I am sitting propped up in my bed in the UK. It’s a grey morning and I am feeling a little colder than I have done in the last few days. It is the first day of March! I wasn’t quite expecting 30 degrees in March but then again, I wasn’t expecting a lot of things that have happened since December 2020.
Life is full of the unexpected. How can we best deal with it?
Being in the UK for the festive season, I ran into numerous people I had not seen in quite a while. The conversations would go something like this …
"What’s going on with you? You look great!"
"Oh well … my children's father passed away very unexpectedly, and I also lost my father shortly afterwards".
"OMG! I'm so sorry" they'd say. "That’s a lot how come you look so well?"
As you can imagine it was not the easiest of conversations but I somehow managed to do it with a smile.
"It has been one of the most challenging seasons of my life, but somehow I am getting through it and that makes me feel good" I would confidently say.
But the truth is, and what they didn't know, is I spent many days in bed, refused calls, cried unfathomably, then felt guilty because I had not cried in a while. I watched back to back Netflix, had too many glasses of wine, and at times it has even been extremely hard to eat. I have had moments where I have felt so angry or filled with anxiety and I just don't know what to do or whether I was coming or going.
Grief is an emotion that has a life of its own, it carries every feeling within it and sometimes there is no real way to discern it.
I often wonder what it would be like if we didn’t expect things to run smoothly and accepted interruptions with more ease? What difference would that make in our lives? One of the great lessons of Buddhism is - impermanence that everything that comes into being will go out of being.
Here are six things that have certainly helped me throughout this process:
The shock of loss to all of our being — emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual — is of great magnitude. When we wake in the morning, we question the very nature of who we are. Upon awakening, there is a split second when everything is okay in our world.
And then we remember. The storm clouds cover our head again.
Our bodies and mind need to be fed during this time, in order to handle such trauma. Self-care is personal, and I did the things I knew my body wanted:
Lots of baths, fresh juices, sticking to a daily structure as much as possible, meditating in the morning, journaling, listening to inspiring audiobooks, talking with friends, getting out when I could, taking walks, admitting my weakness, and learning to nurture myself.
These were the base things that I knew I needed.
2. Accept maybe just maybe there is a lot you don't know
As I watched my three children, experience a particularly bad December after losing their father and then their grandfather (my father) in January 2021. There were definitely moments where I remember feeling like is there anything else that could possibly go wrong? Almost to the point of disbelief, it seemed like it was just one catastrophe after another.
This experience has shown me that children are more resilient than we give them credit for. They tend to be ready for anything especially as we know in life things don’t always go to plan. I wondered how they seemingly coped with this particular unfortunate situation and the consensus was we just have to move forward through it, work with it and find a way through. Giving up is not an option. I guess there is no real set formula for grief. Nothing can really prepare you for the various stages of denial, anger, depression, acceptance, (in no particular order) there aren't even any guarantees that we will ever experience all of these emotions. There is no standard way! I suppose the bottom line is, a life lost is a life lost.
Reflecting on all of this, it reminded me of all the times I had battled through things insisting they work a particular way, my way, getting more and more frustrated and now seeing my children so young but already learning the art of acceptance when things do not go their way. This realisation has really helped me to talk about our recent lost loved ones fondly with friends and other family members, in a funny kind of way, by bringing them up in conversations makes it almost feel like they are still with us. My children have decided to focus on the things they know would make their father proud of them, they know their capabilities, while simultaneously focusing on something they also love to do.
When the pain of loss happens, it is as if a lightning bolt comes and shakes the foundation of the ground. We begin to question everything — our identity, who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. There is power in surrendering to the unknown.
In coming to accept that we no longer have control over what happens to us, it is only then we can truly realise that what we once knew we no longer can know. In fact, much of the spiritual experience is coming to realise all that we are not and less about what we think we are or what we know. In this place, there is great freedom and it helps us to meet life’s adversity with courage, head-on.
3. Allow time and space.
I have read it can take up to two years to grieve the loss of a loved one. In human time, that seems like an eternity. There are of course stages and each stage brings a remembrance, especially once you start hitting the “year marks” and key dates, for example, a loved one's birthday. Recognising that grief needs time and allowing space for the grief process to unfold gave me permission.
4. Accept that sometimes you have a bad day for no apparent reason.
Yes, I would have a day (or several) where it felt like there was no reason at all to feel upset. I wanted to refuse to let it get to me. I would tell myself “Stay productive, keep it going; at least, that’s what everyone else would want me to do.”
On those days, I just kept away from everyone. Watched TV or slept if I needed to.
I came to learn that grief gently pressures you to go within. I would just tell my friends, “having a bad day. Can’t talk. That’s all.” I didn’t try to force it to be something different.
5. Allow light in the middle of it all.
Although there were many weeks of despair that seemed to bleed together, there were certainly many days in between when I experienced joy. A fun catch-up with a friend, a no-reason-to-be-happy-day when I felt vibrant and creative.
Embrace those days and don’t feel guilty. Life is to be lived because one day — and we all know the adage — we will die.
6. Accept that this too shall pass.
Like everything else, all suffering will go, until one day it comes again.
The greatest thing about death is that it helps us grow up. It matures us. It brings wisdom. It strengthens our bones. It teaches us to let go. We learn we can go through hard times and with little effort the sun shines again. We can take off our shoes and touch our toes to sand and run on the beach, knowing that we made it through. Our happiness never really went away — it still exists inside of us — yet we are remembering it anew.
Fresh, transformed, aliveness engages us again.
In my experience It is often the unexpected that pushes us to grow and develop, otherwise, we stay put and stick with the easy option. Life is very fragile, we are not in control of it, but we can work with what we have got and learn to live with the unexpected.