Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Dissolving the Heartbeat of Grief

Flowers

Grief seems to have its own heartbeat, a very life of its own.  We might want to control grief – to banish it entirely, push away the pain, and dissolve the unrelenting tears.

But, despite our desperation, the heartbeat of grief throbs on. Grief seems determined to have its own life, its own voice, its own say.

Yet there is a potent countermeasure to grief, a way to heal our troubled spirit, which we can find in the the balm of love and compassion.

Grief came to visit me this week when Bodhi, our sweet, loving, elegant tuxedo-style cat, met the end of this life, hit by a car in the dark of the night.

Of course, my heart felt like a train wreck.  Suddenly, a palpable hole existed in our former family of two humans and three cats.  It wasn’t the death of a spouse, a child, a parent, or a sibling.  It wasn’t the massive destruction of a hurricane.  Yet Bodhi was unique, a special friend who taught me how to love in a deeper, stronger, and more enduring way.

You can’t deny grief or it will only haunt you more.  So with each bittersweet memory, I initially let the tears flow.  But, I also knew my anguish would not help Bodhi.  Released from his body, the time had come for Bodhi to move on.  In his transition, he needed my help, my prayers, and my clarity, not my despair.

Helping After Death

So as we embraced each other in heartache, my husband and I meditated and prayed, transmitting our love and good wishes to assist Bodhi on his way.

“The radiant power and warmth of the compassionate heart can reach out to help in all states and all realms.”

In my spiritual tradition, there are many special practices to help the dead, which can also bring us great consolation.  We can help the “deceased” because there is no separation between what we usually think of as “life” and “death”.  The subtlest level of consciousness continues beyond death.  Only the physical body dies.

“I tend to think of death as being like changing your clothes when they are old and worn out, rather than as some final end.”  – The Dalai Lama

In the Buddhist teachings, it is said that the qualities of the “mental” body – clarity, mobility, sensitivity, and clairvoyance – characteristic in the interim period between death and rebirth, make it especially receptive to guidance.  Due this extra-sensitivity, we can actually help direct the consciousness of the deceased to a better rebirth and favorable circumstances in the next life through the power of prayer, meditation practices, and positive thoughts

“Khandro Tsering Chödrön, the spiritual wife of Jamyang Khyentse, often says that if you really have a good heart, and really mean well, and then pray for someone, that prayer will be very effective.  So be confident that if someone you love very much has died, and you pray for them with true love and sincerity, your prayer will be exceptionally powerful.”

The most powerful time to engage in spiritual practice for someone who has died is the 49-day period after death, especially the first 21 days when the consciousness of the deceased continues to have a stronger link to this life.  However, it is never too late to help someone who has died, even if they departed many years ago.

If you are not the type to pray, simply send your love and positive thoughts, whenever you think of the person who has died.

There are two mantras commonly recited in my tradition after the death of a loved one, which you can recite for your loved one too.

  • OM MANI PADME HUNG (pronounced Om Mani Peme Hung) is the mantra of the Buddha of Compassion, which purifies the negative emotions that are the cause of rebirth.
  • OM AMI DEWA HRIH is the mantra of the Buddha of Limitless Light, Buddha Amitabha.  You can pray that your loved one is born in a pure realm like the Heaven of Great Bliss, where Buddha Amitabha resides.

There are several other complex meditation practices to help the dead, but these are the most simple ways you can be of assistance.

More Ways to Help After Death

It is said there are many other ways to help the dead in addition to engaging in your own prayer and meditation practices.  For example, you can:

  • Offer donations in their name to the needy.
  • Give their possessions to the poor.
  • Contribute on their behalf to humanitarian or spiritual ventures.
  • Sponsor prayers to be done by great masters and spiritual practitioners.
  • Offer lights.
  • Save the lives of animals due to be slaughtered and release them into freedom.

For these practices to be most effective, be sure to dedicate them in the name of your loved one and to the benefit of all beings as well.

Engaging in positive thoughts, words, and actions can be empowering and comforting to you and reassuring to the consciousness of the deceased.  In fact, it can gradually change your whole perspective about dying and begin to heal your grieving heart.

Dissolving the Heartbeat of Grief

Naturally, I still choke up with tears when memories of Bodhi come to mind.  I practice using each of these moments to transform my personal pain into prayers, mantras, and positive thoughts for my unforgettable beautiful friend.   Each time, the heartbeat of grief becomes fainter and fainter and love glows in its place.  As I gift Bodhi, he gifts me in return.

If you would like to know more, I recommend reading Chapter 19, Helping After Death in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, the source of the quotes used in this article.   Chapter 19 also contains a beautiful “Heart Practice” for healing grief.

What are your thoughts about helping after death?

Thank you so much for reading and sharing.  If you found this article helpful, please subscribe for free updates by email.  With love,  Sandra

 

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22 Comments

  1. Barbara

    This article has touched me, helped me. I am so sorry for your loss. Know that your loss and your explanation of how to help the deceased has helped me and countless others. I have the book you recommended. It was my mother’s. I have not read it. My mother passed away last year. I believe it’s time for me to read the book.

