The Dalai Lama on loss
05 May 2005
An audience member, clearly in pain, asked the Dalai Lama, "Do you have any suggestions about how to handle a great personal loss, such as the loss of a child?"
With a gentle tone of compassion, he answered, "To some degree, that depends on people's personal belief. If people believe in rebirth, then accordingly, I think there is some way to reduce sorrow or worry. They can take consolation in the fact that their loved one will be reborn.
"For those people who do not believe in rebirth, then I think there are still some simple ways to help deal with the loss. First, they could reflect that if they worried too much, allowing themselves to be too overwhelmed by the sense of loss and sorrow, and if they carried on with that feeling of being overwhelmed, not only would it be very destructive and harming to themselves, ruining their health, but also it would not have any benefit to the person who has passed away.
"For example, in my own case, I have lost my most respected tutor, my mother, and also one of my brothers. When they passed away, of course, I felt very, very sad. Then I constantly kept thinking that it's no use to worry too much, and if I really loved these people, then I must try to fulfill their wishes with a calm mind. So I try my best to do that. So I think if you've lost someone who is very dear to you, that's the proper way to approach it. You see, the best way to keep a memory of that person, the best remembrance, is to see if you can carry on the wishes of that person.
"Initially, of course, feelings of grief and anxiety are a natural human response to a loss. But if you allow these feelings of loss and worry to persist, there's a danger; if these feelings are left unchecked, they can lead to a kind of self-absorption. A situation where the focus becomes your own self. And when that happens you become overwhelmed by the sense of loss, and you get a feeling that it's only you who is going through this. Depression sets in. But in reality, there are others who will be going through the same kind of experience. So, if you find yourself worrying too much, it may help to think of the other people who have similar or even worse tragedies. Once you realize that, then you no longer feel isolated, as if you have been singlepointedly picked out. That can offer you some kind of condolence."
--The Dalai Lama (1935-), in The Art of Happiness (pub. 1998, Hodder and Stoughton), by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler