When Paula had just passed away I didn’t feel anything. I had seen this moment coming for quite a while. We had exchanged our last text messages saying how much we loved each other. My husband and I went for a walk on the beach at the end of that day. The sunset sky turned pink and we both said: “Hello, Paula.” But the next day I received a video capture of her coffin being carried out of their apartment and into the car that would take it to the funeral home, in the presence of many friends who were bidding their farewell. I bawled my eyes out. Suddenly it was so real; she was gone. The thought that her beautiful slender body – probably dressed in one of her ever stylish outfits – was lying in that light colored wooden box was absolutely heart breaking. It felt so wrong and unfair. Why did she only live to be 43 whilst some assholes get to live till they’re 80, or older! The feeling was gut wrenching.
In the following days there were moments I felt fine, and I wasn’t even thinking of her, as I was busy with work. And then there were moments that suddenly the sadness slapped me in the face again. At times when I wasn’t expecting it it showed up uninvited. And it wouldn’t leave me alone when I asked it to. Grief is a bitch. It just did exactly what it wanted to do: make me feel miserable.
They say that meditation makes you feel better. It will make you feel your anger better, your joy, and also your sadness. Indeed I did. I felt it full on. As if I had ordered that high-octane extra large coffee that I never get because I know it makes me feel bad. I felt so sad. And I also felt angry: “Why did you leave me?!” And then I felt bad for being angry. I also felt that I wasn’t practicing what I teach; couldn’t I just ride these waves of emotion instead off wanting them to go away? However, unexpectedly there was a moment when I realized that it was ok I was feeling what I was feeling. Resistance to what is – my heavy emotion in this case – is never helpful. So I allowed myself to feel.
One night I went out for a walk. I felt energized by the cold winter air, and was admiring the starry night sky. And there she was; I clearly felt Paula’s presence next to me. She had come to join me on my outing. I felt overjoyed by the idea that I could now hang out with her whenever I want to, as we are no longer burdened by the distance of the Atlantic Ocean between us.
Every time I think of the fact that my best friend isn’t there to send a picture of a special moment to, or share a recipe with, or ask for advice (we had agreed we would always be completely open and honest with each other), that I can’t meet her for tea and chocolate whenever I go back to Amsterdam, I feel sad. I miss her physical presence terribly. Yet, when I embrace the knowingness that she is still here, just in a different form, and that I can still communicate with her, be it in a way I yet need to figure out, I feel fine. Yesterday afternoon I said down at our dining room table where the sun was shining through the window. I had a serving of freshly baked apple crisp and a cup of coffee I front of me, something I know Paula loved too. I was looking at the white fluffy clouds in the sky, and I felt completely content. I felt Paula’s presence. I know how much she loved this moment too. She used to call it a geluksmomentje, a moment of happiness.
While riding these waves of emotions I am so grateful for my practice. I don’t know how I would have managed without it. My Buddhist inspired practice reminds me that when I attach to things or people – either by wanting something that I don’t have, or by being afraid to loose something I do have – I suffer. When I attach too strongly to the idea that Paula’s physical presence is no longer here, I feel extremely sad. However, when I can let go of attachment to physical form, and tap into the knowingness that her presence is still here, I feel so much better. Pain is inevitable – we will all get sick at some point, and experience loss of whatever kind. Suffering, however, is optional. When we let go of the attachment that life should be a certain way, and embrace each moment as it is without resistance, we can find genuine happiness.
I know that this is what Paula was referring to when she requested before her passing: “Remember me radiant and in the full Light. Keep listening to your heart, it will show you the way.”
And that bitch? Well, she visits at times. I sit with her and offer her a cup of tea and some chocolate. I know her visits will become less frequent. Until they do, I will fully embrace them. I will sit with the pain, but I choose not to suffer.