A reader wrote in a few days ago expressing his devastation at a recent loss of a dear one. He couldn’t see himself getting over the loss any time soon and asked if I might have suggestions that might help.
Questions like this are really difficult. Even if I have dealt with loss before, every person has their own unique story and mental make up. And, I’ve realized over time that, no matter how close or similar your situation, you don’t ever truly know how another person is feeling. I asked him for a few days. And, the more I’ve thought of it, the more I’ve come to realize that I have only thoughts and lessons to to offer – no suggestions. So, here goes..
First, I have learnt that we must not deny or attempt to hold back our emotions. They are what they are. The answer after incidents that overwhelm us is to fully immerse ourselves in them and experience them. Only once we experience them can we accept what has truly happened. And, until we accept them, there is no way out. This is probably the hardest part of dealing with loss. I have known folk who’ve gone decades with having really accepted a loss of a life – it is not for the faint hearted.
Next, I have learnt that we must allow ourselves to play victim.. for a while. Jennifer Aniston once said that, when bad things happened, she gave herself 24 hours to play victim. I love that idea. Take the time you need to play victim but know that it is a limited window.
There’s a beautiful story story about a woman who went to The Buddha and asked him to bring her young son back from the dead. He said he would do it if she could bring food from a house in the village that hadn’t experienced loss. So, the woman knocked on the door of every house in the village and found that every home had experienced loss. Birth and death are a part of being human, she realized. Life must go on.
Master Yoda once said something very powerful – “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.”
In talking about the dark side, he pointed to a beautiful insight about the human experience. Mourning doesn’t do justice to the lives of those who are gone. Celebration does. Those who are gone stay with us in more ways than we imagine – their memories and ideals influence us and the way we lead our lives. Mourning does no good to anyone but ourselves. If those who were gone meant so much to us, maybe we ought to consider celebrating their lives by doing more good on their behalf?
I wrote yesterday that it is reflecting on deep experiences, and not age, that leads to wisdom. Adversity has the power to transform us into wiser and better people if we let it. Of course, you may ask, why this? And, why not something else? Nobody knows. All I’ve come to realize that the universe is unfolding as it should. We will likely never have the capacity to understand why it unfolds in this way.. but it does. We just get to choose our response.
And, when I think of responses to adversity, I am reminded of what has to be one of my (many) all-time favorite stories. A teenage girl was contemplating suicide after a few setbacks in school and in a relationship. She told her father that she was feeling suicidal. He took her to the kitchen and began boiling water in 3 vessels. She began ranting and railing about his insensitivity. But, he told her to wait. He then put in a potato, an egg and a few coffee beans into the 3 vessels.
Five minutes later, he said – when faced with water, people tend to react in one of three ways. Like the potato, many go in seemingly strong but come out soft and broken. Others, like egg, go in with a soft inside and come out hardened and cynical. But, then, when you look around, you notice the coffee beans – they go in, transform themselves, change the color of the situation and, if that wasn’t enough, add a beautiful aroma too. Now that you are faced with adversity, I ask you – what do you want to be? The potato, the egg, or the coffee bean?
The loss of a life is as difficult a test as they come. There isn’t an easy way out of it. But, there is a way out of it. It will require us to accept the pain, dig deeper, learn, grow and transform ourselves in the process. That isn’t easy. But, it is possible. It isn’t easy to do so alone. There is no way we would have emerged out of our losses if it wasn’t for our friends and family. But, we did. And, we are grateful for it.
Often, we seek to push very hard to change a situation we deem unfavorable without appreciating the fact that it is us who are meant to change.
Death, more than any other life event, can help us understand that this life is short. It is up to us to make it meaningful, make it count. We can choose to be the coffee beans.