7 years, 7 lessons

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

Today marks seven years since mum died. I’ll share with you seven lessons that I have learnt since that time that help me to lead a calmer and more purposeful life.

Currently I write from a small village in the heart of Gujarat in India. I am a third of way into a ten week stay at the Raj Saubhag Ashram and am about to retreat into a week of solitude in silence.

As it is the first anniversary of mum’s death since 2006 where I am without family around me, I write with the understanding that you, my dear readers, my friends, are sitting right here next to me.

The past seven years

Since mum passed away in September 2006, there have been many ups and downs in my life, with a whole array of emotions and occasional moments of clarity.

  • Love: I met a wonderfully compassionate yet feisty woman, fell in love with her and got married. We’ve been through an emotional rollercoaster, just like every other couple, but now we’re closer than ever.

  • Family: As mum got more ill and when she passed away, I found myself increasing the distance with the family. But now I’ve allowed myself to get closer to them and have realised how important family really is. There have been many family events in the past seven years, weddings in particular, where mum has been sorely missed.

  • Work: I’ve been through various types of jobs and temporary roles in the past seven years, from supporting small businesses to go digital, through to sales, to stacking DVDs on shelves and most recently digital training. In all this work, nomatter how outwardly mundane or challenging the task may have been, I’ve learnt some great skills and met some incredibly smart and good natured people along the way. Yes, and equally important, I’ve brought in an income.

  • Spirituality: As mum’s health was quickly declining, I had come across twelve reflections to cultivate detachment, the first of which helped me to tell apart the permanent from the impermanent in life. This led to further exploration and introspection, and I found myself surrounded by an incredibly humble group of friends who understand who they are at their core, yet lead simple pragmatic lives grounded in spiritual values.

I share this so you can see what can happen after a significant loss, and how life takes many twists and turns. But somehow, you find a way through it.

Lesson learnt

While my mum’s health was deteriorating and in the months and years after she died, I started to question why events occur the way they do for us and what the point of it all is.

As I started to ask myself these questions, I navigated towards people who could sincerely help answer them, or help me find out for myself. This is still work in progress, but here’s where I am so far.

From all the ups and downs and changes in all areas of my life over the past seven years, let me share with you lessons I now try to embrace that help me lead a calm and purposeful life.

Lesson 1 – Everything changes

Everything you hold in your hands, everything you can touch, see, hear, taste or smell, will one day change or will go. What was once formed by bringing together various elements will one day fall apart or transform into something else.

Change is inevitable.

Witness the changes. Be an observer and let the change take place as it needs to. Just don’t let it bring you up or pull you down.

People and items will come and go in your life. Make the most of the time with them when they are there, but don’t grip on so tightly that it tears you up when you separate. Because it WILL come apart… and that’s ok.

Lesson 2 – Know the priorities of your relationships

Figure out the key people in your life and focus most of your energy on them. For most people it will be:

1. Your parents: Those who gave birth to you, who nurtured you, who gave you the foundations to lead the life you live now.

2. Your siblings: Those you grew up with and may have fought with, but who you now laugh with, who will be your immediate support and who will need your support during difficult times. This also includes any brother-in-laws or sister-in-laws.

3. Your spouse: The one you share your life with. The first one you say “good morning” to and the last one you say “goodnight” to each day. The one you trust with your heart, share all your secrets with, and hold each other firmly enough through life’s ups and downs.

4. Your children: The ones you brought into this world, who you nurture, who you are there for whenever they need you. The ones who get your love and your guidance and your approval, always.

It sounds obvious, but how many of us truly spend quality time fulfilling our duty towards those who are most important to us and those who depend on us?

When I realised that I was spending far too much time trying to prove myself and make myself look good in front of a large group of casual acquaintances at the expense of serving my closest relationships, I ditched those channels. I got rid of my smartphone, I deactivated my Facebook account, and I jumped off WhatsApp.

I may start to use all these again, but only when I can use them responsibly and can first take care of my responsibilities towards those who are closest to me.

Lesson 3 – Every situation is optimal

“Jeh thaay, ee saara maate thaay chhe (Whatever happens, happens for the best)” – Laxmiben Harakhchand Dodhia (my grandma)

Every single thing you face in life, no matter how demanding it may be, is actually conducive to you leading a calm and purposeful life.

You may not see the good in it yet, and it may not go the way you want, but the situation that has arisen is perfect for your ultimate happiness. You just have to respond to it appropriately.

Be optimistic and stay positive, nomatter what life throws at you.

Further reading: Lead an optimal way of life

Lesson 4 – Seek out eveyone’s qualities

When your loved one dies, it may crush your heart to think that you’ll never be able to see them again, to hold them, to hear them laugh or to wipe their tears. You may have keepsakes – perhaps an item of clothing or a book or a gift you received from them or gave to them – but it’s never the same. These all fall apart and eventually leave you with emptiness.

But there is something that you can always keep hold of firmly in your heart – something that can never leave you, nomatter the outside forces.

It’s their qualities. These shine through, long after they’ve gone. These you can hold up in the air and be proud of. Qualities are everlasting.

