Dealing With the Loss of a Loved One: A Message on Grieving, Hope, and Living From a Real Experience in My LifeLuke Coutinho
The past two years have been difficult for many people across the world. More so for those of us who have loved and lost people closest to our hearts. Our line of work brings us unbelievable opportunities to interact with people from all walks of life – those sick, dying, suffering, or even grieving. Every conversation made, every story shared brings with it rich learnings. Many of these help us transform the lives of others and our own too.
Looking back at the You Care Wellness journeys of the people we have coached over the last eight years, here’s what we have learned when it comes to death, suffering, grief, and healing.
As we reach the close of 2021, I want to share a powerful experience with all of you. I hope it touches your life the way it did mine and the lives of several of our patients, friends, family members, and people across the globe.
About three years ago, I was working on the case of a young girl with metastatic cancer. She was about five years old. Her cancer started in the stomach and spread to her spine. The mother had been in touch with us for two years. She was constantly worried as the young girl went through treatments. The doctors did not have much hope. Everyone did their best to keep her as comfortable as they could. One morning I woke up to a voice message on my phone. It was her mother sobbing. She told me her daughter had passed away.
Accompanying that voice message was a beautiful yet heart-wrenching picture that I don’t think I will ever forget. It was the young girl in her arms with a gentle angelic smile on her face. She breathed her last in her mother’s arms. The mother was devastated. No one ever wants to see a child or anybody die, especially not in their parents’ arms.
The mother recalled the details of her daughter’s final moments. She said the young girl did not suffer in those final moments. She was at peace. As the mother cradled in her to put her to bed, within moments, she realized her daughter was no longer there.
I spoke to her for the following weeks. She had a difficult time coping with her grief. When three months passed with no change, I recommended she seek counseling. It was heartbreaking to see that even seeking professional support did not help.
Six months later, she got in touch with me and said, “Luke, I cannot get over it.” She repeated over and over again that she knew she should accept her daughter’s death and that it could have happened at any time. She said, “Had my daughter suffered, I would be a little relieved to think her suffering had ended and she was in a painless place. But she did not suffer. Moreover, she died with that smile on her face. Like she was happy to leave.”
These unnerving thoughts she was grappling with only added to her pain, grief, and irrevocable loss. I advised her to continue seeking therapy because speaking about it helped her feel a little better.
Cut to three years later. In September this year, she reached out to me again. She said she just couldn’t get over her loss. She was in tremendous emotional despair and kept questioning, “Why has God done this? Why is my daughter taken away from me?” And she couldn’t understand why it happened to her. Her emotional trauma started affecting her health. That night I decided to delve deeper into death and grief. I asked myself, we all know that we are all going to die someday, that we will lose our loved ones, too. But this lady had relevant questions that needed answers.
So I decided to spend that night researching what the scriptures said. I referred to an array of different religious texts. They spoke about death beautifully with similar learnings but just expressed it differently. I wanted to find something to help me bring this grieving mother lady some peace. I knew I could never take away from the pain she was going through. But she had reached out to me so many times. Deep down I knew, the least I could do was try, even if it makes the tiniest difference.
I firmly believe that when you start your quest for something with a pure intention, whether it is rummaging the internet, looking up books, or reflecting on your conversations with people, you start finding answers automatically. I came across different articles, readings, and scriptures from the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, and the Quran, among other texts. I also started reading about the experiences of people who had suffered a loss of a loved one, a parent, or a child, among others.
As I continued to dig deeper, life-changing stories came alive. The experience was cathartic. Many of these stories were spine-chilling in a positive way. I felt a sense of empowerment and understanding of pain and suffering as I read about how people were coping with grief and loss either through their readings, life experiences, or their faith in God or the Universe. I wanted to share these learnings and stories with the lady.
The following morning I called her. Instead of preaching to her, I merely shared my findings with her. These revolved around how other people in the same boat viewed death and loss. I advised her to listen to it, reflect on it and see if it could bring about some change. In less than 24 hours, she rang me up and expressed how she felt a sudden shift in her mindset. Reading and reflecting on these experiences helped her view her daughter’s death in a very different light.
She shared how for the longest time all that she received from others around her was empathy and sympathy. But now, as she started to look at her loss at a deeper level, everything changed.
One story that changed both of us was of a devoted and religious couple who had a beautiful daughter. They were good people who believed their calling was to serve God, their ministry, and their community. When they lost their daughter at a very young age suddenly, they were devastated. The couple constantly fought with God and the Universe at the misfortune that had befallen them.
