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Self Care for the Bereaved

Be kind to yourself. If you have been the primary caregiver for the dying, often there are feelings of relief, as well as deep pain, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, lack of concentration, tiredness, anger, guilt, regret, anger, waves of emotions, ideas that seem true, truths that look like fantasies. You may want to be alone; you may want to party.

Some thoughts are hard to deal with; things can get way out of perspective. When there is more space in the mind because its not occupied with the tasks of caring for the dying or settling the estate, a lot of memories and commentaries on the past may arise.

What works: Basically each person grieves in their own way, but there are some methods that help when it seems like life will never be the same (it won’t be the same) but different can be better than the heartache you feel at the moment.

  • Talking and accepting the help of a good friend, sharing your burden, does lighten it.

  • Having a 'good cry' - yes it helps both physiologically and psychologically.

  • Be kind to yourself, have compassion for yourself, what is done is done, accept your and others’ limitations of the past and the present. Replaying old hurtful scenes will not improve them but every time you judge yourself or others it will take on your current temperament and view. It is only your view, painted as you see it - others will see it differently - make room for another way of seeing the past.

  • When we hold one view too tightly, its going to cause us or someone else pain. Let go of wishing to change the past and accept what can't be changed. The present is the only time we have. The future is created by present moments. Our attitude creates our reality.

  • When the pain of loss and desire is overwhelming there are some Buddhist techniques that are very powerful.

  • One is to imagine all the people in the world, just like you who have strong grief, and think "Just as I want to be free from this pain so do they"; Since I am presently experiencing this suffering then may I experience it for the sake of all these people, on their behalf, that their suffering is immediately finished." Hold that thought as strong as you can. It can be done with the breath; inhaling in the form of black soot all the suffering of loss and grief in the world (thinking of individual people or nations at war, in famine etc.). When this blackness reaches your heart think that it explodes your own pain and loss and transforms into white light which then you breath out freeing everyone from their grief and every form of suffering.

    At first glance this may seem to be adding more suffering to your misery but it dramatically has the opposite effect. Why, because the deeper our misery the more isolated and detached from the rest of the world we feel. This further increases our feelings of uniqueness, separateness and disconnection, adding more misery and can also bring feelings of fear (how can life be good again etc.). By remembering that we are not alone and generating good will for others opens the prison of selfdom and allows us to reconnect with our essential nature and the world.

  • Another technique is to look directly at the pain. Where is it? Does it have shape, colour, size? Can you find the feeling, see the thought or the see the mind thinking or find the "I" suffering? Every time you do this meditation the suffering may look less concrete, more hollow or dreamlike. When the way it appears changes, it is easier to let go, when the pain comes back.

  • Or simply ask yourself, "What is making me suffer? What do I really want?" There is no way we can change the past. What is gone, is gone. And judging ourselves or others with the wisdom we have today, won't help the past.
    Then ask yourself, "Is this desire, this worry or this reoccurring thought making me happy?" Then choose whether you want to continue suffering (under the control of this desire, this painful thought) or do you want happiness and freedom from this desire or worry. If you choose happiness then let go of the harmful, hurting thought. And every time is comes back, remind yourself that
    this thought is like holding fire in your hand, it burns, so let it go; or see it like a knife in your heart and take it out! With practice you will be the ruler of your thoughts not the prisoner.

  • Practice rejoicing in the good memories, enjoy the memories of mutual kindness and laughter. It lifts everyone's spirits and gives energy and strength. Then dedicate this to the future success and happiness of the deceased and those left behind.

  • Focus on the positive, start with what’s near: a sunset, a summer breeze, a hot shower, a fresh flower, take a deep breath and let the beauty and enjoyment fill your being, giving you strength, comfort and healing. When you’re ready imagine sharing that liberating feeling with others on one or more of your out-breaths. Rest in the awareness of this experience. Then when it fades, dedicate the experience for the benefit of all.

© Amitabha Hospice Service Trust 2000 - 2008


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