Zen Habits : Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
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Note from Leo: This is a guest post from my friend, Suraj Shah, who wrote this post as a favor to me after a reader asked about how to deal with the loss of a loved one.
Suraj writes regularly about dealing with loss on his blog, Live With Loss.
I’ll hand it over to Suraj now:
Editor’s Note: Guest post by Suraj Shah.
In the midst of a busy life flooded with demands from all directions, the loss of a loved one can be striking enough to stop us in our tracks, forcing us to evaluate what’s important and question how to move forward in life.
But the months following the death of someone we care about can be filled with a whole array of emotions ranging from anger and sadness, through to guilt and even relief.
The grip these feelings have over us can leave us feeling stuck, confused and distraught.
The single biggest cause of this ‘stuckness’ is attachment – gripping firmly onto someone who is no longer in your life, and the pushes and pulls that make that relationship what it is.
Lets explore this root cause of the pain that you may be going through and discover a way to calm the volatile emotions.
1. Identify the attachments in your relationship
We can start by looking at the various types of attachments from your relationship.
What pains you the most about them no longer being in your life? What are the pushes and pulls that made your relationship what it was?
shelter: You may have depended on them to look after you, to care for your health, to keep a roof over your head.
companionship: You may miss them being in your life – someone to hang out with, to have a coffee with, to watch a movie with.
someone to confide in: They may have been one of the few people who you could talk to about anything, who you could trust to keep a secret, to help you work through problems in other areas of your life.
attending events: They may have been the one attending all events and social functions with you. You may be terrified at the prospect of now attending them alone – perhaps you’re even considering not attending social events at all.
doing work around the house: They may have been a master in the kitchen or the DIY expert. Now who will make your meals? Who will fix the leaky tap?
managing finances: They may have been the primary breadwinner, or perhaps contributed to your household’s monthly expenses. You may be concerned about how you’ll now manage.
organisation: They may have been perfect at keeping everything in order in your life or your business. Without them, you fear that everything will be up in the air.
humour: They may have been the playful mischievous one in the relationship – the one who kept things light when the world got too serious.
unresolved issues: Perhaps you had a fight before they died, or you both harboured resentment for many years and never managed to resolve it.
role of carer: They may have had a painful long term illness where you were caring for them. The role of carer may have been your identity for a long time. Now you may feel their pain has ended and you no longer have to care for them 24/7. Perhaps you feel relieved that you don’t have to be a carer anymore. You may even feel guilty about feeling relieved, coupled with confusion about who you are now that your identity of being the carer has been stripped away.
These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about the source of the feeling you may be experiencing. They’re there to help you work out what it is you may miss about them no longer being with you – and also what you feel now that they’ve gone.
2. Introspect the true nature of the relationship
Having identified the various attachments from your relationship, we can now start to take a closer look at the true nature of your relationship, and of the attachments that bound you to each other.
It’s time for some important and perhaps difficult questions. But if you can be sincere with yourself, you will be able to start to loosen the grip that these attachments and these emotions have over you.
Q: Were they going to live forever?
The various people we have in our lives, particularly those closest to us such as our parents, our siblings, our husband or wife, and our children – we think will be around forever.
We take them for granted. We expect that when we see them off in the morning and head to work or to school, that we’ll see them again in the evening.
But we know, from our experiences in life and from what we see in the news, that this isn’t always the case.
In life, death is inevitable. It is also unpredictable.
It’ll happen to us all, and to all those we are so fond of, but we just don’t know when.
We started with this question – probably the hardest to think about and to accept – but is one that is essential for us to look life straight in the eyes and say:
“Yes, ok, let me live fully now that I see life for what it is.”
Q: Was your attachment permanent or temporary?
Take a look at each of the attachments in your relationship and ask yourself: Was it permanent or was it temporary? While they lived, did you have that all the time, or did it come and go?
Lets delve into a few of the attachments we identified earlier:
attending events: Did you ALWAYS attend events together? What about before you met each other? What about when one person was unwell or just didn’t feel like going? Perhaps at times you went alone or with someone else. Did you manage ok? Now that the one you love is no longer with you, you could comfortably attend events alone or with someone else. You may even choose to reduce the number of events you attend from now on and start to do other activities and form a different social circle. Even that’s ok.
managing finances: Did you ALWAYS have them as a source of income for your household? Was there ever a point in your life where you managed ok financially by yourself? Did you ever get financial support from someone else in your life? The loss of a loved one can cause a large financial hit and this can add a lot of pressure to life. But there may be solutions available to help reduce this burden. It may mean temporarily receiving financial support, changing to a job that pays more and where you are doing the work you love, or minimising your outgoings.
role of carer: Although you may feel guilty at the relief that you don’t have to constantly care for them anymore, think back to a time when you didn’t have to care for them, when they were independently able to do whatever they needed. Were you ALWAYS a carer? Have you had other roles in your life? Think about what you might want to start doing again, or perhaps take on a new role doing something you’ve never considered before.
“It might seem sad, but we are forced to reinvent our lives when a loved one dies, and in this reinvention is opportunity. Which I think is beautiful.” – Leo Babauta
You will find, as you introspect further, that you sought some form of happiness, comfort or control from each element of the relationship. But was any of this constant and long lasting?
You’ll see that it wasn’t. Throughout your entire relationship together, it came and it went.
Nothing in the world around us or in the relationships that bind us is constant or permanent.
Q: What is truly everlasting?
So if nothing in the world around us is permanent, then what is truly everlasting? What can you hold onto? What can you blend tightly with your heart?
It’s their qualities. Who they were at their core.
When I think about my mum, I remember what she gave that was everlasting and what I now hold firmly in my heart:
- laughter and lightness
- calm and patience
- always present and a great listener
Recollect what you loved the most about them, what they taught you, what they have helped you to become.
Imbibe these in your life. These can stay with you forever.
3. Let go to cultivate life-lightening detachment
Letting go is a gradual process.
Take a good honest look at each of your attachments and gradually let each one go – allowing yourself the time and the space to appreciate the transitory nature of the world in which we live.
By introspecting on the true nature of your relationship, your pain and sorrow will gradually lift away. You will feel lighter.
This will bring about a type of detachment in all your relationships that keep them rich while together with someone, yet help you to experience less suffering when you naturally part ways.
“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”
Wishing you calmer days ahead and clarity over the purpose with which you lead your life.
Suraj Shah is a bereavement support visitor, writer and speaker, based in London UK. Visit livewithloss.com for guidance to help you through your loss and lead a calm, purposeful life.