Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Grief Project - Finding Meaning in Reading Spiritual Books

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”
 ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the days following Nora’s death, after the funeral was over and the family finally went home, Nick and I were left only with questions.  Why did this happen?  What did we do wrong?  Could it have been prevented?  Can we still have children?  Will it happen again? 

Some of these questions we were able to answer.  Others only lead to more questions, those more of the spiritual nature.  “Do you believe in God now?”  We asked back and forth.  Often our answer was, “I don’t know what I believe.”  “What meaning can come from this? I need meaning to make sense of it.” I would tell him.  And when he shrugged his shoulders in response to the question we then both turned to books.

On the cold snowy January days, that we had planned to be house bound and cuddling with our newborn baby, we spent snuggling with each other instead on the couch with our noses in every book we could find about the meaning of life. 

Nick reached for a classic that he actually suggested to me on our first date, “Man’s Search for Meaning” By Victor Frankl.  He revisited the book that brought him strength in times past and, five years after he recommended it, I finally read it as well.   In this book I found a new way to look at suffering and loss in the following passage.

"We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that can not be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at it's best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one's predicament into a human achievement.  When we are no longer able to change a situation...we are challenged to change ourselves. " 

Such words of inspiration and hope for life after loss, but also a big task to live up to so early in the grief journey.  I decided I needed an expert’s opinion so I reached for famous Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Psychologist, researcher and authority on grief and instead of reading her five stages of grief, I found her book Life Lessons from people who are dying.  I devoured every word.  It was as if I finally comprehended loss and death for the first time in my life.  It was no longer a distant cousin or relative, but an intimate partner in my dance of life.  Every word of the book touched my heart and I found some solace in hearing about how those on their death bed would have lived life differently, loved more openly, chased their dreams, and lived more authentically.  I wanted to be this person, now that my daughter would never get the chance to be. 

And over the months since and especially this month of contemplating the Universe, I decided to again immerse myself in books about spirituality from different views. I did not exclude any book for wisdom can come in the least expected of places, but I did focus on the ones that I was drawn to.  Like The Secret of the Dragonfly, by Gayle Shaw Cramer. Here in this children’s book a grandmother explains the spiritual secret of the dragonfly and compares it that of our human flesh and body.  To be honest, even as an agnostic it made me think about how some comfort can come from this whole idea of life after life. 

Then there was Forever Ours, by Janis Amatuzio, MD and Life After Death, again by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, both addressing their encounters with the hereafter.  Janis Amatuzio is a forensic pathologist and speaks to near death and visitations from spirit experiences her clients tell her about while Elizabeth Kubler Ross talks of her own near death experience and that of others she has studied who claim to also have gone to the other side and come back.  I'm not sure what wisdom I find in these stories but the idea of near death experiences intrigues me.  Maybe because I hope to find a little bit of insight from those who claim to have gone to the other side and come back?

I also found the questions of spirituality uniquely and tactfully addressed in Life Touches Life by Lorraine Ash, a memoir about a mother who’s daughter was stillborn at full-term also due to an infection in the 1990’s.  She explores her journey of healing, questioning her faith in God and ultimately finding it again.  Even going to psychics and how that fit into the equation along with themes of doubt and a re-emergence of peace between her and her creator.  It's stories like hers that I find the most solace sometimes, from other bereaved parents who have to contemplate the same questions I do about life after life.

And I wanted to be fair to the Christian faith which I came from but have abandoned along the way. So I pulled out a book I had all but forgotten about.  No, not the Bible, I wouldn't know where to start there.  Instead a book called Meditations from A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman and all these beautiful quotes on life were there on the pages before me to contemplate as I chose.  Which I did.  The one about "the holy" that resignated with me the most was:
"When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter.  As you see him you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself.  As you think of him you will think of yourself.  Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself."
I liked this nugget of wisdom because it reminds us that "the holy" is in everyone of use.  We do not need to look farther then ourselves and neighbors to be reminded of the meaning and beauty that is life.
Finally, there is the story of the muster seed in Buddhism, that Nick found in the Art of Happiness by the Dahli Lama in the first weeks after Nora’s passing.  These ancient words are what he identified that brought him the most comfort and they weren’t even words on the afterlife as much on how to live the life we have now.

"In the time of Buddha, a woman named Kisagotami suffered the death of her only child.  Unable to accept it, she ran from person to person, seeking a medicine to restore her child to life. The Buddha was said to have such a medicine. 
Kisagotami went to the Buddha, paid homage, and asked, "Can you make a medicine that will restore my child?"
 "I know of such a medicine," the Buddha replied.  "But in order to make it, I must have certain ingredients."
 Relived, the woman asked, "What ingredients do you require?"
"Bring me a handful of mustard seed," said the Buddha.
The woman promised to procure it for him, bus as she was leaving he added, "I require the mustard seed be taken from a household where no child, spouse, parent, or servant had died."
The woman agreed and began going from house to house in search of the mustard seed.  At each house the people agreed to give her the seed, but when she asked them if anyone had died in that household, she could find no home where death had not visited - in one house a daughter, in another a servant, in others a husband or parent had died. Kisagotami was not able to find a home free from the suffering of death.  Seeing she was not alone in her grief, the mother let go of her child's lifeless body and returned to Buddha, who said with great compassion, "You thought that you alone lost a son, the law of death is that among all living creatures there is no permanence."
NOTHING IS PERMANENT!  At least not in the physical form. This short story helped me realize the truth in this along with the truth that I am not alone in my grief.   

But in the search for meaning, let’s not forget science. What book did I read on science and spirituality that brought me solace?  Well, it wasn’t a book but a quote/poem that I saw on facebook about death from a physicist’s perspective and it goes like this:

This is what resonates with me the most.  But every single one of these books have helped me contemplate the nature of what “comes next” along with allowing me to find peace in not really knowing the answer to that question. 

Maybe in this case, like in life itself, the meaning is more about the journey then the destination.

What spiritual book would you recommend to a bereaved parent contemplating God, the Heavens, and the Universe while in grief?


Here is my reading list of spiritual books I have referenced to help me in my time of mourning.  Check them out below:

Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl
The Secret of the Dragonfly, Gayle Shaw Cramer
The Art of Happiness, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler M.D.
Meditations from A Course in Miracles, by Helen Schucman
Life Touches Life, by Lorraine Ash
On Life After Death, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross M.D. 
Life Lessons, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross M.D. 
Forever Ours, by Janis Amatuzio, M.D. 

1 comment:

  1. Lorraine Ash has a new book that you also might like - "Self and Soul"
    I think it would fit with this spiritual journey.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Design by Small Bird Studios | All Rights Reserved