    • Hi Barbara,

      It helps me to know that these words have touched and helped you. Thank you for telling me. How synchronous that you have this book on your shelf. It’s replete with insight, clarity, and compassion. I hope you find more solace and support there. Thanks for taking the time to share your gratitude.

  2. Hugs, Sandra. I am so sorry to hear about Bodhi, God bless his soul. Your post describes such a beautiful way to honor the loved ones we lose. When my Ma passed on in Feb 2010, we honored her wishes by doing all that you listed here. I continue to do it every month.

    Recently, during our trip to the Northeast, I learned the two mantras you’ve written about. I have the prayer wheels and drum – and it is very soothing to recite them. What a wonderful practice.

    A virtual hug to you, dearest Sandra. I know how it hurts.

    Love, Vidya

    • Thanks for your hug, Vidya! It’s quite different in India where there is a belief in reincarnation, isn’t it? Participating in these kind of activities are the ‘norm’ whereas in the West many people are lost as to what to do and are subsumed in grief. I’m touched that you engage in these activities for your mother every month. These are powerful mantras! I’m glad you find them soothing.

      Love to you, Sandra

  3. Hi Sandra,

    I love this: if you really have a good heart, and really mean well, and then pray for someone, that prayer will be very effective.

    I’m sorry about Bodhi. I don’t think there is a hierarchy of pain so it doesn’t matter if it is a spouse, child, cat etc. It hurts! I’m sending my blessings and love. xo

    • Dear Tess, Yes, I find that encouragement from a great woman spiritual master, very helpful too. Thanks for sending your blessings for Bodhi! I just pray that little guy has a smooth transition and moves on to a place where he can realize his full potential. I love him so much!

  4. This is such a loving and beautiful post. My heart goes out to you. When I lose one of my animal companions, the pang is deep because animals truly do give us unconditional love. Your experience of moving that love out into the world by helping others is very wise.

    • Hi Patty,

      Thanks for your kind words! This is so insightful as to how the pang is deep because animals do give us unconditional love. Bodhi, in particular, was a very loving cat. It’s wonderful to hear from you. Thank you so much!

  5. jean sampson

    Hi Sandra. I am so sorry to hear about your little kitty buddy. I know how much it hurts! But how wonderful that you can turn that grief into some goodness and love. This is such a touching post. I will say a prayer for him, too.

  6. jean sampson

    Thanks, Sandra, I feel the same about my connection with you. 🙂 And I am still praying for you and the little guy. As I type, Hector, my tuxedo lap cat, is sitting on my lap. Blessings and love to you both!

  7. Sandra, bless your sweet heart. I said before on FB that I’m so sorry about Bodhi, but when I read your post, I was sorry all over again. It is so hard to lose someone we love, and to lose them so abruptly is such a shock. How like you to find something beautiful and meaningful in your grief, and to offer Bodhi such loving help.

    • You are so sweet, Galen! Thank you for your comforting words! Expressing my kindness to Bodhi also heals me. We’re all so interconnected!

  8. My heart goes out to you. I’m so sorry for your loss. You offered several inspiring ways for us to pay tribute to our loved ones who have passed. Thank you.

    This has been the roughest year for me – and my family – with regard to ‘losses’.
    My daughter (Dawn) passed in January and I miss her so very much. I was living in Florida at the time (only for 2 years – I was born and raised in Jersey) and wanted so badly to come back home to be near my loved ones – my older daughter and my grandchildren (Dawn gave me 5 beautiful grandchildren). In order to live someplace in Jersey that I could afford (a nicely maintained mobile home), I had to rehome my 2 sweet dogs (Guy and Daisy). I had fostered dogs while living in Jersey and fell in love with Guy (who was blind in one eye) and little Daisy Mae. They were with me all the time. They are now living with a wonderful woman in upstate NY – I speak with her often – but I miss them so very much. I am kind of ‘grieving’ their loss also.

    This past week the Hurricane hit Jersey and my3 youngest grandchildren (the 2 older boys lived in Connecticut) lost their home and almost all it’s contents.

    My heart aches for them and for so many others who lost everything. First they lose their Mom and now their home. I am thankful that they are safe (they came to stay with me just before the hurricane hit us) — but I’m not sure how many losses children are able to cope with within one year. 🙁

    I am trying to be strong, but I am so very emotionally wrought. They all stayed with me (in my mobile home) for over a week (we just got power back on). The area in which I reside was really not affected except for losing power and heavy winds and rain. They are now staying with my son in law’s sister.

    People are donating and helping as much as possible (clothes, food, cleaning products, etc…), but it’s going to take a long while to recover from the devastation. This loss, in my opinion, is causing me more grief.

