There is a famous story about death in the Buddhist tradition. A rich, young woman was happily married to a man of high status. One day, her only son suddenly fell sick and died. The woman was heartbroken, overcome with grief, and unable to imagine living without her precious son. She remembered hearing of a great teacher named Buddha. So she grabbed her son’s body and ran to where she heard the Buddha was teaching. She approached the Buddha and asked him to revive her child.
The Buddha listened to the distraught woman with patience and great compassion. He told her, “There is only one way to solve your problem. Go and get a mustard seed from each family in the village who has not been touched by death.”
The woman, filled with hope, quickly raced from door to door, trying to find one household untouched by loss. Eventually she slowly returned to the Buddha, accepting the fact that death is inevitable for all living creatures. Only then was she able to bury her son and mourn the loss of his physical presence.
I know many of you have suffered the loss of loved ones. According to Ayurveda, emotions are “e-motion” or “energy in motion” and can get stuck in the organs of the physical body if we do not process them fully.
So let’s explore how to process grief.
What is Grief?
Grief is deep sorrow, especially over the loss of someone or something that you deeply cherished. The emotional pain of loss can feel overwhelming and be accompanied by other feelings of shock, anger, guilt, numbness, depression, anxiety, and deep sadness. Your physical health can be impacted by insomnia, panic attacks, loss of appetite, lethargy, and spacing out. These reactions are very normal.
The Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced her five stages of grief in 1969 that were gleaned from her work with patients facing terminal illness and death. They are:
Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
Anger: “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”
Bargaining: “If you undo this loss, I will ____.”
Depression: “I can’t stop thinking about this.”
Acceptance: “Loss is a part of life. I’m at peace with what happened.”
Recently, Kübler-Ross’s friend and co-author, David Kessler, added a sixth stage:
Meaning: People look for closure after a loss. Find meaning after the loss. Assigning meaning to the loss can transform the grief into a more peaceful experience for us.
“Why did my loved one live? What did my loved one get out of being here? And what did I get out of knowing this person? Did anything good come from the relationship?”
Grieving is Circular, Not Linear
The five stages are part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But not everyone experiences each of these stages of grief or even experiences them in this order. It’s not necessary to move through each step for proper healing. Remember your grief is an unique as you are.
You might want to blame someone or something for the loss of your loved one. You might even be angry at the one who has passed for abandoning you. This is common. Allow yourself to express your anger. It will pass.
Your grieving process will be determined by your life experiences, emotional processing, religion, culture, and your personality. Find comfort in your faith if you belong to a spiritual or religious community or tradition. Ritual at the time of death is a great way of drawing support for processing your grief.
Be patient with yourself. Once you know what you need, ask those around it to give it to you. Rely on others for strength and support.
Dealing with Triggers
Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, milestones, and conversations with others can trigger waves of grief. If you find you are caught in a rumination spiral, be sure to reach out for support.
And do your best to take care of health – physical and mental so that your emotions can pass more easily. Get enough sleep. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. Try to do some light exercise outdoors daily. Find peace in meditation, prayer, gratitude, journaling, or creating art.
If you need help digesting your grief, reach out to me.