How to Deal with the Loss of a Loved One?
Q: Sadhguru, I lost my wife five weeks ago. She was such a good person. Why did this have to happen to her?
Sadhguru: When we lose someone who is dear to us – either by death, disease, or desertion – whichever way we lose them, the biggest problem is that they leave an empty space that they had occupied in our lives. We need to understand, the very nature of life is such that you and your loved ones have to die at some point. The only question is who will die first.
This may sound brutal, but that is not the intention. It is very important to come to terms with these things. Otherwise, we will tell ourselves pretty things that will solace us for today, and tomorrow morning, reality will torment us again. We will do the same things again and again.
It is important for us to know that we and those around us are not going to be here forever. When we are here, we must show everyone our best face. The problem is only that, if a doctor tells you that you are going to die tomorrow, then everyone comes and shows you their best face. If you say, “I’m going to die after fifty years,” most people will not care. But we do not know whether it will be in fifty years or tomorrow. You know you will die and they will die. You just do not know when, so shouldn’t you show your best face to them?
I am showing my best face to you because I know you will die. Sometimes, I know when you will die. Many times, I do not know when you will die. I am just making sure I show my best face to you because you are a dying person.
This is true for every human being. This is true for every life. Who knows when the tree outside your house will die, or when you will die? You do not know.
Tears of Joy, Not of Grief
So, when people dear to us pass away, one thing is, they are dear to us because they have enhanced our lives in some way, maybe in many ways. If people around us have enhanced our lives and we cherish them, we must cherish them joyfully – we should not rue their exit. We should value them for the enhancement they have brought to our lives; for the sweetness and tenderness they may have shared with us. In some way, at least sometimes, they made you feel complete; they made your life feel complete. Let their memory always bring tears of joy and love to you, not of grief.
They mattered to you because in some way, they were wonderful to you. Let the memory of them bring back those wonderful aspects to you, rather than drive you into grief and depression. Driving yourself into grief and depression means you have not come to terms with the most fundamental aspect of life – mortality. Whether they are good or bad, they all will die.
This is not to ridicule your loss. I understand what your deceased loved ones mean to you. But I want you to remember them for all the wonderful things that they were. Not for making yourself feel terrible about their exit. If you had died before them, you would have left them in a bad place – so, please stand up as a human being.
Whatever wonderful things that happened to you, in some way have to find expression. If they have meant many wonderful things to you, please express that to those who are still living around you. This is how life goes on.
Pieces of the Collage
When I say “life”, I am talking about life per se, not what you do. You generally think life is your family, your work, your business, your wealth, whatever else you possess. But these are all accessories of life. You brought in money, wealth, relationships, children, thinking it will enhance your lives in some way. You gathered so many accessories, and you got so involved, attached, and identified with these accessories that you never experienced this life that you are.
Most people believe life is the collage of things that they have gathered. When a piece of the collage falls off, you suddenly feel as if life is gone, which is not true. Even before certain people came into your life, you were alive, you laughed, you knew joy. You added people believing it would enhance your life, or maybe there was some need to fulfill. All that is okay, but now, because of your identifications, you think a piece of life is gone when a certain person is gone.
The reality is the piece of life that you are is still there – the accessories are falling off over time. As you age, your grandfather will die, your father will die; sometimes, your spouse will die. Some people will lose their hair. Some people will even lose their head – this is not a joke. Some people will lose parts of their bodies. Some people will lose relationships. Some people will lose things, power, position, or money.
This is all in preparation for your exit. Your load gets reduced a bit, so that when you go, you will go more easily. This is not some philosophy – this is the way life is happening. Because you refuse to look life in the face, you make up your own images in your mind. And you want to make these psychological pictures into a reality. The psychological drama you create will never become reality. You have to draw the curtain someday. The sooner you are disillusioned, the better. You may come to your senses, or you may become depressed. That is your choice.
When Life Disillusions You
When life disillusions you, you may sit up and become enlightened, or you may become depressed. If all the illusions go away, that is called self-realization. Right now, you are hanging on to illusions, valuing them and being identified with them so much that you are fighting to keep them. This is maya – it goes on as if it is real, until suddenly, it is gone.
In a way, you always knew it. From the moment you were born, your clock has been ticking, and one day, it will stop. Well, we try to stretch it. We try to slow it down. We try to make best use of the time we have. We try to make it as profound as possible. It is very important that life touches you. If life should touch you on a deeper level, you have to put down the world that you have made up in your mind.
If you do not put down your illusions, the most profound dimensions of life will never touch you. Only drama will go on. This is not only a question about someone’s death – this is about your fundamental ignorance about life. It is time you come to your senses. If all your illusions break right now, if you are absolutely disillusioned, you are also enlightened. But you do not allow yourself to be disillusioned. If one illusion breaks, you make up the next one.
The Glass of Water
There is a story about Narada. One day it happened, Krishna and Narada were walking. They had just passed a village. In the jungle, Krishna sat down and said, “Narada, I’m feeling very thirsty. Why don’t you get me a glass of water?” Immediately Narada said, “No problem. I will just go to the village and get you one.”
He went back to the village and knocked at the door of the first house. The door opened, and a very pretty looking young woman opened the door. Narada looked at her, and it hit him like a thunderbolt. He fell head over heels for her. He asked the girl’s father for her hand in marriage. The father agreed. Narada married her.
Once he got married, he had to build a small home for himself and his wife, and he started plowing the land. Then obviously, children came – one, two, three, four, five. The children grew up, got married, and they themselves had children. Cute little grandchildren were running all over the place. Everything was going great.
Just then, the river changed its course, and a flood came and literally took the village. Narada with his wife, children, and the little babies, climbed onto a tree and hung onto the tree. But the flood rose and rose. The cute grandchildren got washed away in the water. Narada cried bitterly. Then, one-by-one, his children, their wives, all of them went away. He clung onto his dear wife. But after some time, she also went.
Then he clung onto his life. Out of sheer desperation, having lost everybody, he screamed, “Krishna!”
Krishna said, “Where is my glass of water?”
Then Narada woke up and said, “But what happened to me?” Krishna said, “This is maya.”
Maya means you weave so many illusions in your mind that they become more real than the real. What is happening in your mind, what is happening in your emotions becomes far more real than the real itself. It is like a cinema theater – it is a two dimensional light and sound play. But you love the cinema stars more than the people you have lived with for twenty-five years. You have never even seen these stars in real life, but they are larger than life.
What is happening in your mind is just like that – it is larger than life. But the lights will come on one day. Will it be the lights of enlightenment, or will it be the lighting of your cremation fire – that is your choice.
Editor's Note: In this article, Sadhguru looks at maintaining awareness at the moment of death, and explains how some of the traditions in Indian culture surrounding the moment of death evolved. Find more of Sadhugru's wisdom on death here.
A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower March 2018.