Positive Side of Grief

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Quiet contemplation on a still evening lake. Sheets of rain pounding the earth. Deafening claps of thunder. Flashes of lighting above the treetops. The star speckled sky. The sound of the ocean. A cool breeze in a summer field.

When I think of grief I often think of nature. This is because the nature of grief compels us to contemplate our existence and our place in the cosmos, to become philosophers, to search for meaning in apparent meaninglessness, to admit to ourselves that we are fundamentally tied to the universe just like all other particles and not apart from the natural world, to recognize that our bodies will one day go back to the earth. The loss of someone close to us is undeniable proof that we are not immortal like we secretly want to believe.

Many people confound their grief process by feeling bad about having these thoughts. They feel guilty for turning the mirror on themselves and pondering their own existential situation, as if they are being selfish for not focusing on the person lost to them. But these thoughts are a normal and healthy part of grieving. Allowing yourself to have them without judgment can open up doors you didn’t know existed and guide you to a path of personal meaning that will ultimately do the most honor to the memory of the one who has passed away.

There is a lot of suffering, torment, and seemingly unbearable longing that comes along with grief but there is also beauty. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says he would never want his children to live in a world without suffering. Without suffering there is no growth, there is no way to recognize how special and precious the good times are. Without the mud there could be no lotus flower.

When you use your grief as a chance to cut through illusion and ponder the nature of your existence, to think about the fundamental and tragic realities of being human, that you have the capacity as a sentient organism to regret your own mortality, the person you have lost is right there with you on your journey. Not in a symbolic sense but in a real sense. They have created the parameters for your contemplation by passing away and this contemplation would not be possible without them leaving.

Take a trip into nature if you have ever lost anyone close to you. Give yourself the chance to quietly contemplate what they meant to you and how you can make your existence more special and meaningful right now while you still have the chance. Write a poem, draw something, compose a song, or take a picture. Let yourself viscerally experience the tragic reality that you are a part of nature yet cut off from it and transcending it, that you choose life yet have to accept death, and that time is much shorter than any of us want it to be.