The death of a loved one is never easy. But when that death is suicide, layers of anger, guilt and shame are added to the grieving process. The ones who are left behind can get stuck in a loop of Why? or If only…
If only I would have listened more, came home from work early, called more often.
It can be a deep, dark hole.
My sister Julie and I were best friends. We shared the ups and downs of life and sisterhood together and even the same spiritual path and love for metaphysics, energetics and yoga. We traveled to other countries, accepted each other’s quirks, always knew how to cheer the other up, but also knew what buttons to push. We completed each other's sentences and spoke a silent language that only we understood. We grew up in a loving, supportive family and had all the comforts of a happy life.
But in January 2013, my dear sister ended her life at the age of 40. She had been struggling for a decade with depression, although only those closest to her would actually know. She appeared to everyone else, as fully functioning. She had a smile when you greeted her, her own business, and she was creative and out-going. Anti-depressants, talk therapy, and various therapies provided some relief, but could not cure the profound emptiness and disconnect she felt.
The year prior, I had been living in Mexico studying yoga and meditation. I was disconnected from all forms of communication — talking, email, texting, Facebook, reading, and even eye contact. It was grueling at times, watching the monkey mind and feeling the body becoming uncomfortable and numb from hours of stillness and silence. Little did I know, as I sat there baking in that hot yoga studio, how valuable these meditations would become later on.
Here are 7 ways how meditation can help you accept the death or even suicide of a loved one:
1. Be fully present.
Being present or conscious in the moment is a key spiritual tool. It is no different when applied to death. Often the surprise and shock of a loved one’s passing can be overwhelming, sending us reeling. My meditation teacher had said that it is important to be fully present when someone dies. Our culture is groomed to deny death, so it's more constructive to embrace it fully. Death is a gift. So instead of contracting and closing myself off, I expanded and opened my heart by breathing into each moment with full awareness. I looked at people in the eyes and felt their love, their sorrow and their pain.
2. Ask yourself: Who am I?
We often meditated on this question of self-inquiry. You silently ask yourself from the heart and with curiosity, “Who Am I?” Any answer the mind gives, such as, “I am Denise”, “I am American”, “I am an artist” is not who you truly are. You are not this body. You are not this mind. You are not your emotions or your gender, or your personality, or your career. You are beyond form. You are infinite. You are timeless.
But even this cannot grasp who you truly are. Having experienced moments of this timelessness, this stillness between the inhale and the exhale, I understood death as a transition from form (the body) to the formless (spirit). This experience showed me that my sister’s spirit is not gone — she has simply changed form.
3. Know that stillness leads to surrender.
There is a reason why you sit for hours in meditation. The stillness creates an opening to go beyond the physical. Often our ego will create distractions, such as “I am thirsty”, “My arm itches”, “My foot is asleep”, “I need to call Mary” — and while this may be true, it is often a cunning way for the ego to prevent us from going deep within ourselves. When we surrender to the discomfort and accept the situation as is, we can go beyond our previous limitations and reach higher levels of consciousness. Stillness leads to surrender, which leads to acceptance. Acceptance can give us peace.
4. Letting go of control will open your heart.
Being in control can seem to feel good, but it is an illusion. Letting go of control allows the heart to open and trust to strengthen. When we trust that all is divinely unfolding for the highest good of everyone, then acceptance and peace can enter. Trusting in this ideal can lead to the knowing that there are no mistakes or accidents in life — that everything is a divine orchestration.
5. You must trust in the process.
I couldn’t always understand or see where my meditations were taking me. Often it felt like nothing was happening, or I was just spinning my wheels. But I kept showing up to each retreat, to each session, to each moment, to each breath, trusting that the process would carry me to deeper understanding. And it did.
6. You cannot judge what you do not fully understand.
Nothing is ultimately right or wrong, good or bad — it just is. It is only our perception that clouds our judgment. A rainy day can be seen by a farmer as something good, because it is watering his crops. A person who has an outdoor picnic scheduled can see the same rainy day as terrible. But ultimately the rain just IS — it's not right or wrong, good or bad. The same is true with viewing suicide and death. We cannot truly know what it is like to walk in someone else’s experience and therefore cannot fully understand their suffering. It is not our place to judge, but to be fully open to the experience so we can see what it has to teach us.
7. It's OK to allow yourself time and space to grieve.
Even with the profound tool of meditation and the knowledge of our timelessness, it was (and still is) very important to allow the time and space to grieve — to cry, to weep, to shout and to express emotions to the fullest. To deny them is to deny the experience of being in this human body. It is important to feel these emotions fully and completely, and then allow them to pass. This too, shall pass.
I still feel the ache of missing my sister’s physical presence in my life, but it is nowhere near the pain I know I would feel if I didn’t have meditation. Our connection remains, though, in the language of spirit. She sends me messages on the wings of a butterfly , with calico kittens or the sound of a wind chime. She is with me always because love is eternal.
If you're grieving a loved one, start meditating today. Find a class in your community or go to a retreat for your next vacation. Otherwise you can always just sit in your living room for a few minutes a day and observe your breath.
To anyone who has lost a loved one, may you find peace and grace within the stillness.