Loss & Grieving
Dear People, a while ago when we were recording in Jamaica, we had a long, late-night discussion about friends who couldn’t let go of lost loved ones, and were suffering because of it.
We knew of one girl who’d had a fight with her boyfriend, resulting in him shouting and insulting her angrily, which was totally out of character, and slamming the door. He died minutes later. A car jumped the curb and struck him as he walked the pavement. She couldn’t forgive herself, and it took decades for her to learn to let go.
Another close friend missed being at his Mother’s bedside by hours, through no fault but a difference in flights. He, too, plunged into the despair of guilt and remorse, and never found a way to let go.
I wrote a song for those who can’t let go, hoping to release some of them, somehow. But loss and grieving come from such a deep place in the heart of our common humanity, That they’re often beyond the reach of music, words and most other sources of solace.
With so much loss and grieving around us now in the pandemic fallout, we still try to comfort one another, and to inspire one another never to give up.
Both my Parents passed away in the same 6-month period, 2 years ago. My grieving will go on for a long while yet, but for the first time in a lifetime marked by many lost lives, I have the means to deal with it.
These are the few humble lessons I learned about Loss and Grieving, and if you find anything useful here, please add it to your kit of help and advice for others.
GRIEVING IS HUMANE
Grieving is not only natural, it’s one of the things that makes us who and what we are, and actually defines us as fully recognizable modern human beings.
Although ways of disposing of the dead in caves date to very early in our ancestral record, burying the dead with ceremony and the inclusion of jewelry, shells, tools and other personal objects is a “line in the sand” between the animal and human worlds.
Burial and grieving require highly sophisticated abstract thought, purposeful sacrifice of goods and a theoretical commitment beyond the definitive moment of death.
So, grieving for lost loved ones is just a natural thing that we do, since we became us.
And we’re not alone. Geese, elephants and other animals will pine for a lost partner.
So, it’s okay to grieve.
And we humans grieve very well.
We grieve magnificently, because we grieve from both personal loss and also from the huge understanding that all things, everywhere, even the stars themselves, must die.
Consequently, there’s no creature on the Planet like us for grieving.
Not even close.
All art, science, philosophy and wealth accumulation is in some way an expression of grief and its twin, Hope.
THE SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE
Here’s an imaginary exchange between imaginary people, which might give an idea of the spiritual perspective on grieving:
Person Q: I suddenly broke down in tears today. I had such a powerful memory of Mum, and I remembered things I didn’t do and things I should’ve done and things I did that I wish I hadn’t done, and I cried for half an hour.
Person A: How wonderful! You’re so fortunate to have experienced that rich connection. And well done You for going into it and through it. When you’ve considered it for a while, please share with me what you learned. And now that your Mum is so strongly with us, let’s light a candle for her and think of the things about her that give us cause to be grateful.
From the spiritual perspective, everything we experience is an opportunity for transformations, sometimes imperceptibly small and sometimes very significant.
Grieving is an opportunity to go back and see things that strike at the spiritual sky inside of us like lightning, to learn from them, and to transform.
If we don’t take that opportunity, the lightning will strike anyway, and we’ll have no way to deal with it.
So, it’s better to get to grips with grieving on your terms, and not the storm’s.
THE TWO SPIRITUAL QUESTIONS
We can always ask the two spiritual questions to find out where we are spiritually in a given situation:
AM I WORTHY?
HOW MUCH GIVING IS IN MY INTENTION?
So, that becomes:
Am I worthy of this grief?
How much giving is in my Intention as I’m grieving?
Answering those questions shows me where I am spiritually, and where I may need more focus.
NOTHING IS EVER LOST
I carried my Parents’ ashes to India in my carry-on case and followed the 9 days and nights of rituals involved in the immersion of the ashes in a sacred river to achieve liberation from the cycle of reincarnation.
The bodies I’d hugged and loved and cared for were small enough to fit in the Urn, and then that last trace became a white swirl on the current of forever’s river.
But even when burned and dispersed in a river, they’re not truly gone, in the sense of not existing at all.
There are atoms of them all over the place.
My Mum’s DNA is still active and recoverable in a lock of hair.
And those atoms take a very, very long time to achieve proton decay, if ever. And even that incredibly long time is not the end, because there are always emissions of energy, and that stuff goes on for bazillions of years.
They’re still here, at least in molecule and atom form.
And so will we be, when we die: bits of us will still be here for a long time because they’re pretty much indestructible.
It means that when I want to reach out to my Mum, I’m reaching out to tiny bits of her that are still as much here as my tiny bits are, and that will still be here when I’m tiny bits as well.
They’re not lost: they’re dispersed.
