Coming To Terms With Tragedy

December 16th, 2012

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” ~ Hafiz

When it comes to grief, each person has to find their own healing in their own time and way. One of the hardest parts of grief is to feel alone. It never feels like anyone else truly understands because each experience of grief is personal and unique. And yet there is solidarity to be found in shared sadness.

Kisa Gautami lived at the time of the Buddha. When her son tragically died, she was grief-stricken. With her son’s body in her arms, she searched for someone who could bring her son back to life. Finally she found the Buddha. The Buddha agreed to bring her baby back to life–on one condition: ‘You must bring me a mustard seed from a house in which there has been no death.’

Kisa Gautami began her search, still carrying her son with her. She went from house to house, asking at each home for a mustard seed. As the residents turned to fetch a seed, Kisa Gautami would say to them, ‘One question. Has anyone in your family died? The mustard seed must be from a house in which there has been no death.’ Each time the answer was the same: “That’s impossible. Our child died, or my mother died or whoever it was who had died.”

After visiting several homes, a change came over Kisa Gautami. She no longer felt so alone in her grief. Every family had experienced grief. She started to accept that her son was gone, and felt strong enough to return home and bury her child. She then joined the Buddha to become a nun. She found her peace, accepted that her son was not coming back and decided to live her life in honor of his memory. It’s a profound story about coming to terms with death and loss.

We don’t do a good job of preparing for death in our society. We fall for two opposite illusions. On the one hand, we mistakenly think we are immortal and we ignore death. On the other hand, we become paralyzed and preoccupied by the fear of death. Neither approach provides a basis for finding peace in the face of loss and death.

Its healthy for all of us to face the reality of death without becoming obsessed with it. Easier said than done, of course. But knowing that grief is a universal experience helps a little. We are not alone, no matter how lonely it feels.

How do you find peace when you are dealing with  loss? Most ancient societies incorporated rituals that celebrated the anniversaries of ancestors. There was a strong sense of memory and honor. They continued to experience the spirit of those they lost in a tangible way.

Do you imagine that those who have died live on in some form? I heard a story about a kid who asked his parent, “What happens when people die?” The parent thought for a moment then answered, “Do you think that when we think of them, that is their way of speaking to us?” That’s one of the ways that people live in; in our memories, as if  from the beyond.

There is some small sense of peace in knowing that you can keep the spirit of the dear departed alive in your memory and life.

It gives some meaning to their loss, and it offers some purpose to carry on.

May all who are dealing with loss and sadness know some measure of peace.

May all who grieve know they are not alone.

May all who feel sadness find some peace in carrying their lost loved ones in heart and mind.

Tom Attig wrote a book called The Heart of Grief. In it he made this very hopeful comment,

Grieving is a journey that teaches us how to love in a new way now that our loved one is no longer with us. Consciously remembering those who have died is the key that opens the hearts, that allows us to love them in new ways.

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  1. If there is no coincidence, I was today given an answer to what I was seeking – help with grief. I had just posted on facebook that the grief from loosing my brother (3 months ago) has just set in. “Tears. Uncontrollable tears.” I logged on to twitter for a moment, found you in my stream, came here to read another piece and saw this. Thank you Ian. @frombecca x

  2. ian says:

    Much love Rebecca, and healing light to you and your family.

  3. Jim Skinner says:

    Loss of my son Matt has been the most difficult thing I have experience in my life.  I keep him alive by retelling funny stories about things  he said and did.  As long as he is alive in someones memory he is still alive. Thanks, Ian

  4. ian says:

    Well said Jim. Best thoughts to you.