(Before I begin this post proper is the usual program of she-babbles-on-again.)
Reading other bereaved mum’s blogs and comments I see myself joining in the navigation of which path to walk after our baby died. I mean that in terms of religion and/or spirituality, or the absence of it. cannot help but think of a question one mum posted on a loss forum “does faith negates grieving”? Reason being, a friend who had two losses told her there is nothing to be sad or cry about. Her babies are with G-d. Very safe. all good. she will see them in Heaven one day. And this mum believes in Heaven too but she still missed her baby like crazy and wanna cry her heart out. I am no authority but I do not think faith negates grieving. And I did not take comfort in a card out in our memory box (put together by the hospital) that G-d chooses to take a few special children and F is one of them. It just does not make sense to me. I mean, how could he take something from me, without my consent?!?? Esp when I have never asked anything of him. (No, not even in the seconds, minutes, after finding out that F died, I never ever asked for a miracle. I knew what had happened was irreversible.)
So after F died… on the one hand, I read all these books about loss and grief. Face your grief. Mourn. Cry. It’s ok to rip your heart out for 10 years (or more). Send out a note letting others know you are freakin’ going to be sobbing and a big mess for, like, the rest of your life. There is no replacement for your baby. Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief. Oh, anger! Bargain! Denial. Depression. Acceptance.
Then, there is my Buddhist background. I am not writing my autobiography so I am not going into details about how I graze the vast and profound wisdom of Buddhism and chew on what I can accept (and I am still trying to digest most of it) and what makes sense to me, and is reasonable. Well, this other path does not say let it rip. It asks you to understand. Look deep. Penetrate the Truth. Then, that emotion of grief is not necessary. And there are rare moments when I have no sorrow and no fear.
Actually, there is a third path. It is sorta detailed in this book review here and was written during a period when I was experiencing healing, feeling kinda strong and hopeful. Yeah we all blog about that at some point: this one-step-forward-two-steps-back dance-of-grief. Some days, some times, I read something and I am inspired and I feel like, “Whoa! I’m the pilot! I’m in control!” and know exactly which direction the light is. But then, that dark phase will come… the interval may be long but it comes.
So anyways, there seems to be various options, several paths stretched out and meandered ahead of me and I walk, backtrack, change my mind, all that stuff. And, sometimes I just wanna sit in a chair and weep forever. Some other days, or moments, I feel there is no need to grieve, because heck, life and death are but two sides of the same coin. I should instead, be having a whole load of angst about not living in the moment, not cherishing my days and moments enough, not loving and laughing hard enough.
So my state of mind oscillates. some days I get upset/weepy/angry/depressed/sad/hurt because I latch onto that set of literature that sings the beauty of my loss and sorrow, that encourages me to cry and cry and cry and mourn forever, because this life of my baby, though brief, is very precious and real.
The other days I like to call my “Thich Nhat Hanh” days. When I am calm, collected, at peace, in acceptance. No grieving, because F is never gone. He is in everything and everywhere; and so are we all. You know? very namaste and Om and the biggest earthquake would not move me. And though my Buddhist leanings/beliefs/inclinations/interpretations come from very many sources, Thich Nhat Hanh‘s writings have had the largest influence upon me.
And, lemme tell ya, he has written very many books. And, lemme tell ya, I have not read that so many. But speaking from what I have read, I have found his writings to be a gentle voice, a soothing breeze; easy to read and understand and accept. Of course, as mentioned above, moments of clarity and wisdom are rare and far-between. Some days I get annoyed that he can be so peaceful and joyful. I guess I am just jealous. And ignorant, of course. He has been through a lot. And he is joyful. This says a lot about how it is not what you have to go through, but how you come through it and what you become. Just like that thing I read somewhere about how the Dalai Lama’s joy is attained by all the pain he went through. He experienced violence and all the more he advocates non-violence. Well, I guess this is the difference between the wise, great ones, and me, the tiny, petty-minded one.
BUT I DIGRESS.
I wanted to write about Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “No Death No Fear”.
