No Such Thing as Good Mourning

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

I walked into the hospital that day with a feeling of suffocation from the walls that seemed all too white. I felt the hallways narrowing as I got closer to the intensive care unit. It was as if my chest was filling up with air but I was afraid to exhale for I might have erupted in tears in that moment if I did and everyone would have seen.

I walked through the giant doors of the ICU and this silence and sadness fell upon me. It was quieter in there than the rest of the hospital. I spotted him as soon as I turned the corner. He was still in a coma but by that time, we could already see his physical body wanting to leave the world. My knees gave out and I fell to the ground. I remember feeling as though my heart had stopped beating and I wrapped myself in my own arms in fear that I might fall apart.

​An indescribable darkness had come over me. I didn’t care for my surroundings nor did I have the capacity to care if anyone was looking anymore. This pain of knowing that I would have to begin to mourn in the days to come already felt like mourning to me. I knew that I had to say goodbye but since I had never lost someone so significant to me until that point, I didn’t know how to cope with it. I still wouldn’t say that I understand what loss is until this day but I do believe it can be very different for each individual. There was nothing in my life that could prepare me for this moment, for this kind of pain.

Against these bright walls of the hospital, I could imagine and feel the dark hands, forming from a shadow, reaching in and suffocating my heart.

I never knew before how much my emotions could take over. I remember wishing for a way to detach myself from the human that I am to not feel pain. I was, and still am, in pain but I was also confused at the same time. I had never felt such a strong emotion come over me so instantly, so intensely and so uncontrollably.

In Zen Buddhism, we are taught that nothing and no one ever lives or dies, they are only transforming from something or into something. It teaches us that no matter what that transformation is, that living thing will always be a part of the universe and a part of every human. So, these teachings say that “death” is just supposed to be a word that means transformation, not loss and even “birth” is a transformation from an aspect of life and not a beginning of a life.

My brain tells me that I am to understand that he is not his body, he is a soul that has travelled somewhere else but my heart still feels pain. I wonder if it is from my upbringing, from the society we live in, that I have learned that I am supposed to feel pain from losing someone. I wonder if I had understood this “art of inter-being” from a younger age, would still feel the pain I feel today? Are these emotions really uncontrollable? Was I born like this or did society shape me into this?

On August 3rd, 2011, I attended a lecture given by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village in France where he introduced the idea of “signlessness”. He spoke about death and said to not attach oneself too much to an appearance. In other words, the belief is that if someone has passed on, their body is just a body that has been abandoned by their soul – all translated as a transformation. He said, “you see a cloud, it disappears, turns into water, and is purified in your tea.” The point of this quote was to show that nothing in your life will ever really be gone.

Though listening to that made me feel a tinge of contentment, I still had certain many triggers in my life and from society that made me feel the “generic” stages of mourning again. I tried to remember what I had learned in the Zen retreat but even though I could write down and speak the words of lecture, I could not truly hold it in my heart. I could not feel the truth that was in those lessons. As much as I wanted Thich Nhat Hanh’s words to be my reality, I couldn’t get away from the memories of the deep pain I felt. I guess, no matter what, we can never unlearn what we have learned or “un-live” in the world that we live in.

I want to liberate myself from what I have learned from society and understand true mindfulness so I will no longer suffer at the thought of his passing. I want to transform into a human being that isn’t attached to the ideals and expectations of society and come to my own understandings of what “death” really means. Maybe if I am able to succeed in these goals, I can smile at memories of him instead of cry.


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