THE LOSS WE FEEL IS REAL
When humans form connections, they exchange their energies.
When the connections are very close, humans blend energies with one another.
That’s one other reason why couples tend to resemble one another over time in feature and gesture, and why they often speak with one mind: their energies are blending harmoniously.
The sudden rupture of that energy link is analogous to the loss of a limb.
A phantom connection still exists for quite some time, waiting to be restored to full energetic function.
This is a real phenomenon, and one of the main causes of sadness: in spiritual terms, a twin has suddenly been ripped from the world, leaving a gaping energy wound.
Moreover, the ways in which we blend energies with one another are unique, so no one else can close that energy circle again in the same way.
My experience was this:
a) embrace the ruptured feeling as natural
b) accept that there was an energy breach in my life
c) alert friends that there’s a breach in my energy sphere
d) ask for patience in the event of outbursts through the breach
e) ask friends for their best advice on patching the breach
f) ask the departed to help completely seal the breach
g) connect safely with loved ones to fully recharge
It’s so normal and common for our daydreaming minds to turn around one day and make a remark to someone who has departed – Hey, you remember that day when? – before the conscious mind can remind us that no one is there. It happens all the time: reaching out to an energy connection that was once a part of us.
We’re not just missing them; we’re missing what their energy became within us.
Knowing that helped me, and showed me where to begin my own healing.
REMORSE & GUILT
At first, after bereavement, things are too hectic and painful and blurred through tears to be truly coherent.
But when the commitments to funerals and family are met, the self-interrogation and digging through dusty resentment and recrimination files begins.
Remorse and Guilt and are the
Good Cop and Bad Cop of forensic grieving, and they come knocking when Grieving lights a lamp in sorrow’s window.
Guilt, the Bad Cop, is really small.
About as small as an alert button on a phone.
When it pings the phrase: You’re Guilty: and you press ACKNOWLEDGE, it’s work is done.
And by itself, Guilt isn’t much. A person can acknowledge guilt and then blithely keep on doing the same thing.
But we tend to let Guilt puff itself up inside until it’s choking us, and way past its latest security update.
My long experience with Guilt – yeah, I was plenty guilty – led me to finally see it for what it is – an important, necessary admission – but to move on quickly to the really Big One: Remorse.
The thing is, Guilt is passive and Remorse is active.
Guilt is trapped.
Remorse is free.
Guilt moves in circles.
Remorse never repeats the harm.
Guilt makes nothing.
Remorse makes amends.
I found that the fastest way to escape the constant, deadening glitch of Guilt was to move on to real Remorse, and take the Guilt volume down.
I’m still guilty: you can’t erase that, no matter how hard you scrub. But I’m so busy on my remorse program that I haven’t accessed the Guilt App in a long time.
SAY IT LOUD
A lovely friend passed by our table some months ago, and when she departed there were some who frowned at her aloof behavior. She returned an hour later and apologized for her abstraction: she had suffered the loss of her father only days before and was still struggling with grief.
No one knew or could guess at her loss.
Her struggle to mask her suffering made her seem aloof and distant.
Of course, it’s true that no one else can truly understand or help in such agonies of loss, and sometimes we just need to be alone, but it’s always important to communicate that.
Everyone will react to your situation in their own way: some will give you space and some will drive you nuts, but at least they’re reacting to you, the real you, not the Brave Face You.
There’s plenty of good places to bring out Brave Face You, and people will be glad you did, but grieving isn’t one of them.
Grieving is Empathy-ville, and everybody’s a citizen.
And always remember that the words at the heart of grieving, I LOVE YOU, are the finest and most powerful in all our vocabularies.
PAY IT FORWARD
I saved the best for last.
The best advice I ever received in the wretched storm of grieving was from my soul mate A:
WHATEVER YOU’RE FEELING NOW,
MAKE IT A GIFT OF UNDERSTANDING FOR SOMEONE ELSE,
AND PAY IT FORWARD WHEN THEY NEED IT.
I can’t exaggerate how much this helped me.
One of the things it removes is the lacerating self-punishment component of Grieving & Guilting.
Even if you manage to get to grips with guilt, there is still a tendency to punish yourself with negative thoughts about what an absolute swine you are.
As soon as that emotional loop started in me, I switched it to thinking:
What am I feeling?
What’s the essential lesson?
How can I make a positive gift of it?
Okay, now I’ll pay it forward whenever I can.
That allowed me to move on with a positive spirit, where so often in the past I’d allowed myself to be caught in the whirlpool of loss and regret and guilt.
And I guess that’s what I’m doing in these brief notes: paying it forward to you, Dear People.
Love and faith,