In a similar way, with all those people you come into contact with in your day-to-day life, seek out their qualities and imbibe them in your presence.

When you focus on the qualities of those you admire, you become that yourself. It grows within you and you may not even realise it.

It may be that your view of how someone should be may not align with how they’re behaving. So accept them for who they are, notice what is wonderful about them, and appreciate that. Just accept, notice and appreciate.

Be grateful for the greatness that makes up your world.

Lesson 5 – Speak up, but remain calm

For the longest time I would be passive in the way I engaged with the world. If something didn’t go the way I expected, I would just sit to the side and not want to rock the boat. But within me was a different story. I would be quietly frustrated, at times furious, and let this bubble up within me. Then I would be horrible to the people who love me. I believe the psychologists call this “passive-aggressive”.

Now I’ve learnt to speak up where appropriate. It doesn’t mean make a big drama over every little thing, but it does mean observing how the people in your life are behaving towards you and then speaking with them about it if required.

But most importantly, remain calm, or don’t say a word. Anything said with frustration or anger will bite you a hundred times in return.

Lesson 6 – Log your inner gremlins

Yes, we all have them. Our inner gremlins make us horrible people at times, but with awareness we can overcome them.

These gremlins are grouped into four main categories:

  • anger: Anytime something doesn’t go our way, we become angry, or mildly frustrated. This hurts those we love and it hurts us.
  • greed: Anytime we are not content with what we have, we become greedy for more. This greed builds on itself and before long it destroys everything we hold dear in our lives.

  • ego: Anytime we think we have done something great, our ego inflates and we become smug and annoying to others. Anytime we are criticised and can’t calmly learn from it, our ego deflates, we get upset and we hurt the ones we love.

  • deceit: We lie when we want something and the truthful approach takes more work. Lies hurt those we love and lying hurts us.

Every evening, before going to bed, take a little time out to log these gremlins in your notebook. Think about (i) the situation that caused it, (ii) how you reacted to the situation, (iii) how you felt about that and (iv) what you resolve to do next time.

Over time, you’ll notice these gremlins start to reduce in intensity and lighten the load you carry. With awareness comes lightness.

Lesson 7 – Life is unpredictable

We typically take life for granted, but none of us know how long we each have to live. We may live another 60 years, or we may take our last breath this very evening.

Life can be short and extremely unpredictable. You probably know that better than anyone else.

Ask yourself what this life is all about, for you. What’s the purpose with which you wish to lead your life?

Further reading: Last day living

Moving forward

My experiences over the past seven years and the people who have been a part of my life have shaped how I now see the world and how best to live within it.

These lessons are ones I’m trying to apply to my life every day – I have yet to master them fully, but it’s work in progress with the view that they’ll make me a better man.

I hope some of these may be useful in your life as you navigate your way forward following the loss of a loved one.

Being able to say goodbye

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

One of the biggest regrets for those who have lost a loved one is that they never got a chance to say goodbye, or how much they loved them.

I read in the local paper how a young man who appeared to have taken his life, had told his sister he loved her just minutes before being killed by a train. The sister said:

“I was speaking to my best friend on the phone and she was getting off a train at Hayes station,”

“She saw Tony there, and he said: ‘Tell Louisa I love her’.

“She passed him the phone and he said to me: ‘I know we don’t talk that much but you know I love you.’

“I said: ‘I love you too, bro’, and told him to come over for dinner because dad was away on holiday.

“Then he said: ‘I’ve got to go now’ – and that was it.

“I can take that with me for the rest of my life. Out of everyone in the family, it was fate that I got to talk to him.

“I can feel him with me now.”

Louisa is likely feeling sad and confused about her brother’s death, and yet said “I can feel him with me now.”

The death of a loved one can happen as a result of an accident, a suicide, or perhaps a long-term illness. We never really know when someone is going to die, when they will be gone forever.

But even though they may no longer be around, there is something that does stay forever: that warm feeling of closeness, of happy memories, of inspiring qualities.

Embracing their virtues

In the world in which we live, we tend to get so caught up in our mundane day-to-day activities that we seem to forget to value and appreciate the wonderful qualities of those around us.

But it’s the appreciation of those virtues that make life so worth living. It brings brightness to an otherwise gloomy day. It brings magic to a boring afternoon. It brings lightness a stressful week.

So take the time to tell the people around you how you feel, how they positively impact your life, how they have inspired you to take bold steps.

Anil Bhandary recently wrote:

Extroverts, introverts or ambiverts, all of us have something to say. Something to express. But expressing what is truly in one’s heart is difficult. Because we are scared of being judged, because it sounds ridiculous.

Here is the thing: Life is simple. I know you have many things to say to many lovely people around. Life will only get complicated by not saying what one wants to. Say it, for your heart will get lighter and you will be glad you did. Sure, it would be weird, uncommon, but worth it.

So pick up the phone, send a card, arrange a time to sit and have a coffee, and openly share with the people you care about just how wonderful they are and how much you love them. Then there will be fewer regrets when they are no longer around.

So what do you do if you have already lost someone you love?

