Reflections on Grief

John Bailes  Buddhist Chaplain, Wellesley College

Let us acknowledge our grief for our lives, others lives, and a world that has been transformed by an invisible force right before our eyes. Recognizing our grief and allowing it to inform our lives allows transformation and growth. A deeper sense of connection, compassion, and love for ourselves and others will emerge.

Impermanence is a central teaching of Buddhism. One need not to be a Buddhist to recognize the centrality of impermanence to life. To be alive is impermanence. In some sense, without impermanence, without, flowers, trees, breaths, lives appearing, having duration, and fading away, there is no room for the new. Impermanence is the soil from which we grow. Grieving is the fertilizer that enriches the soil from which life emerges. Grieving is deep appreciation for all that we are. It is gratitude.

We are now grieving the loss of loved ones and the rituals of our once everyday lives. We are grieving our very understanding of past, present and future. Not only is the future not going to be what we thought. The present and past have not been as we thought. Yes, a past occurred. Yes a present is occurring. Yes a future will occur. We thought that, within a certain range of possibilities, things would be as we planned. Now we cannot even hold to that illusion. Where will we turn?

Allowing ourselves to grieve and to share this grief with one another will place us clearly in the present. A place right now, it seems, none of us want to be. The present though is the only place from which what we call the future can emerge.

Let us allow our grief to fertilize the present with a deep sense of our vulnerability and our interdependence, our gratitude, bringing forth compassion and love so that we may imagine a future in which no life form is turned away. 

In order for wisdom to inform the human world we must recognize our dependence upon stardust, stones, lichen, trees and moss, oceans and rivers, skies and stars, fish and deer, microbes and bacteria, mushrooms and humans. Otherwise we threaten the warp and weft of the fabric of life. The truth is that a major portion of our grief is that we already know this fact and have ignored it. We can no longer live in our separate world, our separate lives, our possessive dreams. Let’s allow our future to emerge from shared grief, gratitude, compassion, and love.