How could God take their daughter away at such a young age? They had been good people who followed their chosen path. How could God do this to them? Why did he not protect her?
The husband and wife were having a difficult time dealing with the death of their daughter. They could not find the strength to forgive God or the Universe. Until one day, the wife felt like someone was talking to her. The feeling was similar to how many of us experience energies around us, hear an inner voice, have a gut instinct, or think that the Universe was giving us a sign. She shared this on several TV channels.
The voice that called out to her was clear. It said, “Your daughter is no longer in the past. She is now in the future.” These simple words had set the couple free from all the mental torture they went through after their daughter’s death.
When they visited their religious leader, he explained that God was trying to communicate to them that their daughter was no longer in their past. Yes, she had died, but she was now in their future. It meant that the couple would have to continue to live their lives with gratitude and fulfill their calling. Once their purpose in their earthly life was complete, they would pass and reunite with their daughter.
The religious leader was amazed at the life experience of this couple. So, he videotaped this hoping it would help several other people who had locked their grief and were depressed. It did. And when those dealing with loss watched this, they started to understand that they needed to start looking at death differently.
This story stirred something within me. It helped me reflect on how most of us think of our deceased loved ones as people from our past. When you lose something in the past, you feel as if you will never receive it again. But a simple shift in perception can move mountains. Imagine if we told ourselves when someone dies, then no longer in our past but in our future.
Most religious scriptures speak of death as a passage to a new world. One that comes with the endless possibilities of being reunited with our loved ones. This is why we must finish our purpose on this planet first. If we are wallowing in self-pity and grief all the time, we will be unable to do this. At some point, we have to let it go. So whether seeking spiritual, religious help, or just the support of your friends and family, accept all the help you need to overcome your pain.
Now, again there are several skeptical approaches to this. Like how do we know if this reunion will happen in the future or it will continue to be in our past? No one knows. It is questionable. But my question to you is – why do we consider only our mindset to be the right one? Our minds and perceptions are shaped by our learnings, conversations, the media we consume, the opinions of those around us, and a lot more. Mindsets can be wrong and limiting. So one needs to always look at the bigger picture. I continued to pick up more articles to learn more.
I want to reiterate this, I am not trying to preach to you. None of this can take away your pain. What I am attempting is to inspire you to make a mindset shift. If this serves you and brings you peace, great. If not, that is okay too because no one can take away from the pain of losing a loved one. No one can preach to you or console you. The least people can do is just be there for you.
But I can only hope that this shift in your thoughts helps you make sense of the pain you are going through. The inevitable truth is that we will all die and cross over. There are no exceptions. Some people go sooner while others will go later. When or where we die – is irrelevant. What we do with our time while we are alive is what truly matters.
The memories we make, the people we forgive, the tolerance that we exhibit, the goodness we engage in, the things that we learn, how we make people happy, how we love and serve our children, our parents, our siblings, the less fortunate, is what is more important.
Several people live and suffer in pain for years. It may be real for some people where they may experience physical symptoms. For others, it is emotional suffering and trauma. It manifests itself in different ways for different people. And as I researched more, I was astounded to know that the Universe, God, or Higher energy say that our suffering, sometimes is self-inflicted.
The jarring question that we need to continue to ask ourselves is this. What is life teaching us to accept?
I have noticed many of my patients who suffer say, “Luke, why doesn’t God take me away? Why can’t I die? Why am I suffering if it is time to go? Let us stop our treatments.” And despite stopping all courses of treatments, many of them do not die. That is destiny.
While we don’t know what God’s or the Universe’s plans are for us, my takeaway from these experiences is that if we do not finish our calling, we will continue to be on this planet whether we are suffering or not. So, if there are people to forgive, redemption to achieve, feelings you need to express, unfinished business you need to take care of, do it. Only then can life gracefully move out of us as we cross over.
For many, suffering remains constant until they finish what they are supposed to. Many times, this may involve forgiveness. We all know, forgiving is not easy. But the sooner we do it, the better our chances to release ourselves from the shackles that hold us down.
I also started reading about people who questioned the nature of the death of their loved ones. “Why so early? Why in such a gruesome accident?” No one has the answers. But the scriptures teach us that sometimes God takes certain people in our lives away because there are better plans for them. Maybe that person was about to go through immense suffering and God or the Universe decided that this person need not go through that suffering. Let me take him/her/them away. These are all debatable points.
