As some of you may know, I lost my dad to heart disease 11 years ago. Those of you who have lost close loved ones will know that losing someone close is very different from losing a more distant relative, or someone whom we spend less time with. The grief is very different and can have a more long standing impact on a person’s emotional well-being.
When my dad passed on, I had just begun my spiritual path. I was opening to there being a bigger picture to life. I was fascinated with angels, the afterlife and those things that many people are interested in at the beginning of a spiritual journey. I discovered that there was more than this world, that we do not just vanish; we merely change form and move into another realm of existence. However, through heart-wrenching pain I used this new information to intellectualise what was happening.
“He is in a better place!”
“He was no longer in pain”
“He is with family that have gone before him”
And while this may be true, and it gave me some level of comfort and the ability to comfort my mother and younger sister, it did not allow me to fully process my grief.
I read books on grief and how there are 5 stages you can go through;
- Denial – ‘No, I don’t believe it’ ‘It’s not possible’ ‘This can’t be happening – not to me’.
- Anger – ‘Why me?’ ‘It’s not fair’ ‘How can this happen to me?’ ‘Who’s to blame?’
- Guilt/Bargaining – ‘If only I had…’ ‘If only I hadn’t ….’ ‘I wish…’ ‘I’m so sorry…’
- Depression – ‘I’m so sad, why bother with anything?’ ‘What’s the point in going on?’
- Acceptance – ‘It’s going to be okay.’ ‘It’ll never be the same, but I can move on.’
These grief stages can happen for many experiences, not just losing a family member. From a relationship ending, losing a job, any unexpected or intense ending.
For me, I didn’t realise that I had experienced stages 1 and 4 for over 10 years. I never made it to stage 2. Until this past week.
Spiritual Beliefs & Making Excuses
It’s fairly easy to use our beliefs to protect us from pain. A friend of mine explained how rationalising abuse as a child turns into “They were only doing what they knew how” & “They did the best they could with what they knew”. I did exactly the same.
“He’s in a better place”
“He’s just in the next room”
“He has transformed like a butterfly”
And this kind of thinking is okay, way down the road of grief. But, making excuses can cripple our inner child’s need to release and let the pain out.
The Inner Child and Grief
My parent self was trying to comfort me through these beliefs, but what my inner child needed, was to know that it’s okay to feel what I was feeling.
And those feelings and thoughts were:
“It’s not fair!!! Why do I have to let go of someone I love!!!?”.
But I never allowed these feelings or thoughts to surface over the entire 11 year period since his death.
The Visiting Cat and Letting Go
A few months ago a cat began visiting the garden where my flat is. A beautiful cat, very friendly, loves affection, but also loves to charm the socks off us to feed her. We gave her a few titbits, pieces of ham and a drop of cream and eventually we began to let her in. She wasn’t our cat and as much as we really liked her we knew we couldn’t keep her. It got to the point where she was hogging my bed during the day, leaving for a few hours and returning at night. It was our fault that we had made our home very favourable to her, but, I was concerned whether she was going home at night (as we are coming into Autumn). So we discovered she has a family and a cat flap and a brother. The owners asked us not to feed her or let her in. Well, it was a bit too late.
This little cat changed our world. I had never had a pet before (apart from hamsters, gerbils and goldfish). So to have these gorgeous eyes interacting with me, thoroughly opened my heart. I spent hours stroking her, massaging her, talking to her. I just felt complete unconditional love for her. And I now realise my heart had never been used like that since my dad died, and prior to that, ‘loss’ had been something I had experienced a lot.
And We Had To Let Her Go
So last week we had to refuse her entry to our home and stop feeding her. She meowed at the door at all hours to get in. It was heart-breaking as cats sounds like babies crying. And when that didn’t work she leapt onto the kitchen windowsill outside to try and get our attention. We finally resorted to a noise repellent. Whenever she me-owed at the door we opened the door and we shook my very loud native american rattle. Over a few days she came to realise that our door was not open any more. This was such a painful time for both Mike and me. And it made me face grief intensely as she is still in the garden visiting the bird cage.
She has adjusted well, is fine. But for me it has felt like an emotional roller-coaster.
It Was Not About The Cat
Animals are healers, without a doubt; they come to heal, to support and to comfort us. This little cat did just that in a totally unexpected way.
Since practising mindfulness, I often ask myself ‘What is this?’ when I feel something, and this was a repetitive question for me. And what I discovered totally shocked me.
“It’s not fair!!! Why do I have to let go of someone I love!!!?”
Yes. It was my dad all over again but this time with greater awareness and more wisdom. There were no more excuses. No optimistic reasoning. My inner child wants to let this out. And I would like to let it out and to not close my heart for fear of losing someone or something I love.
Non-Attachment and the Buddhist Path
Part of the Buddhist path includes non-attachment. As life is transient, things come and go, seasons change…
“When you are brave and have an open heart, you have affection for this world — this sunlight, this other human being, this experience.
You experience it nakedly, and when it touches your heart, you realize this world is very fleeting. So it is perfect to say ‘Hello means good-bye.’ And also, ‘My hope, hello again.’ ”
To love wholly without attachment or need is something I would like to experience. To keep my heart open regardless of the possibility of loss. To love without fear of loss.
So many people may have painful experiences in love and life and to protect themselves never love fully, never allow themselves to be fully intimate or close to another human being. This can lead to missed opportunities and living a more subdued life.
This beautiful cat enabled me to open my heart. And the ‘letting go’ has enabled me to feel the unresolved pain of my past. And to still stay open-hearted.
And I am blessed to still love the cat as she visits the garden, without attachment to outcome. So sometimes even during the deepest darkest pain there is a light that shows us the way. Sometimes old grief, old pain resurfaces in present moment experiences. These experiences are a gift if we allow them to be and do not resist them.
Has grief affected you in your life?
Has loss closed your heart?
Or has fear of loss stopped you embracing intimacy?
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