Life, as you know it, stops when someone you love dies.
What was once an unending future filled with love and companionship, suddenly - and against our will - becomes an uncertain future with no instructions on how to navigate the fallout. A future that is overwhelmingly filled with pain, confusion, and loneliness. This is not what we had planned.
We thought that life would follow our well-laid designs and hopes for the future, but, that is not the nature of life. No matter how strongly we want to hold onto the belief that we have control over our futures, the overwhelming proof is that we have very little control over the random events that can happen in life.
Our Western culture has inadvertently led us to believe that life is predictable. If we follow the rules laid before us, a happy and rewarding life will roll out in front of us. But what happens when something unexpected does occur, and death or illness enters our life? We are left unprepared, and ill-equipped, to deal with the challenges.
Many of us live as if we think that we, and our loved ones, have all of the time in the world. Death is something that happens to other people - not to us. Frequently, especially when we are at our happiest in life, we become very comfortable with the status quo. We start to actually believe that life is under our control, and will only change when we want it to. Our family picture hanging above our mantle is symbolic of what we expect from life...everyone happy and healthy. Is this really too much to ask? According to history, the answer is yes, and by believing that life will be predictable, we set ourselves up for failure.
Change is the Only Certainty in Life
In all of human history, birth and death are the two things we can exclusively count on. As our lives unfold, the content that happens between birth and death is in a state of constant flux. Our persistent belief that we can somehow escape the inevitability of death, or changes in life, only secures our inability to cope when the unthinkable does happen.
The death of someone we love is one of the most painful changes that life can hand us. Many of us have already discovered that we cannot avoid death or the pain it brings. Well, we can try to avoid the pain, but, it will wait for us indefinitely--until we are finally ready to face it. There is no way to outrun it. Pain and loss demand to be felt and honored. Resistance to the pain and changes that must naturally occur in our lives after loss, only prolongs our suffering.
I realized years after the loss of my loved ones, that when we are in prolonged grief, many times we are only focused on the pain of our loss; how miserable we are without our loved one. Allow yourself to feel the pain of your loss, but don't stay stuck in it indefinitely. We honor our loved ones by remembering the wonderful love we shared. Honor your lost loved one and your pain. Do your best to remember the loving times, and be grateful for the experience of sharing that love. We really were so blessed to have had this experience of great love.
Nothing will ever change the fact that we will always have a void in our life, where our loved one used to be. We will always miss them. This is the reality of experiencing the death of someone we love. But, through the gradual process of learning to live with our loss, we can become mindful that ultimately, even though it might not seem like it, we do have power over what thoughts, feelings and emotions we allow ourselves to focus on.
Finding a Way to Acceptance
We could bring so much peace into our lives by accepting that physical death is the inevitable outcome for all of us, and it can come at any time. Not everyone gets to live to old age.
Every day, and every moment, spent in this human existence, no matter how painful some of the moments may be, are unique and individual experiences, and ones we should not take for granted.
Life and death, love and loss, are two different sides of the same coin. The coin itself represents life.
No matter how badly we want to ignore the death side of the coin, it is an inescapable part of life. We cannot have one side of the coin without the other. Some philosophers believe that the fear of death is actually a fear of living. To contemplate our own death, or the death of those we love, we have to look closely at how we are spending the limited amount of time we have in our lives, and our relationships. Are we really making the most of them? Are we really living, or are we just going through the motions of getting from one end of life to the other?
When we only focus on one side of the coin, we deny ourselves the ability to embrace life as it truly is....an experience filled with the extremes of love, loss, pain and joy, beauty and heartbreak. Duality is the nature of our multi-dimensional human existence. This is life. Embrace all of the experiences and emotions that life hands you.
I have learned to accept that not only am I not promised tomorrow, neither are any of my remaining loved ones. Through understanding this, I have come to a place in my life where I can be grateful for my time with them today, and see it for what a blessing it is. This is the alchemy of loss. If we allow it to, loss can forge us into a vessel that allows us to fully embrace and experience life, and the reality of its transience, in all of its brilliant and sacred offerings.
Remember that, ultimately, in this grand and tragic experience called life, Love, is the only thing that will outlast everything we see right now. Our connection with our loved ones will never be lost. Regardless of the pain we may experience in life, this love and connection will remain ours throughout eternity.
By allowing love and loss to walk side by side through the remainder of your days, you can learn to live with some joy. Even the most painful of lives are sacred. This is your life. Find a way to live with some joy again.