But coming back to the central learning, when someone dies when we see them in our past, it weighs us down. I am hoping that a change in perception where we view them as our future liberates us to some extent and brings us a little peace. It brings us hope and determination to live our lives and fulfill our purpose, so when we cross over and reunite with our loved ones.
Everything in life keeps moving forward. But if we stay stuck in the past, we cannot live in the present or create our future. Dealing with grief is not easy and may never be. It is where prayer, faith, and belief come in. We can pray for the souls of the deceased so that they may be in a beautiful and comfortable place. We can pray for the strength and courage to live a full life. To get through the grief and move on with our lives. To continue on the path that reunites us with our loved ones.
Wallowing in the past does not allow us to live our lives. It prolongs our suffering. Your lost one had their purpose. So do you. And these are not the same. So, you have to continue living your life.
Pray for courage and strength if you are a religious person. If you are a spiritual person, set an intent. We need to understand that at the end of the day, your lost one is in the perfect place. Live in the hope that you will reunite with them when your time ends. Your life on earth is just for a very brief moment in the eternal scheme of all things. But the life to come where there may be a possibility to reunite will be forever. It is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
That night after finishing hours of research, I decided to distract my mind. It was heavy reading about death, suffering, and the loss of children. When I tried to put myself in the shoes of those people, the pain was unimaginable. But I wanted to find something that could bring hope.
A part of this was to also reflect on something deeply personal to me. As most of you read this, my father is on his deathbed. He has metastatic cancer. His condition has deteriorated in the last two months. He went from being a strong and fit man to someone lying on a bed, waiting to die. We don’t know what is running through his mind because he does not talk much now. But our family has rallied around him and everyone is flying down to spend time with him.
My learnings of grief and loss have given me immense hope, strength, and also some kind of relief that it will all be okay. When my father’s time to go arrives, it will be difficult. Our family will grieve. But we will also live in the hope that he will be in our future. He is not gone forever. That is the thing about hope – it is giving, whereas feelings of loss and sadness are continuous.
I have been discussing this with my family. And it is just so beautiful to talk about it and remind ourselves that we have a life to live to its fullest because we will all reunite at some point. It is working for me.
When I shared all of this with the grieving mother of the little girl, 24 hours later, she sobbed on the phone and told me, “This is it. I think I want to be the best mother I can be to my son and the best wife to my husband. I will also keep looking at the future, where I can reunite with my daughter.”
I was just so happy for her. After our conversation ended, I watched 30 minutes of my favorite series. I am not someone who watches a lot of television but there is a beautiful program called Chicago Fire. It depicts the real-life events of how firefighters navigate emergencies. In this episode, the death of a young boy in a fire shakes an entire town and a priest approaches the topic of death. Remember, when I said – search for something with intention, and everything will fall on your plate? That is exactly what happened.
A beautiful quote on death and loss from that episode struck a chord with me. The priest addresses people of all faiths saying:
“I want to talk to you today about a subject that touches every one of us – Loss. Sometimes we are faced with things we think we cannot handle – the death of a loved one, a father, a child, and we strive to find the reason behind it all. And when those reasons don’t make sense, we question God.
We look up and say, ‘God, how could you do this to us? How can You put so much on our plate?’ But we are not operating on God’s timetable, are we? We do not understand God’s plan. How can we? And let me tell you, this is where faith comes in. Faith can help us see His message in our own lives. Perhaps this loss is to teach us not to take the ones we love for granted, to cherish the simple and mundane moments, to love others as fiercely, bravely, and compassionately as we can. And in that love, human love, forgiving, relentless, unconditional love, you will find peace.”
I shared this with the little girl’s mother and all our patients. Today I am sharing this with you, hoping it will inspire you to think differently about death. I am not saying this will take away the pain immediately. I do not know how that could ever happen, but can it inspire you to live a full life? Can it help you cope better with grief, pain, suffering and move you back into living again?
I always say, take all the help you need. Each of us is built differently. Some of us are strong, while others are not and need help. And there is nothing wrong with weakness or seeking help. I want you to reflect on whether these words inspire you to look at that death differently – Our lost loved ones are not in our past. They are in our future.
Before I end, I want to tell you – I do not expect this to take away the pain of losing a loved one or the grief you may go through. I am sharing this with the pure intention to offer a little comfort and peace and help you return to your lives in a more meaningful way.
I hope you find your healing.
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