I wrote a book review on ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ by Sogyal Rinpoche at the beginning of 2017. To be exact – I wrote it days before I experienced the greatest loss of my existence. It helped me at the time – the book I mean. And I still think it is somewhat helpful in dealing with loss and the aftermath of loss, in understanding yourself better under the stinging slap of tragedy. But now – after some time had passed – I sadly realise there is no actual formula or remedy or step or even multiple steps one can consciously take to lessen grief. The moment loss knocks on your door, whatever enlightenment you’ve attained before – disappears in an instant.
Grief is very personal and grief comes in different stages, forms and extremes. Some laugh through grief. Some smile away their sadness. Some cry away their tears. Some cry choking tears from inside – burning away their energy and leaving them drained and emotionally paralysed. Some get angry and bitter and lash out their pain in a desperate attempt to make sense of it – to find answers that cannot possibly be found. How can the unknown ever be known? Some help others before helping themselves so they can stay distracted – in order to delay confronting their own unbearable pain or maybe to find solace in other people’s pain. Pain shared is sometimes pain consoled. Some make impulsive decisions, hoping change would act as their painkiller. Some procrastinate because their comfort zone is their only safety net, the only stability they can have amidst the instability of loss. Some become compulsive and lean on their vices and drink through their pain or do physically destructive things to try and numb the pain. But the pain is only heightened. Some lose their spark – so much so that their eyes don’t shine anymore. Have you every looked at a person who recently lost someone they love? Look at them, and notice their eyes. You will know what I mean. Their eyes are their faces, not their actual faces or deceiving expressions.
Some get delayed reactions. Some run as fast as they can. Some hide. Some give in and accept and live with subdued sadness that follows them wherever they go. Some may even forget for a while that it ever happened and just go on doing what they’ve always done: they get up, go to work, meet friends, eat, and sleep – like a record on loop. They never forget (it is there festering in their subconscious) but they live like they have because sometimes denial brings momentarily relief. Some lean on faith, and some even lose faith. We all do it differently, and there isn’t a form of grief that is better than the other; or more appropriately timed; or less destructive; or more constructive; or more socially accepted (that’s the least of your worry). No one really understands the extent of the pain you feel inside until they go through it themselves. And I say this with absolute confidence.
Loss felt in death is not like breaking up with a partner, or failing at your job, or losing this or that opportunity. Loss – true loss – is when you lose someone you love more than yourself (truly love them more than yourself – a selfless love) and you lose them to death – knowing you can never see them again, or laugh with them, or hold their hand, or depend on them for your happiness, security and sanity. Because that’s the kind of loss that you don’t have a choice in. You cannot try again, you cannot call him or her up – it’s just gone. It’s one love and one loss and nothing after that. You might ask – but who do I love more than myself (other than my children)? Besides loving the person who shares your blood or who has all the basic traits of a lovable person – you love the person who lets you in on their secrets, on their quirky habits and imperfections – the secrets, habits and imperfections that only you know and no one else knows because you’re the special one. When you remember that person you don’t remember big bang moments you had together – instead – you remember those secrets, habits and imperfections you shared. What I call the triggers of your grief.
My childhood friend – someone I respect – put it so eloquently when she said: ‘Such a big painful loss which the pain of will never fully subside, but you will just learn to live with it and eventually pull positives from it’. And here I am, still learning. We all are.
Book Review (written on February 22, 2017): On the ‘Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’
This is the book recommended to me by a woman I briefly met during my Camino de Santiago journey in 2015. It caught my attention as I was intrigued by the title, and I am not sure what attracted me to the non-artistic cover but something of magnets did. I took a photo of the book (amnesia is my second name) and told myself I will read it when I am back home. Fast-forward in time amid the chaos of our bella vita, I had forgotten all about it. This is until two months ago when Buddhism found its way back to me. It has been a trying time – it still is, and I guess I found solace in Buddhism. Thoughts of dying and death; living well; living in the ‘now’; living more; living with little; living with awareness; living happily; purpose/art of living; and all the ‘living’ stuff we all read about created a revolution in my mind. A mind that has been in shambles because of a situation. I was never one to be inspired (and fooled) by all these self-help books about living and happiness. I always found them to be quite superficial – for who made these people such experts when they’re just as humanly confused, weak (precisely because they are human) and clueless as all of us? Anyway. The book somehow made a reappearance in my mind despite my amnesiac state. So I read it. And what a book! Light and heavy. Inspiring and depressing. Far from superficial. Sogyal Rinpoche is an absolute genius! This Tibetan, highly educated, wise, traditional and worldly man has managed to masterfully convey his message on how to live well so you can die well. Knowing the nature of your mind and mastering it is the golden key to contentment. All of that is explained in the book so I will stop here. However, let me say this: If you are going through a tough time; if you’re grieving; if you have questions about death; if you’re terminally ill; or you are dealing with a loved one’s terminal illness and need some fresh perspective to give you hope – this is the book for you. I will leave you with this powerful yet simple quote of a dying person: ‘The point is trust, which is faith. The point is devotion, which is surrender.’ Let’s just be with what is happening. By accepting.