“No one ever told me that grief was so much like fear.” – C.S.Lewis
Back in April I wrote an article for ‘Orla’, entitled , “The Gift of Impermanence.” I recently re-read that article but from the view point of someone who had just been profoundly touched by impermanence – My Dad had sadly passed away from this lifetime.
When my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in November 2014, I ‘thought’ I had coped with the situation like any ‘Good Buddhist’ should. Death is a natural part of life and the prospect of ‘Rebirth’ meant that my father was not gone forever, but would return to this life in ,hopefully, a healthier body. I read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche and I felt an intense comfort in my faith. After all, my father was in pain and it would be selfish of me not to wish him peace.
I returned home to Scotland several times since November, on each occasion treasuring the time just ‘Being’ with my Dad. When I hugged him at the airport back in June and waved as I got on the plane, I knew deep down inside that it was the last time I would have that opportunity, yet , once again, I drew comfort from my spiritual beliefs.
So why was it that when he died I was left with such an overwhelming sense of grief and loss? I was holding his hand when he passed, I had prayed for his safe rebirth at the hospital’s sanctuary, but I was utterly lost……..any beliefs I had adapted were washed away…….Nothing had really prepared me for this moment. I was a ‘Bad Buddhist!’
Grief, I have come to learn, is an emotion that one simply cannot just ‘prepare’ for. When it knocks at our door, it will come in a unique shape and form that belongs only to us. Dozens of experts have written books on the 5 stages of grief and what one should supposedly ‘expect’, but in truth there is no blueprint to follow, everyone copes in their own individual way.
In Western culture, the pain we experience after a loss will always be connected to our degree of attachment to the person and how essential they were to our sense of well being. My Dad was an integral part of all of my families lives and the knowledge that we cannot bring back what is lost, causes us pain and suffering.
The other ‘problem’ we face in Western culture is that ‘business’ has become so much part of the dying process, we hardly have time to grieve. Funeral arrangements must be made, authorities notified and finances arranged all in the blink of an eye. It takes us months to plan for a wedding, but in death we have only days to make all the necessary arrangements.
We must also pay particularly attention to the parent often left behind, whose life has literally been torn apart. My parents were together for over 50 years. How can I possibly understand the level of suffering she is experiencing? The answer is, I cannot, nor will I ever be able to. I can only practice kindness and patience and ensure I ‘go to her’ rather than expecting her to reach out to me when she is ready. It may takes months or years for her to come to terms with her loss. Indeed she may never fully except the circumstances. All we can do as children is provide the unconditional love and support our parents have shown to us.
So am I a ‘Bad Buddhist?’ Have I failed the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha? I think not. I am not yet an ‘enlightened one’ who already see’s the path clearly before them, I am still learning. And the lessons I have learnt from this experience have been acute. The reality of my own impermanence has matured me. I have come to realize the true beauty of ‘being present’ and why it is so important.
Whilst everyone must cope in their own way with grief and loss, it is important not to let it become ‘ self cherishing‘, turning our attention outwards to help others heals not only us but those most in need. Our abilities to be compassionate and wise increase giving our lives depth and meaning. These are the gifts we must treasure.
As Ajahn Brahm said, “Death is like a great concert. You are sad when it is over but at least you were there to experience it!”
My time with Dad was just that. A set of experiences and memories never to be forgotten. How lucky I have been to have had such a wonderful Dad. Till we meet again……..