It’s natural to feel sadness and loss when our loved ones die, but use it to remember our own impermanence

Jul 25, 2022

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina:

Many thanks for your teaching today. Always lots to learn and to come to understand. Many light-bulb moments as usual.

I didn’t ask this question during the teaching partly out of shyness and partly because I felt that it might not be immediately applicable to the other students. I am really struggling since my partner’s death. I am deeply sad and lonely (even in company). This is my reasoning so far: I know that this is because I am wanting what I can’t have (that is, my loved one’s company). I know that I have to accept that this can’t happen and that they’re gone. I am trying to shift this sadness.

I know that new opportunities will come into being. I am trying to “change my mind,” to see this situation as an opportunity to practice and as grist for my mill. It seems that I am impatient as I don’t appear to be making much progress yet. I know that helping others will help enormously. Currently I am fragile and am only taking small steps in this direction.

Is there more that I can do? Are there other ways to understand my mind at this time of loss/opportunity?

Where does grief fit into delusions/unhappiness? I know that these are big questions but I would very much value further perspective from the teachings.

Much love,
L.

ANSWER

Dearest L,

It was so good to see you online!

I can only imagine how lonely you feel. Your dear partner has been absolutely central to your life for so long! Of course you’re lonely!

From your words I can see that you are interpreting it all perfectly. You’re applying all the tools you have, the mental tools, which of course means the way you interpret your life.

So I would say there is nothing more you can do — except to change the view that you should be feeling better than you are. That’s the only mistake you’re making. You’re doing beautifully! Eventually you will heal — it’s guaranteed because of the way you’re seeing things.

So, yes, take it slowly, go one step at a time, don’t push. Weep when you feel like it, have a sleep. But just keep moving. You will discover whole new parts of yourself, for sure. New doors will open, for sure.

As for how grief fits into the Buddhist approach to the mind. First of all, in general, it’s not possible to suffer if we didn’t have delusions. Therefore, which delusion in this case? You named it already: wanting what we can’t have: attachment. It’s natural! Everyone in the universe has it! And in situations like this the pain of not having what you’ve had around you, your dear partner, for fifty-plus years, must be pretty painful indeed!

But grief is also mixed with compassion and our virtuous qualities. I remember one time His Holiness the Dalai Lama was talking about his mother after she passed away, and he cried. Assuming he doesn’t have delusions, then you couldn’t call what he was experiencing as suffering. It was the sadness of the lack of this beloved person in his life, his memory of her kindness, his gratitude to her.

Same with you. That’s all there too. It’s the human condition, L!

The other big learning, of course, is that this should remind you of your own impermanence. Renew your wish to use the rest of your life as well as possible, to develop your own potential, and to help others. This will energize you!

As Pabongka Rinpoche says, think, “This will happen to me!”

Much much love, L, and much courage,
Robina

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina

Thank you so much for those wise and encouraging words. I have taken them to my heart. I am genuinely trying to change the attachment to love and gratitude for the time and happiness that we had. I am also grateful that my partner was spared the extreme ravages of old age: they came and went full of strength and life. What more could you wish for the one you love?

I have been thinking about the pilgrimage for some time. Have always wanted to do it. I see that it may be on in February. By then the world and my finances might be back on a somewhat even keel. I will keep an eye out for further details.

Thank you again for your love and kindness. Both are very much appreciated.

Much love
Lxxx

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