Going beyond grief
By bringing to light how some individuals have undergone and overcome grief, Jamuna Rangachari assures us that we are not alone in our loss and sorrow. And all the more so because the Divine is always with us
Grief is something all of us encounter at some stage or the other in our lives. It is a state of mind in which our whole being feels sorrow and suffering, for losing something or someone we dearly loved or resonated with. We become inconsolable, unable to face the catastrophe of our lives as nothing seems to make us believe that one day we will overcome this pain.
However, often we do not have the luxury to plunge ourselves in grief. We have people who are dependent on us, and we have to pull ourselves out of our sorrow to attend to their and our everyday needs.
Is there a method which can help us mitigate our suffering or give us emotional strength at a time when we lack it the most?
There’s no single right way to cope with grief, but there are methods that work for some people.
When dealing with grief and loss, it can be difficult to know whose advice to trust, and many people might try and tell you what worked for them. Ultimately, when it comes to bereavement, everyone is different and there’s no prescription or a one-size-fits-all solution. In this article we will study the mechanism different people adopted to cope with this aspect of life.
Narasimhan Gopalan (called Sim) was happily married to Bharathi Ramarao and had two children. Both of them were in their forties and lived in the US. Suddenly, Bharathi was afflicted with cancer. Sim had, of course, never imagined that his charmed life would be unexpectedly struck with this challenge. He did not find it easy at all and shares, “The day Bharathi was diagnosed, I was devastated. It was Bharathi who conveyed me the news in a casual tone. She did not want me to be shattered. Ten months of misery followed, and she finally attained peace on 14 July 2011.”
Sim kept reading the Bhagavad Gita for comfort and then redefined his life in an almost complete manner. “I had been involved with a few social causes prior to this. But now I got involved with more causes and each one of these enlightened me about what people who are less fortunate than us go through and how blessed we are. It could be the woes of families of leukaemia patients, the innocent smiles and expectations of the less fortunate kids, the pains of cancer patients, the struggles of human trafficking survivors, the hunger of the homeless, and so on.”
He adds, “I can only say how I’m trying to cope with grief and find peace. I say ‘trying’ because I believe you can never overcome grief completely. You can only lessen the effects and try and balance it with peace. The more peace you achieve, the lesser the grief.”
Acceptance of reality
More than the challenge itself, it is the acceptance of losing someone to the Divine that many find hard to do. Only when we realise that we are not alone in facing this kind of grief that we understand that death is an essential part of everyone’s life as is shown in a parable below [Box 2].
When we surrender to a higher power in all areas, we become much more resilient like in the case of Preethi mentioned below.
At the young age of 18, Preethi got paralysed below the neck due to a freak accident. Before that, Preethi was the youngest member of the Tamil Nadu State Women’s Cricket Team (she started representing the state at just eight years of age), a national level swimmer, and was exceptional in academics as well. At that point, a moment of misfortune turned her life upside down. She completely lost her identity in the span of a split second! Still, with the help of grace and her parents, she carried on. She and her mother had another challenge to face when she lost her father due to a sudden heart attack. However, she coped spiritually and says, “We are happy he has attained moksha (liberation) and live as if his soul is still with us.”
Preethi herself has reached a state of equipoise which allows her to smile despite desperately heart-wrenching circumstances and is now known as, “The Cripple Who Is Whole!” So much so that her story has been included in the Tamil Nadu State Board English Literature book for the 10th grade.
Another such case is that of Swarnalata from Coimbatore, who is now grappling with multiple sclerosis. She remembers the time she lost her father when he committed suicide due to problems on the work front. At that time, she went into a deep depression and even attempted suicide. It took several years for her to regain her composure. However, she soon got married and then found a new father in her father-in-law. It was then that multiple sclerosis struck her.
Though severely depressed, she then moved on and, along with her husband, founded Swarga Foundation, an NGO, to support those with neuromuscular disorders. Her father-in-law was suffering from Parkinsonism and Alzheimer’s. Even this they accepted and looked after him to the best of their ability. Then, when they knew about his impending death, they planned to donate his organs with his consent. Hence, instead of mourning his death, they arranged for the harvesting of his eyes and skin.
