INTERLUDE: Mindfulness and Grief

During my exploration of mindfulness, I had never considered how I would apply it when I experienced the loss of someone close to me. How could I possibly centre myself when I was in pain? Unfortunately this is what I was faced with this week. My sister’s cat Milo, whom my mother had rescued as a kitten just two years ago, was hit and killed by a car on Tuesday, 1st of November.

I was the last to know because I take the death of animals, family or not, very hard. In fact, I had recently had to do a massive clear-out of the animal groups I followed on Facebook due to the constant bombardment of reports of animal cruelty. I take it to heart, I can’t help it.

Some people – in fact, a lot of people – will think “it’s just a cat”, or “he wasn’t your cat”. The latter is true, Milo wasn’t mine and I saw him only a handful of times each month, if at all. But I remember him as a kitten and I remember him following me when I headed out on my afternoon run behind his home. He was a unique cat and he will be missed.

Mindfulness was the last thing I wanted to do during the peak of my grief. I couldn’t imagine focusing on my breath, or anything other than Milo. I was heart-broken and angry. The anger was aimed at the person who hit him and didn’t stop, not even to move Milo onto the side of the road to avoid him becoming part of it. I feared mindfulness would only fuel these feelings and so I avoided it. I also avoided my writing exercises.

As my grief became a little more manageable, I couldn’t help but wonder if mindfulness was in any way helpful to those in similar situations. In short, can mindfulness help you heal a broken heart?

I came across an article by Megan Devine in the Huffington Post entitled You Aren’t Here Now: How Grief and Mindfulness Don’t Mix. I expected to read Devine’s assumptions that mindfulness is essentially a useless tool for grief, but what I got instead surprised me. Devine didn’t diss mindfulness as such, instead she acknowledged that there are people who simply see it as a quick fix to happiness, that we simply centre ourselves in the here and now and acknowledge that everything is perfect, even when it’s not.

“In the mainstream of mindfulness, if you would only change your thoughts, your grief would disappear.”

Essentially, she believes that people simply change their thinking and decide that everything is okay. To me, this is an exercise in denial and one that I have great experience with. For years, I tried to assure myself that everything was not as bad as it seemed. In essence, I was suppressing emotions I should have been acknowledging and it only exacerbated my depression.

In my process of discovering and learning the practice of mindfulness, I have had moments where I’ve observed my negative thinking and it really opened my eyes. I’d like to say that I now acknowledge every type of thinking I experience but, like I said, I’m still learning. When it came to grieving for Milo, I allowed my emotions to consume me and punished myself when my thoughts slipped to other things.

“The pure practice of mindfulness is to bring your attention to exactly what is – whether that is pain or bliss, peace or torment – each moment, as it arises.”

Right now I am trying to bring attention to my grief, to accept it for what it is and allow it to run its course. At the same time, I’m also trying to allow myself to think of other things without judgement. It’s not easy, but when is grief or pain ever easy? I’ve also started meditating again and doing my writing exercises. Am I still heart-broken? Yes, of course I am. Am I still angry? Yes, but not as much as I was. Some may see Milo as just a cat, but to me, and to my sister, he was family, the equivalent of a child. He’s left a hole in our lives, one which may never heal.

Rest in peace, Milo xxx

“You are here. Where you are is not perfect. It may or may not be okay. And here you are. You do not create your reality, life will be what it will be.

“Be here now.

“Grieve here now.”

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