Resolving the unresolved

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

Those who know that their life may be coming to an end tend to want to get their affairs in order and make amends with anyone they have a fragile relationship and unresolved issues with.

But what about the relationships where you lost someone suddenly and hadn’t had a chance to resolve the conflict before they died?

The unresolved

There was this couple, both in their early 50s, married for over 25 years. They had many struggles in life but somehow worked together to overcome them.

Then one day, out of the blue, the wife (let’s call her Anne) got upset by what her husband did. It was only something small and didn’t really matter all that much, but it upset her and she gave him the silent treatment. The husband (we’ll call him Michael), who was used to this silent treatment over the years, didn’t bother to try to shake her out of it. He knew it was something she did to help herself deal with life. But Anne thought she was teaching him a lesson!

A few days went by, but she was still upset at him. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. Still no word from her. Michael tried to get her to see sense and come out of her silent treatment, but Anne stood firm. At this point she didn’t even know what she was angry about, but thought there must have been a reason so she stayed adamant.

Then one dark winter evening, while Michael was walking home from the station after work, he got knocked over by a car and died at the scene of the accident. His wife, upon finding out about what happened, was flooded with feelings of anger, resentment and guilt.

She was angry at the driver for the accident and at her husband for leaving her alone. She had resentment towards her husband for not giving her a chance to make amends (even though he tried many times). She was riddled with guilt for not breaking the silence sooner and resolving the issue, the tiny insignificant issue, that she had been holding onto so tightly.

Anne was carrying these feelings for many months after her husband passed away. So what did she do to finally resolve whatever was unresolved?

Resolving the unresolved

After several months of turmoil brought about by these feelings, Anne sat down one quiet evening with a hot drink, a pen and a notebook.

She started to make a list of all that she was feeling and trace those feelings back to the initial cause. Then, when she thought she may have found the root cause, she went back a little further and found the real reason. Anne realised that what caused the original frustration wasn’t really all that bad and that she ought not have held onto the silent treatment for so long.

She thought about the driver of the car and realised that no matter how much at fault he may have been, any anger she harbours will only cause herself more suffering.

Anne also thought hard about the resentment she felt towards Michael not giving her a chance to make amends, and that it really wasn’t in his hands to resolve the issue.

She thought about her own guilt and realised that any guilt she felt was just causing her more pain, more suffering.

As the months moved on and the years passed, Anne learnt to let go of the anger, the resentment and the guilt. Along with that, she freed herself from the pain and the sorrow and now lives a calmer life – a life with clarity and purpose.

How to resolve the unresolved

If you are still harboring unresolved issues and feelings following the loss of a loved one, what can you do to resolve them?

1. Get clear on what caused the hurt: Take some time out for yourself and think deeply on the root cause of the feelings that are causing you so much turmoil? Are they truly justified? Can you afford to keep feeling them? What value do those feelings bring to your life, and what might you want to replace them with to increase your level of peace and happiness?

2. Write them a note: Granted, the one you loved may no longer be around, but it may help to write a note addressed to them. You don’t need to post it or show it to anyone, but write out your deepest feelings, the causes, how you feel now and how you want to feel. Write whether you love them. Write whether you forgive them. Write whether you understand. Write what you have learnt about yourself. Write to love more. Write so that you may grow.

3. Be kind to yourself: Most important, care for yourself, so that you may free yourself from suffering. Be kind to yourself so that you can release the shackles that have kept you bound in turmoil. Be kind to yourself so that the ill feelings simply lift away and let you lead a peacefully calm and purposeful life.

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Forgive and let go

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

One of the earliest emotions that recently bereaved people report feeling is anger. The perfect antidote to anger is forgiveness.

When you face the loss of a loved one, particularly when it’s a sudden loss, you may find yourself plagued with a whole host of emotions, ranging from shock and sadness through to anger or even relief.

Today we’ll look at anger, seeing if it’s a type that you recognise in yourself, notice what it is doing to you, and then explore ways in which to gradually let it pass.

Types of anger

Anger comes in many varieties, from mild dissatisfaction through to intense frustration, and is normally aimed towards someone.

  • anger at the criminal – the driver who caused the accident; the thug who mugged him in the street; the burgler who frightened him in his home.

  • anger at the medical team – the surgeon couldn’t save his life; the nurse did not take good enough care of him; the doctor didn’t pick it up sooner.

  • anger at the disease – breast cancer took yet another life in my dear family!

  • anger at the person who has died – he went and left me to look after this young family on my own.

  • anger at yourself – I should have been more caring and loving and now I won’t get a chance anymore…

  • anger at the almighty – how can God be so cruel to take him away from me before I was ready for it?

Clouded with the pain of grief, you may feel justified with this anger. But what’s it really doing to you?

Anger – the disease

Anger is the type of thing that grabs you by the throat, will turn your whole life upside down, pushing away all the things you hold so dearly in your life.