Clearly not everyone has the opportunity to tell the ones they love just how they feel about them.

You may even feel that for you it’s too late.  But it isn’t.  Here are some ideas that may help:

  • Write a note: Set some time aside, put pen to paper, and write out what you would have wanted to say to them but never felt you got the chance to.
  • Light a candle: In the evening when it is dark and you are alone, light a candle and recollect a fond memory you have with the one you have lost. At that point, express out loud or within your heart just you felt about them, and resolve to carry that strength into your day-to-day work.
  • Share memories: Gather a few friends and family and share wonderful stories about the times you had together with the one you have lost. There will be laughs and there will be tears, but your fond memories will live on. Their virtues will live on.

You’ll see that it is never really about saying goodbye. Rather, it is about expressing how you felt about them and recognising the gift of virtues they have left behind for you to embrace in your own life.

What do you wish you would have told someone you have lost? Share your thoughts on ‘saying goodbye’ at Google +

A father’s day note if you miss your dad

Written by Suraj Shah, inspired by greatness.

Do you know of someone who misses their dad?

In the past year, several of my friends have had to deal with the loss of their father. Some fathers had suffered through a long-term illness. Others have died suddenly.

This father’s day, I prepared a note for my friends who miss their dad.

Feel free to download the note (398KB PDF) and send it to someone you know who is feeling at a loss as a result of their father no longer being around. It may provide a source of clarity, comfort and strength for them.

Also, it could be that your friend’s father is still alive, but they’ve fallen out of touch as a result of distance, busy lives, a degenerative condition such as alzheimers, or perhaps differences in opinion. It may help with this kind of loss too.

» download the Father’s Day note for friends who miss their dad (398KB PDF)

Here is the text from the downloadable note, in case you cannot access the document.

If you miss your dad…  by Suraj Shah | livewithloss.com | June 2012

How are you coping with the loss of your father?

Chances are that you’re thinking of your dad.  Perhaps you miss him.

  • It may be the date of his birthday or some other important date.
  • It may be that you’re attending a family occasion where he’s not present.
  • It may be that he’s not around to celebrate a major accomplishment with you.
  • It may be father’s day where many other sons and daughters are connecting with their fathers.
  • You may be facing a difficult situation and could do with your father’s guidance and support.

Whatever the reason, you miss your dad, and that’s understandable.

Fathers are incredible people.  They have worked hard their whole lives.  They have done whatever they think is best to give us, their children a good upbringing.  They have taught us how to stand on our own two feet.

Your father was a source of immense strength.  He had been through so much and yet continued to tap into a deep reservoir of love.

He may not have said much, but was quietly waiting… waiting to give support, to always be on hand when you needed him the most.  And you knew it.

For this reason, and this reason alone, you will always miss him.

Father’s values

Although your dad may no longer be around, there is something that will stay on forever: the values with which he lived his life by.

These very same values are growing stronger in you.

When you look deep within yourself and think about the values you aspire to live your life by, you’ll discover that many of them are the very same ones you’ve absorbed from your father over the years.

Everyone’s principles and values are different.  Here are some I’ve gained from my dad:

  • Have a positive attitude to handle any situation.
  • Face the world’s challenges with a smile.
  • Think hard about what’s important to you and make time for it.
  • Cut out all distractions that take you away from what is most important.
  • Family duty comes first — care for your wife, care for your children, care for those who depend on you.
  • Nothing is more important than your peace of mind.
  • When in a conversation, listen — listen properly — then respond as appropriate.
  • Talk to people of all ages and with all sorts of backgrounds — there is always something to learn.
  • Great service is more important than a quick buck.
  • Don’t forget to make money too — you need to support yourself.
  • Be fearless in life — no-one and nothing has the power to make you feel scared.

Live with the loss of your dad

On special occasion days or the times when life is sending difficulties your way, use these three steps to help the memory of your dad shape a better moment for yourself:

1. Remember your dad: Remember your father with all your heart.  Recall your greatest moments with him, what he would say, and what he stood for.

2. Recognise these values emerging in you:  These same qualities are within you.  Look deep within, remember times when you too have gotten through situations using those values.

3. Apply these values to your current situation:  Whatever you are currently going through, take those values you hold so dear and apply them to your present situation.  Think about what your father would have done and how he would have done it.  Magnify it.  Immerse yourself into it.

By remembering your dad, recognising these values in you and then applying them to your present situation, you will see yourself glide through the current situation with ease.

Additional resources

Let go of control to feel great

A friend whose father was very ill had found a way to let go and face the reality of his father’s imminent death.  Learn about how certain phrases from our heritage have been instrumental in helping us let go of control: livewithloss.com/let-go

Getting grief and bereavement support

Upon losing someone, do you feel there’s no-one you can talk to?  Even with loads of people around who try hard to make sure you’re not left on your own, it’s still so easy to feel alone. But there is a way through it: livewithloss.com/bereavement-support

If you found this note helpful, feel free to forward it onto friends who may also be missing their dads.

With warmth,

If you miss your father and want to share your thoughts with others, head on over to Google+ to write a few words for friends who miss their dad.