This book gave me great peace. Not total peace, but it’s immense and I am grateful for that. In it, he reiterated what the Buddha had taught: that there is truly no birth, no death; no coming, no going; no same, no different; no permanent self, no annihilation.
That’s no play with words. That’s profound understanding that our limited mind can only understand things from mostly one perspective. There are only manifestations and continuation.
He explains that we misunderstand the concepts of “creation” and “manifestation”. The latter is like this: when conditions are sufficient, things manifest; when conditions are insufficient, things withdraw. He asserts that to create is to make something from nothing, and that is not possible. And because we cannot create from nothing, it is also not possible for something to become nothing. In other words, after our loved ones cease to take on the physical form as we know it so well, they are not “gone”.
On the other hand, many things exist because the many conditions for it to manifest arises and perpetuates. His example is a piece of paper (and I do suspect that Thich Nhat Hanh has a romance with paper, like I do. But, I digress again). Paper does not come from nothing. It comes from trees. Trees come from seeds but requires the many conditions of soil, water, sun, air, and perhaps human efforts. Other than the raw material of wood pulp from trees, paper needs water, it needs air and heat, it needs human efforts, etc. So, when all these very many conditions are sufficient, the paper is able to manifest itself.
Yet, there is no way to destroy the paper. To make it “nil” or “gone”, something we associate with death. You can throw it away but it is still a crumpled piece of paper in the (recycling, I hope!) bin. You can burn it, but it will turn into ashes, and give off heat in the process. It is still not “destroyed”. You cannot reduce it to nothing. It has just changed its form. And, let your imagination run further… the wind blows, the ashes scatter and it perhaps return to the soil and nurtures a flower. It perhaps is blown into the tight weave of a fabric. It perhaps becomes a part of a cement block that becomes a part of your house. Maybe every possibility you can think of, it becomes so. So then, the paper becomes a part of everything. It manifests in a different form, a different manner but it is not gone.
His other example is that of water. It can take on many forms: cloud, snow, hail, rain, water, ocean, wave, etc. Different form, different names, but it is still water. The essence is there and cannot be destroyed.
Quite early in this book, Thich Nhat Hanh appealed to his readers, “If there is a baby who is lost, we should not be sad. It is because there were not sufficient causes and conditions for it to survive at that time. It will come again.” (emphasis is mine, because when I read it I had the urge to go see him and make him promise that to me. But of course, foolish mind manifests itself again…) What he is saying is, nothing is born and nothing dies. There is only manifestation.
So, there were conditions that resulted in the manifestation of F in my body, but at some point the conditions were no longer sufficient and he ceased to manifest. But he is not gone. Just in a different form, (and I like to think) in a form of essence that surrounds us all the time. After his cremation, as we drove back to our cabin, R said, choking in tears, that perhaps that afternoon when it rained and the wind was blowing in the right direction, we could have some particles of F’s ashes falling in our yard. It rained. His ashes, part of our yard. Nurturing trees. Near us. all the time. (When in Singapore we were near a temple and there were many hawkers selling fresh lotus flowers to be used as offerings at the temple. Val, her middle name being Lotus, pointed at the flowers excitedly and said, “That’s me! I am blooming everywhere… …”)
Thich Nhat Hanh also touched on the idea of attachment, esp those one-dimensional ones we are so prone to. Like this notion that happiness can only be so if blah-blah-blah. He said, “If you are committed to a particular notion of happiness, you do not have much chance to be happy. Happiness arrives from many directions. If you have a notion that it comes only from one direction, you will miss all other opportunities.”
I can see myself being used as the classic example. I can see myself obsessed and attached and crazed over the idea of having a baby (and having lost a baby), and attached to this concept that having a live baby is going to make my world sing again(even though we well know none of our babies can ever be replaced). And in the meantime, doing all I can to protect this life, we obsess. Every movement, every heartbeat. Every move I make, every morsel I swallow and every drop of water I drink. No traveling. No blah-blah-blah. Not daring to laugh just in case. Long face. serious face. And everyone, this takes 40 weeks. In the meantime the world does not stop, the 2 girls do not stop growing; their needs for love and light and laughter do not stop. never ever stop. But, for some time I am going to think my direction of happiness is when the baby comes out of me, safe and sound. Yet, the seeds for my happiness surrounds me all the time. My husband, my daughters, my friends, family, stupid movies, crazy jokes… … I suspend, and reject, all these possibilities for joy, because I like to think I can only be healed, and happy again, if i have a live baby. (No, let’s not do it this way.)
