The death of a loved one is considered to be our most painful life experience. Many of us would prefer to die ourselves rather than face life without someone who meant so much to us.
If, however, we accept that life is a school, and that every experience is an opportunity to move forward on our evolutionary path, there will be some very useful lessons to be gained even in this most unpleasant experience. Let us look at some of them.
1. Accept that loss is a basic part of our life cycle. Whatever is born must die. Whatever grows must decay. These are universal laws. We tend to forget that these physical bodies are mortal. Everything we see around us will one-day decay and cease to be. That includes all plants, animals, people, buildings, cities, the planet earth, the sun and even the galaxy. Everything in the physical universe is temporary. When this fact is understood and accepted, we will begin to seek another, inner sources of security and happiness.
2. We can live and be happy again. Some feel that we cannot go on or ever be happy again without our loved one. But time slowly heals the wounds of the heart, and we dare to laugh again (at first when no one is looking, lest it not be proper). We begin to discover that there is more strength within us than we believed.
3. We can increase our faith in the wisdom and justice of the universe. We might feel anger towards God when our loved one leaves his or her physical body. When we lose our faith in the wisdom and justice of the universal laws and we cannot accept that this event could have been a part of a greater plan simply because it was not a part of our own plan. Nor can we envision this event as essential to our evolutionary process. We can learn to have faith and accept that there must have been a reason for this event. There are no accidents.
4. Develop a relationship with the Divine. After seeking happiness, affirmation, love and security in various relationships, we begin to realize there are two main obstacles to succeeding in that effort. The first is that most people are not yet mature and/or strong enough to really love us as unconditionally as we want to be loved. We, in general, do not even love ourselves enough, so it is difficult, if not impossible, to find someone who is spiritually advanced enough to love us unconditionally and make us feel secure.
The second obstacle is that the bodies, which those souls we love presently occupy, are mortal. Thus, even if we find someone who is capable of giving us what we need and want, we may lose him or her at any moment. When we develop a relationship with God, we cultivate an inner source of security and love which does not depend upon any other. We can then enjoy our relationships without fearing loss, or becoming emotionally devastated upon the departure of our loved one from his or her body. We can love without attachment or dependency, which is much more rewarding for us and them.
This attitude is better understood from the example of the story of the “bird on the branch”
“A tired bird was resting on a branch for support. It enjoyed the view from the branch and the safety it offered from dangerous animals. Just as it had become used to that branch and the support and safety that it offered, a strong wind started blowing and the branch started swaying back and forth, with such great intensity, that it seemed that it was going to break. “But the bird was not in the least worried for it knew two important truths. One was that even without the branch it was able to fly and thus remain safe through the power of its own two wings. The second is that there are many other branches upon which it can temporarily rest.”
This small example represents the ideal relationship between ourselves and our relationships, possessions and social and professional positions. We have the right to enjoy all these, but cannot as long as we are dependent on them and are afraid of losing them.
They are all in a state of change and can disappear at any time. Our real strength does not lie in those external ephemeral things, but rather on our two internal wings of love and wisdom. These must become our security base, our source of enjoyment and happiness.
5. Confront death: We need to ask, “what is death?” What is the nature of that energy, that power, that consciousness which, when it was in that body, caused it to think, speak, move, love, feel and create? Now that it is gone, there is a mass of cells that will soon decompose. What is life? What is its purpose? A number of us have been forced by the death of the loved one to investigate these questions. Death forces us to look deeper into the nature and purpose of life.
6. Reexamine our life values and goals: Contact with death awakens us to the fact that someday we too will die. This generates a number of questions. Will we have fulfilled our life purpose? Why have we come here to the earth? Why have we taken this physical body? Is our life part of some greater process? If so, what does it require of us? How can we live our lives more in harmony with that purpose?
Answering these questions might motivate us to change our life style, live a more meaningful existence, improve our character, purify our love, or investigate the deeper truths of life. We may also discover that life is more meaningful when we value others and their needs.
7. Develop discrimination between the body, mind and soul. The body and personality are temporary vehicles for the soul’s expression here on the earth. We do not cease to exist when it dies anymore than we cease to exist when our car breaks down, or a radio station ceases to exist when a radio stops functioning. Awareness that our physical existence is temporary allows us to give more importance to the spiritual aspects of life, which are eternal. We will then pay less attention to accumulating temporary objects and expand more energy toward the development of love, wisdom and self-knowledge.