K: Hi jay I recently lost my lab partner to a car acident. Since then, I have been feeling fearful that I will die too? What should I do?
Jay: I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. I am wondering as I read your question what it is on a deep level that is going on for you inside. I think the first step is to take the time and quiet space to listen to yourself, to hear carefully what is going on in you – maybe the sense of loss of someone who was part of your daily life, the anxiety that goes along with the memory of someone being killed suddenly and unpredictably, the reality of your own vulnerability, the fact that you will die some day.
Are you able to listen to all of what may come when you sit quietly? Maybe you would say you have already done this. However, clearly there is still a concern for you, so this probably means that more listening is needed. You may find that something may come up and you can notice it but then it goes away and it seems like there is nothing to listen to. I think it is helpful to continue to sit quietly and attentively into this “nothing to listen to.” It may even seem like this nothing to listen to is itself sort of a death. Is it possible to not turn away from it into some activity but rather to find out for yourself what it is by being with it directly?
Listening to what is going on right now at this moment includes both the “inside” – thoughts and feelings – and the “outside” sounds around us, the feel of air on the skin, the movement of the body. It is a helpful thing to see if all of this can be in awareness. You may notice how the thoughts and feelings -especially fearful ones – narrow this feeling down so we “forget” that there is simple life all around us. In a way, this narrowing down is a dying to the simple life that is all around us all the time.
Is it possible to notice how the thoughts work, how they seem to demand all the attention? Is it possible to hear what the thoughts are trying to say without needing to react to them or to judge them? I don’t know if you’ve ever spent time with a child who is fearful. The content of their fear – maybe that a cricket will attack them – is arbitrary and to us adults nonsensical – but the fact of fear is real and needs caring listening to.
I don’t know if this touches on what’s going on for you. Feel free to write back if I haven’t been very clear, if you have some other questions or if you want to share your experience with what I’m writing about.
K: We knew each other since high school. I’m 22. The reason our bond was very close was because she would help me with visual concepts in biology. I’m legally blind. For example, the last thing she helped me with was a pig disection. I’m not as blue as I was, but I still think of her constantly and play what if games with myself. I can still remember as if it was yesterday and it happened on Nov. 28, 2010, at 4:45 a.m., which was a Sunday. As a result of my grief I ended up in the psych word of a hospital for 5 days and have been taking medication. I have stopped some of the meds. I’ve been meditating on the fragility of life in general, but I’m just plugging away. I will try to remember the life that is around me all the time.
Jay: Thanks for sharing this. It’s a sad thing.
It almost seems like a contradiction to notice – not to remember but to actually notice – the life that is around us – the sound of birds chirping, the warmth of the sun on the skin – and to be aware of the deep sorrow and memories of someone who is gone at the same time. But these seemingly two different aspects somehow do go together. Maybe you can experiment with this.
I remember when a friend of mine died and I was thinking about her while walking outside on a windy day. Suddenly, somehow, it was like the memory of her was in the wind and swaying trees all around me. It didn’t feel like she was gone.
It’s not that I held onto to that and kept looking for her in the wind. That particular feeling faded away. But there was some healing in it somehow. I think that being in touch very sensitively and vulnerably with what is right here – the life around us and the feelings and sensations that go with memory of someone – leads to its own healing.
I do understand what you’re saying about the loss being physically or mentally unbearable at times, like when you had to go into the hospital. Probably our nervous systems need a chance to gain new strength. I hope you will find that strength.