On the Loss of My Parents: 8 – The Spirituality of Loss

The spirituality of loss embraces ways of transforming our heartache into gratitude and belonging. All forms of significant loss in life compel us undertake a mindful journey of self-directed learning into the midst of our trauma and suffering. But we are not meant to dwell in this space for too long. The purpose of spirituality is to transform our pain into wisdom.

The Spirituality of Loss

The Spirituality of Loss

The On the Loss of My Parents series is a tribute to my parents, Bruce Alger (1918-2011) and Vi Alger (1919-2010). The eighth and final article in this series explores the spiritual dimensions of loss. The purpose of spirituality is, for me, to transfigure our feelings of suffering and abandonment into gratitude and belonging. It is a difficult and arduous journey filled with uncertainty and at times insecurity. It is a journey each one of us is eventually required to make.

We can never hide from it

A spiritual practice is intimate with our emotional life. The death of a loved one is a profoundly difficult experience. It creates a crisis within our own sense of identity.

I heard people say to me, “Life goes on.” Although well intended, it’s a remarkably inept thing to say. Life goes on how? To where and for what purpose? And how do you know anyway?

I also heard other well-intentioned people say, “They lived a long life.” It’s another statement that is virtually meaningless. We struggle to find language for the inevitables in life.

Aging, death, dying, disease, suffering. We struggle to find words for the inevitables of life. We wrongly dismiss the discussion as too morbid or negative. And like the ostrich, we stick our minds in the ground so they don’t have to see what is really around them. We create a false sense of urgent to get back to business.

Even with our mind stuck in the ground, we can never hide from it.

One purpose of spirituality is to turn directly into the midst of our troubles in order to learn from them. This capacity for learning is called contemplation.

Learning How to Walk Again

The spirituality of loss is a passionate search for wisdom across a stark and inhospitable landscape of bereavement, mourning, anguish, and grief. It is a journey of transformation that changes our sense of identity and purpose.

When someone close to us dies, we are reminded about how incredibly fragile our existence is. Death retrieves our humility and crushes our pretentiousness. And we find ourselves standing on spiritual crossroads not knowing which way to turn.

Sometimes I will just sit with my feelings of loss. It doesn’t make the discomfort go away, and I wouldn’t want it to. In contemplating the loss of my parents I invite a spiritual conversation with them. I retrieve their presence into the here and now.

No parent would want their child to suffer because of their death. Indeed, my parents would only want me to thrive in their absence. My dad was often heard saying, “Why worry about the things you can’t control.” It was an adage he lived by.

Spirituality always involves some form of courageous leap into an unfamiliar terrain. Soon after my parents died, I walked on a terrain imbued with fear, anxiety, insecurity, guilt, regret, and anguish. It was painful ground to be on, and some days were better than others.

The spirituality of loss encourages us to make a firm resolve to walk on this ground, to know it, and to learn from it. And as we slowly and sometimes painfully place one foot in front of the other, we eventually see something different emerging on a distant horizon.

This is a very difficult terrain to negotiate, but if we walk into it with a firm resolve to enter into our pain and suffering in order to find the wisdom hidden there, we can gradually move forward and begin to renegotiate our place in the world.

We are learning to walk again.

Finding Nature in Loss

A Totem for Dad

I believe that spirituality and the earth are inseparable. To be spiritual is to literally invite the presence of nature in our lives. There is a very real and powerful ecopsychology of the mind.

In nature we witness the full force of life. There is a primal sense of wildness about it. Without it, we cannot survive. It is our true home. It is where we discover our true source of belonging.

As we get older, I believe we naturally become closer to the earth. In their later years, my parents loved just sitting outside and observing life around them. They literally aged into a more contemplative existence.

There is a constant interplay of life and death in nature. It a dance of creation and destruction. And we learn that destruction and death are natural and normal dynamics of living and life. In this sense, death is not the opposite of life.

A Totem for Mom

The quality of our spiritual journey is completely dependent upon our skills of observation, awareness, mindfulness, and contemplation. In other words, spirituality involves learning specific kinds of capabilities and capacities. This kind of learning is not about acquiring information and knowledge. It is about mindfulness.

My wife and I planted two bushes beside each other in our front yard in honour of my mother and father. They are totems that symbolize the legacy and continuing presence of their spirits.

When I go outside, I am greeted by my parents and I hold a silent conversation with them.

Toward a Spirituality Loss

Loss is traumatic because us of how little control we actually have.

My parents have, in some unknown way, returned to nature. The energy that sustained their lives has moved back into hidden realms with the earth. If there is an afterlife, I don’t know what it is.

Death cloaks an impenetrable mystery. It teaches us to cherish the present moment. There is little more we can be assured of than that.

Regret is a child of loss. When death ushers a loved one away, regret invites the poignant remembrance of things left unsaid or undone. Regret makes even our best efforts seem woefully inadequate. It plagues us with the feeling that we could have done more. Regret solidifies our apparent failure to contribute.

Watching my parents gradually deteriorate until death came for them challenged my resilience. I gave as much of my presence at my parents as I could, while repressing my own feelings. Giving full attention to my parents was the right thing to do when I was with them. Repressing my own emotions was definitely not a good idea in the end.

