“I think it's easier to make someone die. At least this way you know you'll never see him again. »
This comment came from a friend who was suffering from the end of a relationship. In her mind, she would rather lose someone to death than know that person was alive, but unreachable. She was more comfortable with the idea of finality. With a death, there is no back and forth, no wondering if this person is thinking of you, no tracking their social media posts. No fear of missing out. She preferred to mourn a physical death.
Two days ago, I discussed death and grief with a former teacher and two colleagues. We all share the opinion that the hardest thing for a parent to experience is the death of a child. No parent wants their child to die before them. And that led me to remember a story that Timber Hawkeye shared with me in an interview for the Death Dhamma podcast.*
Timber talked about a person who thought it was even harder than watching a child die to have a child who was still alive but wanted nothing to do with you. This really resonated with Timber. His opinion is that no one gives you death; the deceased did not do it with the intention of deliberately hurting you. But if someone is still alive and chooses not to be a part of your life, choosing to disconnect from you, that causes a very specific type of grief. An undeath that looks a lot like death. In this case, it is possible that your person will come back to you, or not. This type of uncertainty is difficult to live with.
There is a poem that comes to mind. This is not part of the Buddhist canon, but it might be familiar to you. Brian A. “Drew” Chalker wrote that friendships have varied purposes and that purpose determines the duration. The idea is that people come to us for “One Reason, One Season and One Life”.
An extract from this poem tells us:
When someone is in your life for a REASON,it is usually about meeting a need that you have expressed externally or internally.They came to help you overcome a difficulty,or to provide you with advice and support,to help you physically, emotionally or even spiritually.
Eventually, this person will no longer be a part of your life, as this passage describes:
Then, through no fault of your ownor at an inopportune time,this person will say or do something to end the relationship.Sometimes they die,Sometimes they go away.Sometimes they act over the top and force you to take a stand.What we must realize is that our need has been satisfied, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
With people who are with you for a “season” or for a “lifetime,” the length of your relationship is usually longer. The poem acknowledges that these relationships will also end. Whether or not you believe in the concept that people are in your life to support your journey, you know that relationships end. There is a death, there is grief, and there is a lack of control. As the poem says, through no fault of your own or at an inopportune moment, the end will come. Here is your friend impermanence. We should all move forward knowing that what exists today will cease to exist. This doesn't mean you shouldn't love or enjoy your friendships. Just enjoy them as they are now.
Impermanence doesn't just come to the party. Throughout the journey there is attachment and aversion. If your loved one dies, or your loved one lives but your relationship ends, you might want a different outcome. You will miss him or her. You might rebel against reality. You will mourn the future you thought was yours.
Let your Buddhist practice support you. Perhaps your Buddhist practice can be that “for life” relationship. Guide you through this life and remind you to:
1. Return to the teachings of the Four Noble Truths.
2. Accept that this person is gone.
3. Use mindfulness to recognize when you want a different outcome.
4. Use mindfulness to recognize when you wonder where they are, what they're doing, or if you'll ever have a relationship again.
5. When you recognize that you feel attachment and aversion, practice put.
6. If you feel angry about the breakup, practice metta. It is the antidote to bad will.
7. Repeat the above as necessary and it will be necessary.
You may prefer the way your relationships end: the finality of death versus estrangement, or physical death versus living death. Either way, rely on your practice.
*Timber Hawkeye: Proceed with curiosity (The Death Dhamma podcast)