    I know what it’s like to lose a loved one – whether it be a pet (my dog Prince passed many years ago and I still miss him and my cat passed shortly after Prince — Prince was almost 17 and Homi was 12) or a family member (my Mom, my Dad, my daughter). I grieve hard (for lack of a better word) and I cry so very much. Oddly enough, crying never seems to relieve my emotional pain. Just makes my eyes swollen and my head hurt.

    You are right – there is no way to control ‘grief’. We have to go thru the ‘grieving’ process, try to accept ‘what is’ and try to somehow find some measure comfort by wishing our loved ones wellness and peace — wherever they may be and whatever they may be going thru.

    Thank you, Sandra. I will keep you and Bodhi in my thoughts and prayers.

    Sandy

    • Sandy,

      I’m so sorry you grandchildren are experiencing yet another loss of their home. It feels unbelievable and it must be earth-shattering for them. I know it’s hard to believe that we can overcome such devastation and I really send all my prayers for their healing and recovery and yours too.

      I was sad to hear you had to re-home your two sweet dogs too, but how wonderful they have a good home for them and can be in touch. I can imagine how much you miss them too! Moving through grief is not easy, but I hope somehow, on the long term, we will gain some insight and strength from our experience that informs our life in a good way and allows us to be of help to others.

      Peter A Levine has a book called Healing Trauma that has a short section near the end on preventing and healing trauma for children. That’s something to be on the watch for given all the loss your grandchildren have experienced of late. There are many ways to help healing from trauma now so there is more hope.

      I’m so sorry for all your losses. My heart is with you!

  9. I have had a lot of training in grief counseling and have practiced my work many times over the years of service. I find it hardest to help children, because I am so filled with their emotion and their pure moments of pain. What has worked for me is to give them a focus, such as when my child’s babysitter died in a car accident and my daughter was just 5 she could not understand where her friend had gone. So I asked her what her sitter used to say all the time and right away she replied – air tapping her pretend Afro “It’s fabulous darling to have big hair!” Her sitter had a huge blond Afro of curls. (My daughter has Asian straight silky hair) So when she would feel said we would repeat this phrase and air tap. 21 years later it has taken on lots of new meaning, but it gives us a focus and reminds us to move forward.

    A little boy who lost his mother remembered her saying: “I hope you grow up and have a little boy just like you.”

    It is the Bodhi teaching grief…
    All loss is great there is no weight to the recipients of love.
    I appreciate you sharing your story and steps for the dead. Thank you

    • Patricia,

      It must be so heartbreaking to work with children who have experienced loss and grief, but also encouraging to know you can help. You are so brave. And, you are so kind to share this helpful story that shows us even more ways to help. I can see how repeating that phrase would shift the child’s energy each time and help dispel the sadness.

      Yes, I feel Bodhi is teaching me and I’m willing to open and learn.

  10. This post itself is a beautiful and compassionate prayer for Bodhi. So many hugs for you and some good thoughts for your cat, and for my own cat who passed earlier this year, and the cat before her, who I still miss.

    • Hi Meg,

      So sorry for the loss of your cats. You are on target. This post is in many ways an expression of my love and a prayer for Bodhi, and I dedicate any benefit it brings to the enlightenment of all beings, including my kitty friend and yours too. Thanks for your support.

  11. I’m saddened to hear of your loss Sandra and I thank you for this compassionate post. Grieving is an important process that teaches us many things about living well and prepares us for our own death. For me knowing what to do to honor those who have passed is a critical part of letting go of the deep sorrow inside.

    You have asked what are your thought on helping after helping after death?

    Following my mother’s death I shared tips which have helped me and may help others cope with their loss: http://thistimethisspace.com/2012/04/03/flowers-impermanence-and-the-grief-cycle/ At that time I did not know my brother’s death was eminent. My mom and brother were animal lovers and all my family members contribute to animal rescue and shelter operations. This year I made extra a donations in both of their names, I painted pictures, I sang mantras and I shared fond memories of out time together with others who loved them too.

    Thanks to impermanence everything is possible. Life itself is possible.

  12. I’m so sorry for the loss of your kitty, Bodhi. Our animals have such a special spot in our hearts, as we have special spots in their hearts, too. This past week, after the death of my husband’s brother, we made offerings to some very special charities in the areas of Nepal, India and Tibet, and dedicated the merit to Jon and all beings… offered prayers and asked a dear friend to do a puja, again for the benefit of Jon and all beings and to keep him on their prayer list for the 49 days. As timethief writes,impermanence makes everything possible, so in that way impermanence is wonderful, but the sense of loss is still hard.

    • I’m sorry for you loss, Kathy. You’ve engaged so meaningfully in these beautiful ways to honor Jon and all beings. This is such an important insight from timetheif. Yet, as you say, loss is still hard. I’m finding for myself the more I access love in the process of grief and letting go and send it forth, the more the grief gradually weakens.

      Thanks for sharing wit us!

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