The intensity of loss seemed to increase daily. When death came, my parents were finally released. When I looked out into the world again, everything was strangely different. And though I proceeded through the daily tasks as usual, it seemed as though I didn’t recognize it anymore.

We must learn to sit with our losses in life. By this I mean that it is important to contemplate and be mindful of our pain and suffering, so that we can transform it into something helpful. There is no other choice but this. And for me, it was easier said than done.

The spirituality of loss encourages us to discover the wisdom already waiting for us deep within our suffering.

Journey of the Heart

All spiritual journeys originate in the heart; it is the nucleus of wisdom. The heart is naturally courageous, while the mind can often be weak and undependable.

I held my mother’s hand and looked directly into her eyes the moment she took her last breath. My father died alone in his sleep during the night. We were not able to say goodbye to one another. My heart ached in ways I have never known.

And then they were both gone.

A Journey of the Heart

Forever in our hearts

Mom and Dad…
Though you have left me
Your presence echoes within the landscape of my soul
Tears caress the beauty of your memory
And I know you have been released from darkness and suffering

Your absence leans into my heart,
And touches my spirit so completely
Grief has become my trusted advisor
For in loss we are re-created
And in the solitude of my despair I discover you
Still there
Embracing my fragile sensibilities

We can sit with each other no longer
Your absence is deafening
But the essence of your love remains
Deep within that eternal space
Where you whisper

Your home is now in my heart
Your legacy is in my spirit
In the beauty and resilience of nature
I will discover you all over again

You have become
A source, an essence, an inspiration
For me in the here and now
Where I reside until I must also leave this world

May your memory remind me of purpose
May your words remind me of meaning
And may your lives remind me of the gratitude
That is the origin of love

I love you

Comments

  1. Jamie C. says

    As I sat here this morning in this hotel room far from home across the lot of the hospital, looking for some inspiration to be able to put down in words the feelings of this journey of being with my Mother who is also in this agonizingly slow journey of transition, I came upon your site.
    One year ago almost to the week I was sitting in the ICU with the love of my life ..my eldest son Mathew as he too was making the journey of transition. I will never forget the second I laid eyes on him this child of mine. My best friend, my soul mate if you will. My first born son of four beautiful sons. I looked at him lost my breath frozen as this Mother’s heart, spirit and soul knew that very second the outcome that lay ahead. I likened it to being in agonizing childbirth labor but in reverse. Instead of walking away with a beautiful new baby, I would be giving him back in a sense..
    8 weeks later my son made his transition and while it was the most painful and deeply agonizing experience of my life- I had fulfilled my promise, my goal to make it the most beautiful, sacred, peaceful transition a Mama could.
    And here I am now one year later in this eerily similar journey with next to your own child the other relationship in your life of whom you feel most connected to and deeply love..your parent, my Mother.
    As I was making the long drive to come be with her I had much time to think. And as best as one could prepare to embark on this journey once again. One thing that was much of a revelation was that despite the deeply etched pain and loss of my child what I also received was a gift. The gift was that all those weeks of being there and going through not only the emotional journey but the quick course in how to deal with the tribulations of the dealings of the the hospital experience. The “how to”. That in and of itself was a transformational and empowering experience. I had to learn quickly how to advocate, how to be heard and not be intimidated by the Physician God syndrome that many people feel. I had to learn to be strong and fight for my sons right to die as well. Nothing can prepare you for that. And I wish no Mother would ever have to ever again experience that.
    But here I am once again..and I now look at the gift my sons experience let me. To be able to be here today with my Mother and be her advocate and give her the same promise I gave my son. To make this transition one of honor, peace and Love.
    Your words deeply moved me. And it felt like someone had tapped into my own thoughts and emotions and penned it for me.
    Thank you for this gift you shared. It has opened me to be able to journal this last year’s journey and the moments to come. ?

    • says

      Dear Jamie,

      I am deeply touched by your story, which you have so beautifully and courageously expressed. The power of your experience is remarkable and beautiful. As a mother forced to say goodbye to a son, your spirit soared as you helped your son to experience, “the most beautiful, sacred, peaceful transition a Mama could.” And now in this moment, only one year later, you find yourself in the midst of helping your mother, “to make this transition one of honor, peace, and Love.”

      I am profoundly moved by your story and I am grateful that you have shared this remarkable tale of the beauty, wonder, and awe of a mother’s love for her son, as well as a daughter’s love for her mother. Your ability to turn into the midst of our most primal fears and find the courage to help a loved one make the transition to the other realm is inspiring.

      I am also grateful that you found some connection with my story and that it has opened a new journey for you in your journal. Writing for me is a deep source of contemplation, reflection, and healing. I sincerely hope that you also find this merciful release as you reflect upon the events of last year and, indeed, those hidden moments that have yet to emerge.

      I would be grateful if you kept in touch and shared more of your experiences. I strongly sense that there are going to be many powerful insights emerging from your writing that would be a gift and a blessing to others who are required to travel the mercurial pathways of tragedy and loss.

      Thank you for offering this gift to us here.

      Kind regards,
      Brian

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