Loss and Grief: Coping with the Death of a Loved One
The Essential Nature of Grief
Q: Having recently lost a near and dear one, how does one cope with the grief and distress associated with it?
Sadhguru: You must understand that your grief is not because someone died. One life going away does not mean anything to you. Every day, thousands of people go away. In your city alone, so many people are dying, so many people are in grief. And yet, that does not affect you. It does not leave a vacuum in you.
The problem is that one particular life going away leaves a vacuum in your life. Essentially, you grieve because someone who in many ways was a part of your life, is gone. One part of your life has become empty and you are not able to handle that emptiness. It is like this: a group of you were playing a game, and now suddenly one person has dropped out. There is a gap in the game now, which you are not able to handle.
You built your life around someone, you made plans in your mind – “I am going to get married to this person, I am going to have two children, I am going to make these children do this and that,” and so on. But now, when this person vanished from your life, suddenly, all those dreams are shattered. You do not know what to do with yourself. You are disillusioned.
If you are disillusioned, that means your illusions have been destroyed. When your illusions are destroyed, the maya is gone – this is the time to arrive at reality. Unfortunately, most people make this into a very painful and destructive process within themselves.
Your grief is about your incompleteness. Grief can happen to you even without anyone’s death. People can be in grief simply because they are not successful. People can be in grief because they are not able to get what they want or if their house burned down or their car is lost. A child can be in grief if his teddy bear is gone. A child may miss that teddy bear more than his parent. He may grieve for his dog much more than the grandfather. I have seen this happen and people were shocked. But it is very human. The boy’s connection with the dog is deeper than with the grandfather.
You must examine why you feel incomplete if you lose someone. This life has come as a whole. If you know this life the way it is, there is no question of incompleteness. This is a complete life. If this were an incomplete life, that would mean the Creator has done a bad job. No, it is a great job – far greater than most people realize. It is too fantastic a job. If you had experienced this life the way it is, nothing would leave a hole in you because this is a complete life. You would not fill this up with your profession, your car, your house, your family or something else.
This life can interact, relate to, be with and include so many things. But still, by itself, it is a complete life. This is the way it is. If this is the experience and state you are in, then whether you lose your job, your money or someone who is dear to you, you will not grieve.
Coping with the Death of a Loved One
It is just that when it comes to people, if we lose them to death, the significance of this loss is that it cannot be replaced. Possessions can be replaced, positions can be replaced, money and wealth can be replaced, but when we lose a person, we cannot replace them. The grief becomes more profound in this case.
This is happening to us because we have built our persona like a collage. Who we are is because of what we possess, the positions and relationships that we hold and the people who are in our lives. If any one of these things fall away, it leaves a vacuum in our persona. This is what we are suffering.
It is very important that our relationships come from the basis of our fullness, not as an instrument to fill our life. If you use a relationship to make yourself complete, then when you lose it, you become empty. If you form a relationship because you want to share your fullness, then there will be no grief.
This is not to belittle your loss. When we lose someone very dear to us, all this may not work. It looks like trivializing one’s loss. So this must be cultivated throughout our life that, who we are is not determined by what we have in our lives. Who we are decides what we have in our lives. This must happen to every human being. This is what spiritual process means.
We Are Mortal Creatures
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 this. Otherwise, we will tell ourselves pretty things that will solace us for today, and tomorrow morning, reality will torment us again.
When we are here, we must show everyone our best face. If a doctor told your friend that he is going to die tomorrow, you would show your best face to him. But if he told you, “I am going to die after fifty years,” you would not care. But if you really look at it, 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.
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. So should you not show your best face to them?
Tears of Joy, Not of Grief
Some people 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, 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. If they have meant many wonderful things to you, please express that to those who are still living around you.
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 someone is good or bad, they 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 have to find expression in some way. 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 and whatever else you possess. But these are all accessories of life. You brought in money, wealth, relationships, children, thinking it will enhance your life 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.
The reality is the piece of life that you are is still there – the accessories are falling off over time. 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.
But now, because of your identifications, you think a piece of life is gone when a certain person is gone. 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 can come to your senses, or you can become distressed. That is your choice.
When Life Disillusions You
When life disillusions you, you can either sit up and become enlightened, or you can become distressed. 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. We try to stretch it, we try to slow it down, we try to make best use of the time we have and 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. 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.