My beloved dog died last week. It was familiar territory, losing a pet. I have been there many times before. I have also lost people close to me, both to death and to life. I have lost pregnancies shortly after learning about them. I have lost memories of special moments not captured with enough impact that could have held them in my memory bank. Each loss has demanded a deep mourning, a grieving process during which a slow adjustment takes place in my heart. Over a period of time I move from acute pain, denial and disbelief to a slow burn pain accompanying deeper peace around the changed relationship. The physical or mental void is never quite gone but it is accepted. For me, this grieving process is invaluable. Elizabeth Kübler Ross defined 5 distinct aspects to the process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. My experience of loss and grief is certainly all of those, but also so much deeper and wider than simply going through emotional states. Loss, though terrible, offers us great gifts.
Grief as Growth
Losing someone or something we love is always a wound - an emotional, psychological and spiritual wound We may also suffer physical loss. A limb, our health, our youth. We hurt, we cry, we mourn and grieve for what we had. And so often mixed into our first reactions of denial, we feel regret and guilt. We wish we had spent more time, done more for, or truly appreciated each moment of time together. We wish we could go back in time and have just a little more, this time experienced with full presence. As Kahlil Gibran said 'and ever has it been that love knows not it's own depth until the moment of separation.' We rail at the unfairness of it all.
But no amount of appreciation or love or time would have made a difference. We live each moment in the best way we can without the hindsight of who or what we should devote ourselves more to, until it's gone. Perhaps the point of loss and grief is for us to finally know the depth of love and the depth of loss. Once we get to that point we are more likely to experience kindness as the other deepest point as Naomi Shihab Nye describes so profoundly in the poem 'Kindness."
I spend a lot of time in reflection of loss, not so much a rumination but rather an exploration. I search for the gifts, the meaning and the messages. In the end, what I lose on one level simply emerges on another. If I lose the physical presence of a loved one, they will eventually take residence deep in my heart - in memories, new form and internal conversations. I completely believe in the power of enduring love, beyond death and ego. What we once loved in one way endures in another. My grieving process is the journey from one relationship to another. If we look hard enough we find traces of what we lost within ourselves. My deepest meditation after Felix died brought awareness of the incredible love our pets bring into our lives, that they help us build our energy field with love, and that this enables our development on so many levels including our spiritual growth.
This is the greatest gift of grief - the appreciation and acknowledgment of love, and the surety that once touched by it we are eternally changed by it. Our heart is grown by each drop of love received. Rather than being paralysed by grief take the gifts and pay forward the love. Let us give what we have received and create a recycling of the energy of whom and what we have lost.
'Love is not written on paper, for paper can be erased. Nor is it etched on stone, for stone can be broken. But it is inscribed on a heart and there it shall remain forever.'