As we can see, she keeps herself motivated by doing all that is possible, for that is how she knows she will heal emotionally. This is what we all need in whatever challenges we may face in the circle of life.
Moving with the cosmos
Relatives and friends find it hard to accept that their loved one has been taken away as they often feel that they could have done something to prevent it. However, the knowledge that the mortal body may have gone but the soul lives on can help us find some relief from our sorrow.
Sunita Bakhru from Mumbai shares the story of coping with the loss of her ailing and aged father. Initially, it was difficult for her to cope with it for quite some time. She shares, “As is common, when one is helpless, a stranger’s help seems God-sent and like the last straw to hang on for sanity. A connection with a friend who was into alternative healing was constantly at the back of my mind and, finally, after five months of fighting my own demons, I approached Ms Surubhi Dand, an alternative therapy healer. Her constant reassurances made me slowly confide in her and offload the ‘baggage of guilt’ I had been carrying day and night.” Surubhi’s Access Bars sessions revived positivity in Sunita and enabled her to take one day at a time and care for herself. The two one-hour sessions of Surubhi’s warm soothing hands and gentle voice drove away the dark morbid thoughts that had been engulfing her for a long time. Sunita came out of it with positive affirmations for herself which she read and re-read throughout the day. Even now, she does this every day.
When a parent loses their child, it is perhaps the greatest grief of all. This tragedy happened with Bipasha Gupta, the head of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of India, Delhi. She shares, “My brilliant child Meghna-Ayesha was just 17, standing strong, tall, fair, and beautiful when she was diagnosed with an incurable ailment (MS). She slipped into a deep depression after the diagnosis, and left us one day after suffering from massive heart failure.”
At that soul-crushing point, she came across her late daughter Ayesha’s best friend’s mother, who encouraged her to recover from trauma and work to help other young people afflicted by MS. For, she realised, there were areas where the victims could be productive even though they suffered from a chronic ailment.
She saw this as a God-sent opportunity and got immersed in the flow of the MS society work, putting in nearly 15 hours a day. “Every MS person was and is Ayesha for me,” she says with a smile, as she is gradually coming out of her grief. She has understood how to make people focus on what they can do and not on what they cannot. She feels that she has found a purpose in her life.
Make grief an opportunity to grow
Pulkit Sharma, spiritual psychotherapist, author, and writer, based in Puducherry, says, “Grief is not just a tragedy, it is an opportunity in disguise: Although loss of someone close shatters our world, the resultant grief is also an opportunity to question our superficial sense of attachment to the world and move towards an evolved stance. By holding on to this perspective with faith, we can cope with grief.”
He recommends the following steps:
• Letting our feelings flow freely: We usually try to suppress our feelings of anger and pain, and that’s the primary reason why grief becomes complicated. We must remember that we have an innate power to heal, provided we allow the emotions to run their normal and natural course. Therefore, stop running away from your own feelings and let them flow freely. Eventually, there will be peace and hope.
• Finding meaning in our new reality: After the loss, our reality and identity changes; the way we define our world and ourselves goes through a big change, and we must find ways to adjust with it. We can easily cope with grief once we find meaning in our new reality. A client of mine whose daughter succumbed to cancer became a caregiver and an activist for cancer patients. This gave her a sense that all was not finished and that she could make a difference to the lives of so many people.
• Bonding with the Divine: Grief reminds us that the only permanent and constant relationship we can have in this world is with the Divine. Therefore, we need to immerse ourselves in the divine love and constantly surrender to the Divine. As our bond with the Divine strengthens, we are able to overcome feelings of grief.
Merging with the cosmos
The cosmos is, after all, our eternal home and it has a plan for all of us at various stages of our lives. After listening to everyone’s story, we certainly realise that the cosmos gives us the requisite strength when we need it. We only need to listen to it and follow its plan for us. For, the cosmos knows what is best for the evolution of our soul and, ultimately, this is what we need to embrace.
When this happens, whatever comes our way, however joyous or painful, we can accept it with equanimity as a blessing from the Divine and do the best we can do.
The soul is the only thing that we have and it is still with us even if it may not be with us in the mortal body. This is equally applicable for us as well as our loved ones. The love lives on forever, whether in our physical body or in our soul.
All we need to do is listen to the soul to transcend our grief.
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