When I was 10 years old, my mom died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. She was 34 years old. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I repressed my feelings. After my dog died 20 years later, my emotions about my mom’s passing came up and began to heal. My 84-year-old dad passed away six months ago. He was my best friend, role model, coach and hero. I need to deal with my loss and would appreciate your insight.
You can thank your brain for compartmentalizing emotions surrounding your mother’s sudden death until you were old enough to manage the pain. You can thank your sweet soul for stitching the memory of your mother’s death to the death of your four-legged friend, because both connections are love stories. And you can be grateful for your ego’s openness in seeking a deeper reality.
From a spiritual perspective, the root of grief is attachment. It’s natural to express emotions—sadness, anger, fear—when a loved one dies. As we journey through our emotions, we must also try to stay conscious. Being spiritually awake means we appreciate the person who has died while growing out of the unhealthy attachment of wanting things to be as they were when that person was alive.
The death of someone with whom we have shared an emotionally intimate connection, like a parent, partner or dear friend, is particularly painful. After we muster the courage necessary to shake off the heaviest layers of grief, the real work of transformation begins. This work is so difficult that few people ever enter into it, and fewer still complete it. It is not necessary to undertake this transformational work, but choosing to avoid it stunts a person’s spiritual growth.
The work is this: Integrate the role the deceased person embodied in your life. In your case, it means you must become your own best friend, role model, coach and hero. Synthesize the qualities that you sought from interactions with your father, and exercise those attributes within yourself until you can fully own each one. Do not announce to anyone that you have this task underway. It is your work. If you need assistance, engage a spiritual director (www.sdiworld.org). Or simply learn to meditate and to pray.
For those who choose not to engage in transformation, there are other paths. These routes are psychological methods of avoiding spiritual maturity. Choosing such a path is not bad or wrong, but rather a distraction, usually chosen unconsciously. Here are a few examples: A man whose mother dies dates women with deep maternal instincts, and he unconsciously and repeatedly creates scenarios in which his dating partner must mother him. He, in turn, resents her for it. Or a woman whose mother dies attempts friendships with a series of older women by becoming their supplicant, running errands and doing their work, and when she is treated poorly, she is unable to end the relationship. Or she does and begins another similar relationship soon after. You don’t have to tread that cycle. Choose to deal with your loss spiritually. Grieve the emotions, then consciously transform into the next evolution of you.
My divorce is nearly final, but I still love my husband. We fought a lot because I am ambitious and he’s not. Now I see how he took care of things so I could pursue my dreams. He begged me not to end our marriage. I didn’t listen. What should I do?
Understand that every characteristic has a shadow. The persistence you employed to meet your goals is also the stubbornness that you directed toward your husband. Now channel that intensity into an honest conversation with him about how mistaken you were. Practice patience while he decides what he really wants.