“Grief is a matter of the heart and soul. Grieve your loss, allow it in and spend time with it. Suffering is the optional part.” — Dr. Wayne Dyer
My father passed away almost seventeen years ago.
I was a different person.
Even though I’d always believed our soul goes on, it didn’t seem to comfort me. I experienced his death as a devastating gaping hole in the fabric that held my life together, leaving a trail of broken hearts and shattering futures.
I believed death was a horrible thing to happen. Horrible for the person and, let’s face it, for me, seeing him go through his illness and left without him in the end.
He seemed to be the only person to really understand me and see me for who I am. I was going head first towards a downward spiral of darkness and overwhelming sadness.
The things that ran through my mind, I’ll never forget:
- How could someone leave me?
- How could the world possibly go on when my world has stopped?
- How can we just walk away and leave him here at this grave?
I’ve learned so much since then. And recently, my greatest teacher on grief has been the wisest sage I’ve ever known; my cat, Tiger.
This may sound corny, but his presence in life was huge and through his transition this past March, his presence has been enormous.
He was diagnosed with cancer about two and a half weeks before he died. Sadness and grief gripped me from then on and topped off a series of very difficult and challenging life events. The kind of life events that shake your world so much, you’re never the same afterwards.
Processing grief has been an overlying theme in my life this year. In the past, I had no idea how to process grief. I had only seen other family members go through it with long suffering. When it sits inside you with a heaviness that never seems to go away. Mindfulness, creativity, and other tools for healing hadn’t come into my life yet.
Now I realize, that type of suffering is optional. One of the best ways to honour the beautiful souls who’ve made the journey home could be by growing from their powerful experience of transition.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
So my cat Tiger’s passing brought me huge wisdom.
Grief and suffering hit me with every beautiful memory of joy that popped into my mind. And I knew this was not the way Tiger would want to see me. Yet, it seemed to be beyond my control as I continued experiencing my old pattern.
“The body’s uncomfortable emotions happen only to remind you that there’s a thought available for questioning.” — Byron Katie
Since thoughts create emotions in the body, through mindfulness I paid attention to my thoughts and the feelings in my body. I became curious as to what exactly was happening because every initial memory brought joy.
A split second later came the pain. So, I paid attention to the space between the memory and the pain. What was causing the pain — the suffering?
I noticed resistant thoughts following the memory, just before the pain.
- How could this happen?
- Why didn’t I know earlier?
- How could I have put him down?
- He was in pain and I didn’t realize it.
I stayed in presence with the whole sequence. In other words, I stayed aware moment-by-moment of each thought I had and the feeling it created in my body.
This is the mindful process in action.
The initial memory would spontaneously come up while doing something inconsequential. It brought beautiful feelings of joy and laughter, happiness and love.
Instead of revelling in those beautiful emotions, my thoughts swooped in to remind me: he’s no longer here, he suffered, he wouldn’t eat or drink, I held him as he left his body.
The feelings from those thoughts completely erased all the beautiful feelings flooding my body just moments before.
“Remember that you come in this world in the middle of the movie and you leave in the middle, and so do the people you love. Love never dies and spirit knows no loss.” — Dr. Wayne Dyer
My next question was, “Where did the initial beautiful memory come from?”
I’ve often heard that those who’ve passed on are around us and can communicate memories to us so we’ll recall the love we’d shared with them.
What if, I thought, each time Tiger attempted to remind me of the love and joy we shared, I was drowning it in sorrow, unconsciously?
What if, I was dishonouring Tiger and our relationship by pushing away the beautiful feelings in order to fulfill my old beliefs of death?
The subconscious mind tends to search out the bad, scary, hurtful potentials when we’re in survival mind set. When someone is grieving that is the stressful state they’re in. Just surviving day to day. The idea of things getting better isn’t even an available thought. The death of a loved one is ranked highest of various stressful situations.
Grief is a challenging emotion to work through. It takes time, patience, and loving kindness for yourself.
Everyone is different in what works best for them and every relationship is different. However, it’s crucial to work through difficult emotions, otherwise you’re looking at a long process of suffering — and your loved one doesn’t want to see you suffer.
For me, I chose to question and change the thoughts as I became aware of them. I changed them to support the beautiful memories that came to mind to honour the amazing relationship I had with my cat and melt into the loving joyful feelings that flooded my body.
The result has been much more joy and love for Tiger, myself and my life. And I know this experience will serve me well the next time a loved one passes.