DEAR FRIENDS -- The sadness of loss is an essential part of being human. And the losses that hurt the most, that stretch our hearts to the breaking point, are when we lose a loved one. The profound grief, which can even touch despair, either closes our hearts or opens them wider than before. Losing a loved one is always a key turning point in our lives. Will we "walk through the fire" and find our hearts more open on the other side? Or will we create a shell that protects us from further pain -- but also from love and from life.
In my own life, I have experienced many deep and anguishing losses. Many times I have identified with the Biblical character Job, who lost all he held dear -- only to be blessed in the end. I lost my entire family, I lost my health, I lost my marriage. I lost my life's savings and my home. I lost my childhood to a violent and alcoholic upbringing, and my young adulthood to a consuming struggle with illness. Most of all I lost my faith in myself, and in the beauty and goodness of life. My long "walk through the fire" has taught me how to keep my heart open -- no matter what. Learning to completely let go, and trust, has given me the gift of inner peace.
A friend of mine lost her beloved dog recently. She had named her best friend and companion Prem, which is the Sanskrit word for love. Prem was an incredible light in her life, the one place where pure love and loyalty were available at all times. She wrote this to me: ""It makes one feel, what is the point of all this, why try? I was living with the attitude that at least I can count on a little dog’s love and affection. Is all love an illusion? It all goes away sooner or later! I always feel that I end up empty handed and defeated and have to start all over again after recovering......"
How does one respond, when someone's need for comfort and meaning is so deep? I looked into my heart to find the wisdom and kindness she needed. This is what I shared.
"Dear Sarah -- I'm so sorry for the pain and sorrow of your loss. I can feel how "bonded" you were with Prem -- how much you loved him and how much you needed his love. And how shocking it was to lose him so suddenly, with no time to prepare or say goodbye. It's so hard, I know. I've been through similar things, where I lost people I was deeply attached to and loved very dearly -- in the blink of an eye. Pain this deep challenges our basic trust in life and makes us feel so isolated.
I don't believe your connection with Prem was an illusion. It was love, and love is no illusion! Love is life itself, it warms our hearts, makes us breathe and lifts our spirits. So it is always worth it, even if we must someday say goodbye.
Your deep sorrow shows how open your heart was to Prem. So trust it now, stay open to it. Keep breathing, keep crying, and I promise you it will heal and your heart will find peace. Sarah, it seems that this loss has hit you so hard that you are tempted to lose your faith in life and love. I have learned that when our sorrow plunges into despair, to heal we must see more deeply into ourselves. Despair -- the loss of trust in life -- is always a signal that some deeper and older wound has been re-opened. Perhaps the love between you and Prem shielded you from feelings of loneliness and heartbreak from childhood, and also disappointments about life in the present day. If so, those feelings would "come to the surface" and intensify the grief about Prem. So the despair you feel may be triggered by losing Prem, but be coming from earlier pain that has yet to be faced and released. Does that make sense?
I have found that when I completely give in to my feelings of sadness-- and the fundamental way to do that is deep crying, which releases your breathing and frees your spirit -- I always heal. And, in fact, my heart ends up more open than it was before. How is this possible? The key is to recognize that the grief of the present-day is mixed with the stored-up pain of the past. When you awaken to that fact, really see it operating within you, and cry for those things as well -- you experience a fundamental breakthrough. You heal the pain of today, and are cleansed of the shadows of the past. And you feel lighter and more free than you ever thought possible.
Most people, after deep and traumatic losses, become frightened to surrender to love again -- love for people, for a pet, for their own cherished dreams and desires. They want to avoid further pain. And so they become isolated inside, and life becomes colder. This is a tragedy, and it doesn't have to be that way. If we sense that we are losing our faith in love, we need to turn within and release the pain of the past. And then despair disappears. We are free to surrender to love again, with all the joy and connection that brings. And, magically, we are less dependent on the object of our affections, less afraid of losing them -- because the source of our good feelings is not in them, but within our healed and open hearts. An open heart, freed at last from the pain of the past, is so full of love and peace that there is no room for fear.
Sarah, I've got my arms around you as you cry for Prem. I'm sending comfort and love to your heart and I hope you feel better soon. And I hope that the perspective on loss and grief that I'm offering you helps you to focus more deeply within than ever, and heal your heart -- for good. Let me know what you need, I am always here for you. LOVE -- BRYAN"