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Loss, bereavement, grief and the power of stillness

Loss and its associated grief make for a challenging topic, yet one that we all must face in the course of our lives. Much has been written and researched about the grieving process and while concepts and words may certainly give guidance or support, loss and surrounding grief always remain individual and personal experiences.

While the death of a partner, friend or colleague is most associated with grief, this powerful reaction may occur for numerous reasons involving relationships at many levels – or ill health, injury or financial disaster to name a few. Grief carries a range of emotions, some predictable and others less so. In the process of grieving there are no quick fixes. Healing may come within weeks, months and not uncommonly, many years. It is for these reasons that new clients frequently seek assistance at this Centre. It is for this reason that I find myself lead to share some healing connections.

To touch on this at a very personal level, it is for me the recent loss of my husband of many years that has prompted these reflective thoughts. It has been a challenging and sorrowful time. But I am content in the certainty that he is at peace and there is resolution in this even though of course his presence is irreplaceable and sadness hovers. Within this experience I have been fortunate to have the loving support of family and friends. Most importantly, within this experience I have the gift of resilience through the additional support of my long-term practice of spending time in simply being still.

Not unusually my recent bereavement is one of many such experiences within family and friends over the years. By way of diversity, my earliest recollection of grief came in childhood when our much-loved grey and white kitten, Timmy, disappeared. The last time I saw Timmy he was by our front door, gently teasing moths with his right paw on a mild, maybe summer evening. And he vanished. We searched in every possible way for days, weeks and months, trying to locate just some hint of what could have befallen him. We lived near open spaces and repeatedly we covered every path and possibility – even searching for decaying animal remains in the hope that we could understand what happened to Timmy. Years have passed since then and although I rarely bring that little grief to mind, whenever I do, there is a lingering pain of loss without resolution. If there’s a problem, the soul seeks re-solution.

When Timmy the kitten left us, I had no experience of stillness. I was then a child, sensitive but purpose driven. Much later when my father suddenly died, I was an adult-child, sensitive and bewildered and my grief was comforted in my husband’s arms. Then an avalanche of grief came later, as numerous family deaths punctuated our early years of marriage. In this I kept running for comfort outside of myself, the outcome of which I have described in my book In Stillness Conquer Fear. The extremely high anxiety that plagued me for many years was undoubtedly triggered by repeated loss and too much effort trying to make sense of it all.

At that time and without knowing stillness, my mind was far too occupied, encumbered by over-thinking. But I knew no better. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, essentially loss and bereavement involve the heart and mind and soul. Nothing makes sense in the pain of grief. The normality of one’s daily comings and goings simply disappears to be replaced by emptiness. And nothing can fill the void: not company, love, sex, drugs or money. Not material goods or distractions. Grief can raise anxiety and depression along with feelings of panic and fear for one’s mental stability. There may come strange feelings of detachment from the real world along with the pain of separation and resultant loneliness. Grieving prompts loss of appetite or conversely, the comfort of over-indulgence. Grieving can feel like recovery from debilitating illness or becoming overwhelmed while rushing blindly into activities such as tidying and cleaning – and of course, utter exhaustion. And while the heart, mind and soul are seeking the solace that keeps slipping through our fingers, there are also practical matters that must be dealt with – matters that require focused attention that at this time, are difficult to access. In grief there is nothing but grief … until, perhaps by desire or happenstance, our spirit gradually awakens to inner peace and newfound awareness. Within awareness, a level of acceptance gently emerges; the symptoms of grief begin to lessen and the process of resolution can begin.

As for myself today, the skills I have learned along the way I confirm again as life necessities – for we never know what waits around the metaphorical corner. A certain spiritual faith I am fortunate to possess, strengthened by reading, reflecting, journal writing, walking, time spent surrounded by nature or within healing spaces. Support also comes from my attraction to art, music, the lightness of humour when appropriate, quiet conversations with family and friends … and lots of hugs that enhance the supreme power of love. Most of all, the practice of stillness within my life for many years is for me the keystone of inner peace that binds all the good together.

Regardless of the cause of grief or the length of the journey, within that time the heart, mind and soul need freedom from encumbrance. The experience of true stillness can provide that because it asks nothing but the practice of effortless rest. To gain that is to access the natural panacea for calming the whole being.

Finally, from loss and grief we can more fully grow. In the process of healing, it’s possible to come to accept that it truly is in the dying of who or what we grieve for that we can learn so much about living. This is no mystery. It is part of the truth of existence: loss and pain and darkness are just as important as all the goodness and joy of day to day life. For without the dark, who can ever truly know the light?

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne, August 2019