  • your health: Anger wrecks your health. It breaks down your immune system. It spreads through every cell in your body, shutting your body down bit by bit.
  • your relationships: Anger wrecks your relationships. It pushes away the people you care about and who sincerely care for you.

  • your career: Anger wrecks your work-life. It clouds your judgement and reduces the quality of your work.

  • your state of mind: Anger wrecks your mind. It places a heavy piercing weight on your head, making you feel like you’re drowning in the boiling ocean.

Tell me, is holding onto this anger worth it?

Some people I’ve spoken with during bereavement support visits report to not caring about the anger or the damage it’s doing. They say they don’t care about any of it because there is nothing more to live for.

But what if there was an antidote – something you could do to banish anger from your kingdom to lead a more calm and purposeful life – something really worth living for?

Forgiveness – the perfect antidote to anger

It turns out that there is such a cure to anger – one that will indeed bring about more lightness and clarity in your life. This antidote to anger is the quality of forgiveness.

To forgive means to let go.

Let go of this blame. Let go of this pain. Let go of this discontent.

The fact is that this world works in a way that we cannot always comprehend. Situations arise in our lives that don’t always make sense and tend to bring us more fear and sadness than happiness and peace.

These situations come about and attempt to destroy all that we have worked hard to accomplish. Our loved ones get taken away and our lives get flattened and sometimes it feels like there’s nothing that can explain it.

So we seek out an answer. We force ourselves to find some way to make sense of what feels like a tragedy taking place in our lives. We find people or situations to blame, thinking that somehow, just somehow, it will help to reduce our pain.

But you know what, perhaps now’s the time to take a step back and see it for what it is. Something totally out of your hands – the nature of the world around us.

You need to know that I do understand. The anger you’re feeling is completely understandable. Those around you, those who care about you, may notice this anger and will either run a mile or will attempt to convince you not to be angry. But it’s ok. By allowing yourself to let it pass, this feeling of anger will gradually fall away.

How to cultivate the practice of forgiveness

To bring about the quality of forgiveness in your life, gradually work through these steps, taking your time through the process.

  1. Notice: Catch yourself when you’re feeling angry. Close your eyes, become still and watch that anger that has taken form within you. How big is it? What shape is it? What colour is it? How does it feel?
  2. Write: Make a note of whenever you feel angry during the day. What trigger caused it to arise? How did you react to the situation? How did you feel about that reaction?

  3. Resolve: Think about an alternative response to that situation. What could you do the next time this situation arises? You may not get it right for a while, but let the responses you feel are more appropriate develop within you over time.

This process of noticing, writing and resolving can be incredibly powerful as a daily exercise.

As you take some time for yourself each day to notice the strong feelings that arise within you, to familiarise yourself with them and acknowledge them by writing them down and then resolving to let anger go, you will start to feel a sense of lightness develop within you.

Really, there is no rush. Allow yourself to step from stage to stage, gradually lifting away your pain, your grief, your anguish.

Soon you will feel a sense of calm as you purposefully settle into a life of forgiveness.

Here one moment, gone the next

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

How weird is this life? I could be sitting with you having a coffee and enjoying a laugh together, and then moments later I could be dead. Just like that.

A sudden collapse

My sister-in-law was on the phone with me this evening — she explained how earlier today her uncle in India was attending a wedding reception, greeting the family, enjoying being around everyone. Then within moments he had collapsed with a heart attack. Soon after that, he was dead.

At the age of 51, his life had suddenly ended. His warm, wonderful personality was no more.

It was only a few weeks ago that she had seen him and was hanging out with him. Little did she realise how final her last goodbye to him would really be.

How is it that someone you adore and expect to have around you forever will one day drop out of your life at the beat of a heart?

When she got the news, my sister-in-law was clearly in shock. She wouldn’t be seeing her uncle in this life ever again. When she visits India next, he won’t be there. When she goes to his house, he won’t be there. When she picks up the phone to give him a call, he won’t be there.

Coming together, falling apart

In the timeless Jain tradition, we understand that when two people come together and fall apart, it is not just for this life. Even a death doesn’t mean the absolute end of that relationship.

The act of coming together and falling apart has been happening for many lifetimes in the past and will likely happen for many more in the future. So logically, it should not bring us any suffering when someone close to us dies.

The loss is inevitable so there’s no point in crying, right?

But the academic understanding of that relationship between any two of us over multiple lifetimes, doesn’t take away the shock, or the pain, of losing someone dear to us.

Loosening the shackles

Our strong attachment to them while they were here doesn’t just disappear overnight when they are no longer with us. It takes a while for the shackles of that attachment to loosen, for that grief to lessen.

Over time, this contemplation on the ever-changing nature of the world around us and the inevitability of loss will gradually help reduce the ups and downs that we face in our day-to-day lives.

But while that work is taking place, anytime we lose something or someone we hold so dear, it will naturally bring pain and sadness. Don’t let yourself get sucked into that sadness, nor that pain. Witness it. See it for what it is and let is pass.

Only then will you able to lead a calm and purposeful life.