As we know, impermanence is one of the major tenets in Buddhism. Even children who attend Dharma School learn about impermanence through Dharma messages, class assignments, and as we speak about the symbolism of the flowers on the altar.
They may experience this painful lesson when a best friend moves away or when a beloved pet has passed. However, we may not fully experience the pain and suffering of impermanence until a loved one has died.
I believe that one of the important roles of being a minister is to be able to provide compassionate care and support to our members following a loss. Perhaps, because my mother’s life and her passing led me to the ministry, I often feel more comfortable and authentically “me” conducting funeral services compared to Sunday services.
I still recall how grief stricken I felt after my mother died and how much support our family received during that difficult time, in addition to how much the funeral service helped to comfort us as well. That is why this role of being a minister to others during their time of loss is so important to me.
Following a temple member’s passing and when I meet with families, I know that this is such a delicate time for them as they try to grasp the loss of their loved one while still trying to make service decisions and arrangements. When we begin to talk about their loved one who has passed away, I have noticed how their faces soften and they begin to smile as they share memories with me. This beautiful sharing allows me to get to know this individual even more through the hearts and minds of family members who loved them dearly. However, rarely do they mention their grief and sadness.
Because we mention impermanence so often in Buddhism you would think that we could talk about and express our grief freely as well. Perhaps it is an intergenerational trait of being Japanese or possibly the belief that it is taboo to talk about loss and grief. However, I believe that Buddhism gives us permission to grieve, to freely talk about our loved one who has died and express our sadness through our tears. We can even grieve mindfully.
In his book, “Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss,” Dr. Sameet Kumar encourages us to be aware of this intense pain after a loss. The purpose is not to intensify our pain and sadness when we become aware of all of these emotions associated with our grief, but it can encourage our continued growth following a loss.
When we give ourselves permission to grieve instead of denying or ignoring it, it can encourage us to move closer to the people in our lives who matter most, express our love and appreciation to them, while also growing in love and gratitude for our loved one who has died as well.
Understanding our grief allows us to see that it is an extension of the love that we have shared with them. Because Buddhism brings awareness of impermanence in our lives, then Buddhism also gives us permission to grieve mindfully as well.