Suffering from loss is a universal, heart-wrenching experience. There is not a single person who will escape the grip of anxiety, fear and grief that comes from losing someone they love, either to death or separation. Having been through such losses myself, I can attest to the debilitating and far-reaching effects of this kind of suffering. No matter how many times I experience it, it always seems to catch me by surprise. There is something unique about the emotional experience of having lost someone that reflects our nervous system's ability to sync up with those we love. Our brains are wired to mirror each other, to feel a sense of "oneness" with the Other to such an extent that when we lose someone we love, we feel that we've lost a part of ourselves too.
Sitting with this suffering can be an illuminating experience. I wrote in my journal on evening,
"I feel like I am an imagining in someone else’s mind who is severely depressed. That’s how surreal this feels, that it’s not even me existing as a depressed person, but that somewhere else, some other being is depressed and I am the heaviness in their head."
As intense as grief can be, it is possible to gently observe the emotions that arise, from the acute sensation of missing someone to the deep love we feel for them. When we pay attention, we can see that the suffering, while it might seem to be the predominant experience, is usually superficial in nature. Fixated on our loss, of course we feel suffering, but what's underneath it? I was surprised that in excavating my own grief, I found a quality of love I had never known before. It was Love Without an Agenda, because the object of my Love was no longer there; it was an awareness that love requires no object to be felt and that the loss of a person can lead to an even greater love. In realizing this, my experience softened and opened further so that in the midst of what I thought was intense suffering, I found extreme gratitude. I'm not sure I knew what gratitude was before this.
For me, I see a profound connection between loss and gratitude. Now, when I experience a sense of loss, I look for the gratitude. I always find it, and it transforms the experience from one of suffering to that of sacred honoring. Knowing that to live is to one day lose all that we love, is there really any other way?