go deeper, much deeper than I ever went before. I had aspired to higher Truths before her, and yet have found even higher ones since her death. I came to realize that most of us build foundations, metaphoric “slabs” or “pier and beam” platforms on which our flowering consciousness finds its ground. These may be adequate up to a point, but sinking deep roots is the Way of Nature. It is how the giant trees stand upright even in the strongest winds.
While I had attained great heights of realization before Blyth, from her death I went deeper than I had ever gone before in this life. These depths allowed me to know the root of Life itself. That root has allowed me to grow into greater Love, Wisdom, and Intelligence than I ever knew before her death.
Life on Earth's a real trip. So is Death. You can’t prevent it, nor can you deny its profound presence. When an old way dies, we must adapt. How we adapt, what we learn, how we transform our conditional love to Unconditional Love, shows us a huge part of the Mystery of what our life is all about.
Tomorrow is never guaranteed. That’s why Death teaches us how to live in the NOW, and explore how to give and receive love the best we’re able, adapting with each change of a chapter of life. Death can help us learn to forgive a lot of the passing white noise of existence.
Death did at several points lead me to a greater faith, but it always seemed hollow to me until I fulfilled that faith in some form of “works.” That helped give me markers of how my life was progressing, step by baby step, until I could again go into the world without getting overwhelmed.
Over the years I learned the value of humor. I remember when I thought I would never smile or laugh again. The first time I laughed at something after her death I thought something was wrong. Then I came to realize that even in the depth of sorrow, life can sometimes be very silly, and that humor, irony, and a sense of life as an absurd play are always there, if we want to feel it.
So in the final analysis, we’re all chasing a Mystery. I’ve been chasing mine for 26 years. It began with the death of one who is closer to me than my own heartbeat.
I’ll close today with a small part of something from the introduction to “Love Dad,” written in 2001, which I titled “An Open Letter to my Readers.”
Through my grief work I have forever transformed the anger, fear, and complacency about life that were once within me, allowing me to move into a greater loving kindness and compassion for myself and others. This made my life again worth living, with renewed hope, faith, and love that grow stronger every day.
This is not to say I am completely healed, or have found the “magic bullet” that will remove grief, pain, and sorrow. What works for one may not work for another, and what works at one time may not work at another. One thing is certain, however: with the courage to embrace an unconditional love, the strength and resilience of a human heart can carry a person through hell itself and bring them out on the other side. Only love and strength can conquer the worst fear and pain a human being can confront. The rest of life will not frighten you so much, ever again.
So if you feel deeply at the death of a loved one, or even the death of those you do not know, take solace in the realization that you are tuning into Being a greater living, loving human than you have ever been before now. Your courage in holding the sacred space will transmute your conditional love into unconditional Love. And Love is stronger than Death.
Happy 26th Birthday, Blyth. You've changed my life and countless other lives forever. Thank you for making me a better man. Love, Dad.
If you want to order "Love Dad" at the best price on the internet, please visit the Author House bookstore at the page for "Love, Dad - Healing the Grief of Losing A Child." Though it was written as a result of the death of a child, what is explored in the work are ways to move through grieving any loss of any loved one, whether child, parent, sibling, pet, friend, or any other. It can also help you understand what the bereaved are going through, and perhaps help you to be a more compassionate caregiver, if that's your privilege.
If you want to explore more about the grieving and healing process, please visit my previous articles. Each one covers different elements and approaches to healing our grief. And of course, give yourself some space and time, since they will bring up some very deep feelings.
From 2008: For Those Who Grieve the Loss of A Child
From 2010: To Those Who Grieve the Death of A Loved One
From 2012: Letting Go Of Emotional Heaviness
As a great Sage once sang, “If I don’t see you no more in this world, I’ll meet you in the next one, and don’t be late.” We’re all in this together. And Love really is stronger than Death.
Copyright © 2014 Robert Wilkinson