Life is full of loss. This is not to sound pessimistic , because I am surely not that type of person. It is just a reality that we face. Relationships end. Friends betray us and we may no longer speak to them. People we love die, sometimes long before we expect them to. I have experienced all kinds of loss in my life, but the most difficult has been the death of my father. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer when he was only in his late 50’s. Other than the fact that he smoked, he was very healthy and vibrant and had he not had that nasty habit, he probably would have lived a long, healthy life.
I started grieving his death even before he died because at the stage of his diagnosis, I knew the end was coming sooner than later. He really started to suffer near the end and when he actually died, the primary emotion I felt was relief. From the day I found out he was sick until right before he died, my days were filled with constant fear and anxiety of thinking about what was happening, of fearing one of the things we fear most—the death of our parents. I was in a bad state of mind almost constantly.
I was devastated of course, but after experiencing such high-charged emotions, the feeling of it being over and him being gone and finally at peace was a whole different realm. I just felt sad and kind of empty. He died in June 2008 and I still think about him every day. Sometimes, the feelings are as raw as if it just happened. Sometimes I still feel this sense of shock, like I cannot believe it actually happened. His death triggered a lot of changes in me and in many ways, my life is better than it ever has been, but I carry that sadness with me always.
We just want the sadness to go away, but it probably will always stay with us so the key is finding ways to deal with it. It is okay to feel sad. It is okay to grieve. We do not just have to ‘’get over it.’’ But, we need to find ways to carry that grief without it overwhelming us, without it making us bitter about life. We have to find a way to keep the bad things that happen to us from defining us and our existence.
Accept that Your Life Will Never Be Perfect
I am very into personal development and for the longest time, I had this idea that I could create some perfect life. When my father got sick and died, that definitely put a kink in my plans. How could I have a perfect life when I lost one of the people I love most in my life way too early? How could I be happy with such a huge hole in my heart? I had a lot of anxiety about that, that I would never have that perfect life, that complete and utter happiness would elude me. Over the years, I have finally learned that there is no such thing as perfect, that being happy is not about having a perfect life, but that being happy is about the choices we make and how we choose to deal with the circumstances of our life, not the actual circumstances.
Accepting the imperfection of our existence makes it easier to deal with the death of my father because I realize that I can still be happy while still carrying around sadness. I realize that being a happy person is not about being happy all the time or having nothing to be sad about. Accepting things as they are can take us a long way in dealing with the unpleasant aspects of our life.
We can grieve for the people we lose and for the type of life we will never have due to the losses we experience, but it does not have to keep us from being happy with the life we have now.
Stop Thinking that Bad Things Should Not Happen
Bad things happen all the time. We witness it every day. We know this. Yet, when they actually happen to us, we cannot believe they actually occurred. We have this idea that bad things happening are unfair and that they should not befall us. While thinking this way is understandable, our resistance to bad things and our refusal to accept them as part of our lives makes it a lot harder to deal with issues like the death of people close to us. On top of feeling badly about the loss, we feel all these negative emotions about it being unfair, about not understanding it, about thinking that they should not happen.
I study Buddhism and one of the core tenets is this acceptance. I still feel great sadness over the death of my father and I think it sucks that me and my family had to go through all of that. But, when I learned to give up my resistance to not wanting to experience bad things, dealing with the bad things, like losing my dad, became easier. I was able to carry around my grief better, I did not resist it as much.
Let Yourself Feel Your Feelings Without Judgment
While I think about my father every day, I find my emotional responses kind of come in waves. I can go a long time without really feeling anything intensely. Then there are other times I cry like it just happened. Strange things will spark these intense reactions.My father always used to wear Chapstick brand lip balm and I remember he would kiss me good bye before going to work ;I always associated that smell with him. One time someone near me was wearing it and I could smell it, and intense sadness washed over me; I felt this overwhelming urge to cry so once I got some privacy, that is exactly what I did. Simply smelling a certain smell brought me back to very specific memories and it was almost too much to handle.
The last couple of days of my father’s life were spent in hospital bed on a morphine drip; so many awful memories that did not really affect me until much later after he died. Every once in a while, I will think of those terrible 48 hours and it is an intense sadness, thinking of his suffering. I will get powerful flashbacks of certain things that happened in that room. I hate dwelling on it but I feel better when I let myself cry and feel the anguish instead of telling myself to shake it off since it happened over four years ago.
Feelings of grief can be really intense and we would rather not feel them sometimes, but in my experience, letting myself experience them helps me. Do not judge your feelings. Do not feel stupid if something like smelling Chapstick makes you want to cry for a loved one you have lost. We intensify our pain when we do not let it out. I know it is scary sometimes, but if we can let ourselves have those uncomfortable moments, we can truly heal.