Coping with Grief and Fear

I lost my husband in November after 25 years of marriage. I’ve joined a bereavement group on line and realize that there are so many people suffering. Grief and fear have always been part of the human experience but now with the virus, we are facing these emotions globally. I’m learning that emotions like grief and fear can transform into compassion with the practice of mindfulness. It is slow and painful but necessary.

Grief and fear go hand in hand. When we lose somebody, we grieve the loss of love and we also face an unknown future. Death forces us to remember our immortality and the temporary nature of all things.

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Albert Gyorgy, ‘El vacío del alma’

When your whole identity breaks apart, you feel like you no longer fit in or even trust your skin. Conversations and events seem inconsequential and we find ourselves half in and half out of the real world we live in. What can we hold on to when everything is unstable and transitory?

We’re wired to believe that life is rational and love everlasting. Our perception of our life with a spouse, however imperfect, just makes sense. There’s a reasonable sequence of events, a social function, a shared commitment. When a person dies, or there’s a traumatic event, our perception of a fixed life shatters and we feel betrayed and empty. How can this be after having invested so much time and energy? We experience the truth of the temporal nature of all things and our immortality. We begin to see that underneath the routine of the material world, there’s a powerful energy that alters our reality, that forces us to evolve. It is infinitely organic, ineffable and seemingly indiscriminate.

My husband used to say, No somos nadie, which means, We are nobody. He was right.

There is no way around death, except to go through it. Each person copes with grief and fear differently but I think everyone should expect to feel sick and crazy. It is normal to lose our moral and physical strength and sensibility. There are feelings and behaviors that people don’t like to confess, but death encourages all sorts of things like excess, escapism, unpredictability, anxiety, saying bizarre things, breaking things including people’s feelings, listlessness and selfishness.

When we embrace these adverse experiences as normal, without judgment or labels, we realize that we are simply human and that somehow out of pain and suffering, out of confronting nothingness, we are part of the universe. When we accept that we are no longer our self, that we are in fact different, we begin to give ourselves time to become reacquainted. To become balanced and compassionate.

Meditation helps. Sitting and doing just that, being with oneself in acceptance. In this case, meditation can take on the role of forgiveness. It communicates to yourself that in spite of your anger, your sickness and your craziness—you deserve to be loved and to sit in dignity and have peace.  In spite of all the ugliness and darkness, there is light and goodness in your heart and in your being. There is unconditional love and you are deserving.

I also do light yoga and running. I think we underestimate the impact our body has on our mindset and emotions. It really helps to get blood flowing, to insert air into our spine and joints, to feed our heart oxygen. Our heart requires a lot of nourishment when it’s broken.

Recently, I’ve been thinking that death leads to reincarnation for the deceased and for us, the living,  the opportunity for rebirth after all the suffering. Part of the suffering is facing heavy memories, digging up old skeletons and getting angry.  Part of letting go is forgiving ourselves and our love ones for all transgressions and recalling the loving, sentimental moments. To say, It’s okay and I’m so sorry.

I’m thinking this is a form of redemption and a transition to new life.

Letting Go and Coming Together

“When we do zazen alone, it is not the same as when we do it with others. To do it alone the result is not so deep. And to continue doing it alone is difficult. But to do zazen with many others is the same as many logs burning.” Zen Teachings of Master Taisen Deshimaru

We can reconcile any difficulties in life with awareness and appreciation of shared human experience, that which comes from the discipline of mindfulness.

I am at a funeral parlor looking at the body of a woman who belonged to my childhood. In the wooden box, she looks petite and empty while in life she filled up the room with noble height and energy. I look around and think, what do I say to the mourning family, and to this group of distant friends and strangers? What words have meaning when no one really knows the association, the level of attachment, the impact she had?

One by one a person gets up to speak. Then the music plays, followed by a lively preacher. It is all so simple now. It is human connection, feelings moving, a communication of spirit. The preacher knows this, for this is his gift, to make us feel connected in this strange and uncomfortable space called death. He knows that we all have something in common, and it is more than our relationship to this woman. I sit real still and open myself to my senses.  I am no longer in my body.

I am at another funeral now with a different woman in the box, older, petite, empty. I am told I am to sit in the front row with the family. I don’t think it is my place to be in the front row but I do as I am told and as the ceremony proceeds, I become her family.

Awareness of shared human experience, that which comes from the discipline of mindfulness, is the beginning of all meaningful and transformative interaction in society. This awareness can only be achieved when we strip away identity, knowledge, language, words that define us, the constructs of our mind that categorize and delineate who we are in relation to each other, and our role in society.

It is difficult to see each individual in our midst, especially those who we have no real attachment to, no association with, no understanding of how we adorn our lives– as family. Family as in equal in value to those closest to us. It is difficult to see others as in need of our love and protection. I think if we can think this way, and be this way more, as in coming together as family, we will be fair and kind and enlightened in our interactions with each other. We would give ourselves permission to reach out more across lines. Why is this so difficult?

I see a child sitting on the carpet building a tall structure out of wooden blocks. There she is again on a beach erecting a sand castle. I see the shock and sadness that envelopes her when the tower topples over. What does she do now, with this emptiness, this hole that is left in place of her creation? What does she have to learn in this process?

There is a swift pain and sadness when we first learn about letting go. We want the tower or the castle to stay on forever. It is so beautiful and we enjoyed building it. And yet, when it is knocked over by time, a passerby, or an unexpected tide, we are required to see things differently. It is the great encounter with the silence that lies between then and now, the precise moment in which one must decide, shall I start again on my own or walk away in search of solace and company? And on and on it goes.

When we talk about the practice of mindfulness and we share a deep desire for a more just and enlightened society, we are talking about knocking down our towers and castles, and allowing the tenderness of heart, and loss to come into our lives, to see the emptiness and futility of holding onto earthly creations. They are all folly and temporary besides, and to be able to look into that open space in time, just when the castle has fallen and we are left suspended, deciding what to do and where to go, it is there we search for new possibility and belonging.

Herein lies the difficulty and promise of letting go and coming together.