TLDR: Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. Here is my story and why closure is not always a necessity.
Once upon a time,
Birth and Death were lovers.
They have always been in love and
had never been separated.
But one day,
Life separated them.
Like all great love stories,
They will find each other again someday,
because they always belong together.
Birth & Death are inseparable.
Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. It started with my grandparents, my good friends, and then my father.
I have not seen my father for over a year after my cancer treatments because he was suffering from Pneumonia, an infectious disease. Due to my low immune system, I had to move out and keep a distance away from him. How do you say goodbye to the person when you are not right by their side? Grief only becomes harder. It hurts a lot and it took me some time to go through the grieving.
Death is a selfish B*tch. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. It can happen anywhere and at any time. There is no warning or a good ending. Death never left anyone behind. The lucky ones will get to depart first. The one that stays on will linger on a bit longer facing grief.
Death will eat you up, mess up your mind and when someone we truly love dies, it can feel like the end of the world.
I remembered the story of Kisa Gotami vividly from the Buddha’s chronicle. After losing her only child, she went crazy, holding her dead son desperately seeking someone that could bring her son back to life. Her grief was paralysing so an old man advised her to look for the Buddha, a man well known for his wisdom.
The Buddha asked her to find mustard seeds from a household where no one had died so he could bring the child back to life. After hearing this wonderful news, she eagerly went from house to house, but to her despair, every household had suffered from a loved ones’ death. Eventually, the realization struck that there is no house free from death. She buried her son and returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth.
I always wonder why would the Buddha agree to save her son although it is not possible?
The first stage of grief is self-denial, refusing to believe that the person had gone. There is this strong attachment that keeps holding on to the person. Buddha is a wise teacher, had he not assigned Kisa Gotami an impossible task she would not have understood the inevitability of death by herself.
We don’t have to find “closure.” Seeking closure is akin to someone trying to ask a question with no answer. Closure personally for me seems harsh, like trying to shut the door and end it with a bang. How can you shut down the love you had for someone?
The ability to face the truth is better than closure, it allows us to come to terms with what’s happening. It can help us to process the overwhelming reality of death.
Grief is like a stream running through our life, and it’s important to understand that it doesn’t go away. Our grief lasts a lifetime, but our relationship to it changes. Moving on is the period in which the knot of your grief is untied. It’s the time of renewal.
— Martha Beck, “Elegy for Everything”
Dhamma is the best Psychiatrist
Dhamma helps to clarify. There is no right or wrong way to grief. Everyone has their way of coping with it.
Don’t let anyone judge how your grieving should be. Some people travel, some people take a break from their job and some people just need to get help from a professional by seeing a psychiatrist. The truth is it will get better as time goes by.
However, it takes effort to understand the Dhamma, read what Dhamma has spoken about death. The purpose of Dhamma is to help our mind to expand and grow, to clarify. It should uphold us and create an inner sense of peace, joy and clarity.
No one can tell you how long this grief will last or how to make it right.
What is important is that we should stop concentrating on what we have lost and instead acknowledge what our loved ones have achieved in this life. Doesn’t it make sense that life is not subjected or defined by how long we live, but by how we make an impact on our surroundings, family and friends?
When a caterpillar metamorphoses, it doesn’t want the other caterpillars to feel sad for him. Instead, every caterpillar knows it will get through this process naturally. There is no pain, no sorrow, and no guilt. It is merely how nature works. No one can stop the metamorphosis. Death is just a temporary end to a temporary phenomenon.
Also, part of me selfishly focused on my grieving and on what I’ve lost, failed to understand that this person doesn’t belong to me and his presence is not existential. Our loved ones are not born for us to grieve. I realised that everyone, not just me, had experienced grief before and we have to understand that everyone was born to die.
We all will become someone’s ancestors someday.
After the preaching from the Buddha, Kisa Gotami was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arhat (An enlightened being that goes beyond birth and death). We too can work towards enlightenment by realising these small truths of grief along the way.
Don’t let the grief destroy love, shatter hope, corrode faith, suppress precious memories that you have for the departed.
Closure is not necessary. Don’t beat yourself hard by asking questions that don’t come with an answer.
Ghost Month Series: This series explores different angles of the 7th Lunar Month, also known as the Ghost Month. Festivals, Cultures, and Religions often mix together in one place, offering space for different interpretations. We, like you, are keen to explore more. Discern what is helpful to your practice and discard whatever is not.
