Where on earth did this expression come from? It had to be from someone who had not yet experienced real loss. What could possibly be good about grief? It is horrible! It hurts! Badly and for a long time.
My wife and I just had to say goodbye to our dear cat Emerson (newly adopted in the photo). Where love is concerned, there is no such thing as, "just a cat." With real love, there is no awareness of race or species, no holding back, no protection from pain.
There is that feeling of palpable absence, of holes in the fabric of our daily lives. Gone are the frequent rubs on the leg, the white fur on everything, the easy purr, the talking back when scolded. And the repeated pangs of Emerson's presence, haunting us with his abandoned possessions, his favorite nap spots, and his dinner time.
Much is understood about the psychology of grief, about its stages, about the healthy expression of tears and sorrow, and about how the acute pain recedes with time. These things are true, but they are not the whole picture. There is much more to the meaning of grief than mere psychology can explain.
Loss poses really big questions: Where do we go when life leaves these bodies? Back to where we came from? Where is that? Will we meet again? Will this terrible sense of loss ever be resolved? Is there any way to get relief now? Can we stay connected? Do we have to wait for our own death and hope for some kind of celestial reunion? Or is death the end of existence and is love a mere impulse of animal instinct, just an emotional need that dies with us?
If grief compels us to really face these questions and dig deep for answers, then there is actually something good about it, after all. In fact, it is necessary. Without the shocks of physical death we would remain spiritually hidebound, trapped by a narrow sense of mortal identity, caged within a limited experience of life and love. Life and love cannot be separated, nor can they die; both are eternal and both are infinite. Death rudely destroys all that is limited, so that we can experience our unlimited natures.
But you don't have to be bludgeoned by death to experience your immortal nature. You can realize it here and now by tapping into your inner life. Meditate. Be still and know that you are God-stuff. Inherent in the experience of your own immortality is the deathless re-union with everyone and everything you have ever or will ever hold dear.
That said, I still feel horrible pain at every loss of a loved one. I miss Emerson terribly, and the other four cats we have buried, and the family members who have passed on. The pangs of mortal separation never become less sharp. Memories are immune to time. We may forget many things, but the deeply impactful experiences we recall live fully in our present, reviving all the same intensity of feelings, "as if it were yesterday".
This pain is an inevitable part of being human. It cannot (and should not) be avoided, but it can be put into the proper context. We are immortal souls having this passing human experience. It does not define us, nor can it forever confine us.
My personal practice of meditation has given me enough of a glimpse of the bigger picture that I have no doubt my losses are not permanent. This is not just a comfort, it is source of great strength. I do not expect to be free from any of the pains of my human journey, nor do I hold back and play it safe. No, I dare to care with all my heart, knowing that I thus expand my capacity to experience Love itself.
During the excruciating weeks of powerlessly watching Emerson shrink towards death, I leveraged the pain of my compassion and the dread of imminent loss into a conscious connection with Spirit. With the intensity of my anguish, I surrendered all my feelings and desires and fears to the over-arching Presence. It sounds melodramatic to put it into such words, but that is how spiritual battles are fought; take no prisoners. Ego must die for spiritual perception to live.
It is impossible to describe such catharsis. All I can say is that the lasting blessings are worth the passing pain. Payment comes in the currency of freedom and love. "So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Isaiah 57: 1-2