And, since the true nature of all things is not to be born, not to die, not to arrive and not to depart… then, he says, “If your dear one has just died, you may have a difficult time overcoming your loss. You may be crying all the time… … It is only because of our misunderstanding that we think the person we love no longer exists after they “pass away.” This is because we are attached to one of the forms, one of the many manifestations of that pattern. When that form is gone, we suffer and feel sad. The person we love is still there. He is around us, within us and smiling at us… … our beloved is not lost… our beloved is manifesting in a different form.”
Therefore, instead of birth and death, there is only continuing transformation.
Built on that, Thich Nhat Hanh went on to address how our (mis)concepts about birth and death can induce fear in us, and thus hinder the joy of being in the moment:
“we cannot enjoy life if we spend a lot of time worrying about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. We worry about tomorrow because we are afraid. If we are afraid all the time we cannot appreciate that we are alive and can be happy now. In our daily life we tend to believe that happiness is only possible in the future. We are always looking for better things, the right conditions to make us happy… … But life is available only in the present moment. The Buddha said, ‘It is possible to live happily in the present moment. It is the only moment we have.'”
There is no escaping the current moment. It is there. here. Always present. Every time the second hand slips one notch to the next, that moment changes. But our mind can do funny things and linger in the past, or leap to the future. We long to prolong our happiness, which we indeed can, if we stay in the present. However, most times we run to the future to find it unknown and empty (what other way can it be?) and then we get anxious or sad or frustrated that happiness is not there waiting for us. (Dang, it’s right here, waiting for us to just tune in!)
So, to bring everything full circle, since there is no death, there is no need for sadness. In fact, these concepts and ideas about no birth and no death are also found in Taoist philosophy, expounded in the luminous works of Zhuang Zi and Lao Zi. Follow this link and read the big “paragraph” B on Zhuang Zi’s take on life and death. (I really encourage this. I have enjoyed Zhuang Zi and Lao Zi tremendously.)
And Thich Nhat Hanh also offers us hope that we will still meet our lost loved ones one day, for he asserted, “Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave goodbye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source, Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”
Did you make it through all that yada-yada?
Please don’t think I am enlightened already. On the intellectual level, I so dig these ideas and concepts. I can accept, and deep down I know this is what will release me from my current state of sorrow, agony and fear. I dunno. I think it is because I am afraid if I am smiling, people will think that F no longer mattered. It no longer hurts and therefore he has ceased to exist, for me and for others. And I don’t want that. And not everyone reads Thich Nhat Hanh and knows that F is here, right now, in a different form, watching over my shoulder as I type. They would probably think, “Oh, it is ok, she is going to have another baby and it will all be fine!” And then F’s brief manifestation will be negated. (But, can I control what others think??)
Well, some moments I am in acceptance, and some moments total denial. I’m still working on it. Like I said, it’s a job.
I know some days I read things like these and respond with cynicism so violent and pungent it will evacuate the entire planet to Mars. But I accept that as part of the process. In Buddhism you are supposed to question and debate everything, poke it test it kick it pour it down the drain sleep with it. drink it. eat it. breathe it. So I sometimes will sneer and make faces at Thich Nhat Hanh on the computer screen but in reality I am full of deep respect and gratitude.
I write this long stinky post to share with all bereaved parents what i encountered on my journey. If you made it here I am so grateful for your perseverance, and if today you are feeling cynical and stinging, I hope another day, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps earlier, a tiny ray of warm sun shines into your mind and warms your heart. I dare not wish you healing, I seldom say things in the definite anymore, but I wish you (insert whatever befits your needs most right now).
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