Natural Mind Magic

Persistent grief

Kalden and Samten
Kalden and Samten

While it naturally takes time to recover from the shock of the death of someone close to us, at some point we do need to be able to complete our farewells and move on with our own life. Remaining stuck in the past can lead to problems for ourselves and others around us.

When someone dies, even if their death was not unexpected, for example following a long illness or in extreme old age, it still comes as a shock for those close to them. And of course, if the death was unexpected or particularly sudden, the shock is much greater. At such times, it's normal to experience feelings of unreality, of being knocked sideways, of being beside oneself, even feeling disembodied as though not fully present. It's also quite common to feel emotionally numb. These are all normal symptoms of shock, and they will subside with time. Also during the first few days following a death, it's not uncommon to dream about the dead person, and even experience a sense of his or her presence; many people find this comforting – it can be as though the person is saying goodbye.

However, once the initial shock has subsided and any activities associated with the funeral and other practicalities are over, the bereaved person may find that the grief seems to intensify.

There can be different aspects to this grief. There can be concern for the dead person, wondering what's become of them; worry about those left behind; and sadness at one's own sense of loss.

There may also be emotional ups and downs and mixed feelings, including anger towards the person who has died and left others behind, resentment towards those who remain, and guilt towards oneself for not having done enough to help, or a sense of regret for unfinished business. Sometimes we may feel resentful of others who seem to get over the loss too easily; it may seem disrespectful of the person's memory to bounce back too soon.

Our current Western society no longer offers such clear-cut forms of expression for grief as those offered by more traditional cultures. For those without strong religious guidance, it's up to the individual to find his or her own way. People have their own views – or sometimes no views at all – as to what happens to the person who dies. Some think it's just superstitious nonsense to believe in any sort of continuity after death; however such a dogmatic insistence contradicts the experience and evidence of many other people. There are many accounts of near-death experiences, and one doesn't have to hold any particular religious views to be open to the possibility of some kind of continuity after death.

And, while this message is primarily intended for those grieving the departure of human friends and relatives, it is of course very common for people to feel intense grief for the loss of an animal companion. Other people can be dismissive of the intensity of your feeling for an animal, which can make it even harder to bear.

So what can you do to let go, with love, and move on with your life?

First of all, it's important to give yourself time to recover from the shock, and understand that it's normal to move through stages in your grief, including experiencing mood swings and mixed feelings. It's also important to understand that letting go and moving on does not mean forgetting the person. It means honouring the memory of them, wisely and compassionately, and finding some kind of completion.

In the past, people relied heavily on religious teachings and rituals, and for many people these are still a great source of comfort and strength. Prayer can be of tremendous help, if you can do that.

There are also personal rituals and practices you can find for yourself, to help you do whatever you need to do in order to let go and move on. For example, many people find it greatly comforting to imagine speaking to the person who has died, in order to resolve any unfinished issues. You might create in your mind a safe space, such as a beautiful garden, and imagine inviting the person, in the form in which you knew them but appearing now in perfect health, to join you as you walk around the garden. You may want to talk about the past in a loving, compassionate way, or perhaps just walk around in a companionable silence. To forgive past wrongdoing does not mean condoning or approving destructive behaviour; it means understanding that many causes, conditions, pressures, and confusions contribute to our making mistakes and doing terrible things; understanding this does not absolve us from responsibility for our actions, but it does allow us to view them with compassion and humility. Bearing a grudge serves no one; least of all the grudge-holder, who carries the burden of the past. Forgiving means putting the burden down and allowing old injuries to heal.

You can practise this imaginary healing conversation repeatedly if you find it helpful, until you find the sense of completion that allows you to move on.

Here is another simple but profound way to begin the process of making peace with the past and bringing unfinished business to completion. Sit quietly and bring your attention to your own present moment of being, becoming aware of your breathing. After a few moments, begin to allow to arise, as though in your heart, a sense of wishing that you, and the person who has died, may find peace and fulfilment. Imagine that wish arising in your heart, and let it take the form of a light, perhaps a golden light, or a white light. Imagine that light expanding to fill your whole body, and then spreading out around you, out into the world, out into the sky, out into the universe, across all of space and time, to touch all beings, including all those who are living and all those who have died, including the one who was close to you, including yourself. All are touched with the light from your heart, the light that is at the heart of all beings, and as everyone is touched by the light, so they find the peace and fulfilment they seek.

The more often you do this practice, the deeper will be the healing; the sense of a wider connection with others also brings a different perspective to personal loss.

These are just some suggestions for ways to work through the grieving process, and let go with love, and move on. You may also find it helpful to find someone you can trust to talk things over with, or even to enlist the help of a counsellor or other professional. Employing professional assistance is not a sign of weakness; it's a matter of taking responsibility for seeking skilled and experienced help when you need it. A good counsellor doesn't tell you what to do; he or she helps you find the strength and wisdom already there within yourself.

You owe it to yourself, to the person who has died, and to those who remain, to learn how to heal and move on with the rest of your life.

Remember: be kind to yourself, allow the process to unfold, and seek out the ways to bring it to completion that will work for you.

I hope you've found this short article useful. Thank you for reading it. I wish you well on your journey.