TLDR: The memories from our past are scarier than the ghosts, they live within and the haunting never seems to cease.
It happens again. It likes to sneak up on you when you are most vulnerable, terrorizes you when you are unaware. Dark at night, when I’m about to fall asleep, when I’m alone staring at the ceiling or listening to an old song when I’m on the bus. I can’t pretend I don’t see them. It’s always right there in my mind even when I close my eyes. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the painful memories of my past.
If you are quiet, you can hear them, loud and clear — the shadows of who we once were, the lives we’ve lived and people we’ve loved. We’re left with mournful and never-ending remembrance. The haunting never seems to cease. Our memories are scarier than ghost sightings.
Wouldn’t you think our lives are already filled with ghosts? The loved ones that left us stay as memories, like a ghost that lives inside you, and like this you keep them alive.
The sweetest memories can sometimes turn into a moment of tears clouding my eyes. Sometimes, I can’t seem to get out of it. It can be a dreadful burden. The older we are, the more haunted we are. The regrets, guilts, and the attachment we hold on to the happy times we can’t go back again. The memories are like the seaweed that is hard to get untangled.
Should we banish them entirely, all those ghosts of who we are and who we loved? Should we exorcise them completely? Or should we find a way to lay them at last to rest?
Untangle The Past
Although memories reflect what actually happened in the past, they are not the reality. We don’t have to let our memories control our emotions and bind us like a dog chain. If we handle our memories mindfully, we can unburden ourselves of them; we are able to view them with an open heart, looking in from the window outside the house, that brings calm to the mind and in turn heals any gloomy emotion that arises.
When our memories resurface, learn to switch our thoughts to an observation frequency. Not to overload ourselves with heavy emotions by allowing memories to interpose into our thoughts making it a hyperreality.
Letting Go Of The Past
Sometimes I wonder why these memories keep resurfacing, and I realized it’s because I can’t let go. The past can’t be changed and yet we keep playing it in our head a million times.
It keeps reliving and by doing that. I’ve sacrificed the present and the future that could create happier memories.
Buddha once talked about letting go, “Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit. Whatever arises in dependence on intellect-contact, experienced either as pleasure, as pain, or as neither-pleasure-nor-pain, that too is not yours: let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit.”.
For any long-term sustainable happiness, we have to learn how to let go, not holding on or creating a blockage. Happiness and sadness can’t happen at the same time and they are never yours, to begin with.
Sending Loving Kindness To Ourselves
There is no doubt our past decisions make us who we are today, but it doesn’t make sense to let the past define who we are. If we treat our memories sensitively, with loving kindness, we can cultivate intuition and discernment for our future selves, rather than judging and blaming the ghosts from our past.
Memories Of My Father
Once when I was having breakfast, my father asked, “Why did I skip the bread skin and go straight to the softer piece of the bread?”
“The top layer is always dry and hard.” I answered.
“Who is going to eat that, if you don’t eat it?” My father replied
I lost my father a few years ago and that memory of him always brings me to tears. Instead of weeping, I now see it as a way to inspire me to be more selfless.
Some of us may feel like weeping when confronted with our ghastly memories, but there is no need to run away from it or continue feeling sad about it. Instead, we can rise above the conditions and conditioning of our past. When we hold our memories carefully, we are no longer haunted by what has happened to us; we view our past and present experiences from a different perspective.
Lay The Ghosts To Rest
I’m still human. I walk with my ghosts from time to time, and sometimes I can confront them and sometimes, I’m overwhelmed by them. But, at least I feel like I’m slowly reaching a state of mind where I can see them truly as the past and putting it to rest.
It’s a matter of acknowledging the good memory, feeling it and then reminding myself of the good that is happening in my life now. Reach inside for gratitude for what was and what is and try to find a place of acceptance.
We can take the mournful and never-ending remembrance and turn it instead into memories that we can appreciate as a valuable part of our beautiful lives. We can learn, over time and with practice, how to be grateful for the changes, and we can stop mourning them. We can even celebrate all the aspects of who we were and are now and all of the people we’ve loved along the way.
Instead of fearing the ghost of my memories, I now see them as my companion I can live comfortably with.
Turn our memories into valuable parts of our beautiful lives that are worth appreciating regardless of the good or the bad.
Rise above the conditioning of our past by viewing our past and present experiences from a different perspective.
Acknowledging the good or bad memory, feeling it and then reminding yourself of the good that is in your life right now.