Death is inevitable.
There are nearly 8 billion people on the planet at this time and every one will meet an ending of this life be they old or young, sick, or healthy. No one knows how long their span here will be, for hundreds of thousands every day their time is up now, and one day it will be your turn.
This is a reality of life.
We live in an impermanent world and, depending on your belief system, it’s a world that is a part of your journey in life, rather than the end of it.
Humans are hard wired to change and change is a natural process. However, grief is one of the changes in life that can be incredibly hard to navigate and adopt.
We can read articles about how normal change such as death and loss is – even as we read this we are losing cells in our body as they continually die and regenerate – and we can read about the planets cycles of nature, all of which demonstrate the impermance of life. But we also know that changes such as endings or new beginnings are usually accompanied by some level of anxiety or pain. Whether it is a change of house or job or the loss of a friendship or a loved one, pain can be felt.
The pain of grief or loss can be accompanied by an intense, and sometimes devastating, sorrow that can be challenging to be with mindfully. It can also cause our systems to become overwhelmed and go into a protective shock that effectively shuts us down until it can process what’s happening.
The effects of shock can last for days or months and still be in process years after.
Suffering grief affects the body, it can increase inflammation and blood pressure, dampen our immune system, our appetite, and rob us of our energy. The disruption to our chemical and hormonal balance can increase fatigue yet affect our ability to sleep properly. These symptoms are all ‘normal’ bodily responses to the process of grieving.
As with any trauma or issue that stops or hinders our internal processes, it may need remedial action to get things moving again.
One of the best ways to begin coping with death and loss is to accept and allow this grief process and, as much as possible, to be with it and let it happen.
By owning and allowing our feelings of grief to flow through us we can open to and move on with the process which, like any other process that passes through the body, goes through stages until its complete.
Knowing something is quite different to processing it. I remember seeing a recipe that looked delicious, knowing the ingredients and what it would taste like, my mouth watered as I imagined eating it and my digestive system responded. As real as it felt reading about it however, I was missing out completely on the experience of engaging in eating and digesting and benefiting from the physical and emotional process.
We are processing machines in that we are designed to process our food, our thoughts, and our emotions by being with them, experiencing them. My senses and mind missed out on smelling, tasting, touching, feeling, savouring, thinking and feeling the satisfaction of being replete. My system missed out on digesting, processing and most importantly retaining the nutrients needed for a healthy body, before getting rid of what’s not required.
Emotional process is just as vital, as is taking things as slowly as necessary, in your time. We gradually begin to move out of shock and into gentle action, spending time as we move through and be with our thoughts and emotions as the stages of grief pass through. Being careful to not shut out or avoid our feelings of grief to lessen the risk of placing blockages in our being that will, eventually, either need to be processed or cause problems later.
Gentle and compassionate awareness of this process, awareness that encompasses the body, the emotion, and the mind in these times, is a strong feature of healing and continuance.
With the right effort the grief process will allow you to retain the essence, the bits wanted and needed to aid your eventual recovery and well-being into the future.
This usage of emotional ability and skill to be present is there for us to use when needed, and yet, just like any other skill, learning to be proficient with it takes time.
Emotional ability is enhanced and enriched with awareness and is a critical part of the ability to cope when facing death or loss. In practising awareness with self- compassion, we can often reach, recognise, and accept the ultimate feelings underneath our grief. This is the key to release of any blockage and the natural flow of the grief process.
As you progress you may find it helpful to notice the way each feeling is expressed in the body – perhaps aches or emptiness in the stomach or a heaviness in the chest – and in time you may notice how your mind is responding to these feelings, perhaps pushing away, or holding on to things as they flow past.
One of the many benefits of mindfulness meditation is the ability of the breath to be an anchor for our attention as we gaze deeply into the process of death or loss. Our thoughts and actions in this time of suffering can make our lives miserable or help us shape our future. When we can reach awareness and acceptance of the ongoing changes in life around us, we can find the gratitude and resilience to become reconnected to our own life journey, held safe in the trust that we have been made for it.
For now, to help cope with the grief of death or loss, or any other challenges in life, access Awareness of Challenging Emotions, Reframe with Rain, and Loving Kindness on our meditations page or, if you prefer to start gently, try a few relaxations or breathing meditations first.
*Note: This article is a complimentary support to the grief process and should not replace reaching out to others or undertaking professional counselling.