I learned last week of the passing of one of my former student interns, Beth Van Dyke. I was shocked because she is young and vibrant — a vivacious woman who is a natural leader and good friend. She lost a battle to cancer at the age of 29. And my husband also lost a friend this week, the 80-year old mother of his ex, who died of cancer. Both left behind many grieving family members and friends. While we certainly don’t feel the intensity of loss that their immediate family do, our house has still been processing grief.
Grief is such a challenging emotion — it’s a long process that asks us to face difficult things, like aging and our own mortality, loss of someone dear, and the unfairness when a young life is cut short or a loved one has to endure a long, painful illness. Because it is so difficult, many who are not in the immediate circle of loss can and often do choose to bypass looking at the challenging issues that death raises.
We were faced with that choice, but we decided to open to the process. The grief of these lovely women opened for us an opportunity to get in touch with some fears we have about loss – such as losing each other and what that would mean for our daughter. We explored the realization that our parents are getting older and that the immediate circle of loss is closer than it used to be. And we grappled with the existential and found comfort in our beliefs. Difficult but also very heart opening because there is nothing more human than our connection to this life and what we think lays beyond.
We also noticed that this process brought up old losses – grief for other people, furry friends who have shared our home, and even aspects of our lives that had been painful or disappointing. While those tears had been shed before, there was more to release and we let it come. I think that is the blessing of grief – it so quickly cuts to the heart of what matters and reconnects us to who we are and the life we want to live. It makes everything more precious and sacred.
Open yourself to the healing power of grief. Set aside a few minutes to sit quietly and explore the following questions.
- What do you still need to grieve in your life?
- What losses, big and small, are still painful and need to be honored in some way?
- What and who is most important to you? Do your daily activities and priorities reflect this?
- What about the inevitability of illness, death and loss are you avoiding (intentionally or not)?
- How can you transform that with courage and grace?
For me, this is the best way to honor someone’s life – by living mine to the fullest.
Pema Teeter says
I’m so sorry for your losses. My heart goes out to you both and your circle of friends affected.
What’s striking to me is that you both recognized your feelings as an opportunity to explore what was beyond them. It is heartening that you let the sad feelings flow, and in doing so, let them open up what more there was for you to feel and what there was to learn on the other side.
We so often want to box up our feelings and categorize them right place right time. What I’m reminded again here is that to be open to feeling emotions as they course through our lives, good and bad, is to be open to our lives’ evolution…and to happiness.