Finding the Courage to Grieve

by Derek O'Neill

Loss and death visits all of us. Grief comes, and then goes, only to arrive again. If we continue to treat grief as something to avoid we are not only fooling ourselves, but also hurting ourselves. If there is no acceptance, there is no healing. You cannot control how loss shows up. In our experience of death, we can wish for only peaceful endings of long lives within the circle of people we care about, but there is no immunity from sudden and traumatic events. Accepting this truth at times of happiness is even more valuable than realizing it when there is a loss.

Death is the most difficult loss to accept. Different cultures have practices and rituals. Seeing the body after death is a common tool to help the mind – that can often go into denial to self-protect from pain – and acknowledge the reality of the loss. Ceremonies, sacraments, and rites serve an important purpose for both individuals and communities, but even with available outlets, accepting loss and death within your own conscious mind is an internal process. Teachings and wisdom provide the framework upon which you build your own house of healing.

When we grieve, an important process of acceptance and renewal begins. If we do not have an outlet for sorrow, emotions internalize and develop into anger, depression, and a disconnection from feeling. There are many manifestations of grieving, some healthy, healing, and unselfish; others focused on self-pity, fear, or narcissistic motivations. Being mindful of how we grieve is the goal, rather than feeling as if there is only one way to move through loss and death.

Grief and gratitude are not usually thought of together, but they walk together.

The insight that grief ultimately delivers is the gratitude for the time we have with the people we care about, and the gratitude we can develop about the nature of life. That nature is good and bad, joyous and sad, birth and death.

Without the darkness, there is no light. We would not know we were in illumination if it did not leave us at times.

There’s no replacing someone who has left us through death, but the idea that someone has become your “reason to live,” is going to destroy you. It is especially hard in the case of losing a child or a spouse. The key is to shift your perspective while these people are here with you. Love can be deeper than the ocean but it is not about needing someone to be alive. We each have our story in this existence. We cannot grasp on to a different reality from the one that is meant to be, or cling to someone who is transitioning from this life. Feeling like you can’t go on is not unusual but like everything else, it will change.

We hear stories about people, throughout history, who have lost everyone and everything, yet they find a way to emerge from unfathomable grief. Though most of us will never know this exact experience, we need to be in communion with everyone’s losses. There are no “lucky people” vs. “unlucky people.” Life and its varied, transient, non-selective nature is the source of events that happen to people – good, bad, peaceful, and traumatic.

You are fighting the natural order of life if you deny loss and try to avoid pain. Out of fear, there are individuals who run away from loss and death, sometimes abandoning people in need of emotional support, occasionally even a person who is dying. We have to be mindful not just of our own journey, but of those around us, and the actual people facing the end or a major shift. Our inability to process grief can come out in a negative way that hurts other people. It is hard for many people to even think about major loss or death, but until you integrate it into your life, you will lack the tools to take care of yourself and others who need your support during the stages of grief.

Loss and death can very easily throw us out of balance, and open up the floodgates of questions about the meaning of life and impermanence. Going through the stages of grief, with the tools of awareness and mindful observation, will help you fully feel, accept, and move forward when there is loss. When we are mindful we allow every sensation and emotion to move through us, in whatever way they need to manifest. Insight and enlightenment may take longer than you would wish. It is important to be in the moment. Grief can be excruciating but you must go down its path, one day at a time.

Our relationships with people are about connection, compassion, and love. Grief is the natural price we pay for these emotions that both enrich our lives and trigger pain when we lose a relationship or someone dies. Mindfulness brings us to the present, where we can evoke that love and connection in a new form after a person moves out of our life or passes to another existence.

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