By Garuda Das, PhD (ASBSP)
I offer you some heartfelt thoughts and reflections here on Vaishnava loss, grief, and the departure of beloved Vaishnavas:
This is a time of grieving such a great loss for you. If the passing away of a loved one were not already challenging enough, factors such as the departed one’s age or the unexpectedness of the departure, the suddenness with which one leaves, how much more of a life one could have lived, the manner in which one departed—to name a few—tend to naturally cross our minds during such a time.
You may search for the auspicious elements of this person’s departure for false comfort, or you may impute such greatness or grandness to such a soul to offset the loss. But no matter how you rationalize, it cannot relieve the personal experience of one’s whole being faltering and even collapsing as a result of this loss, just as Arjuna whose grief gave him no choice but to fall into the seat of his chariot.
Questions of auspicious or inauspicous deaths, devotional status, popularity, etc. are irrelevant. The bhakta has already transcended these considerations. Parikshit died by the bite of snake-bird “Let the snake bird bite me at once. I only desire that all of you continue reciting the glorious divine acts of Lord Vishnu.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda has addressed this issue of how unimportant auspicious elements are or the manner of death:
However, for the pure devotee in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, there is no fear of returning, whether he leaves the body at an auspicious or inauspicious moment, by accident or arrangement (Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, Ch. 8, Purport to Vs. 24).
And in another place, Śrīla Prabhupāda states:
The unalloyed devotees of the Supreme Lord, who are totally surrendered souls, do not care when they leave their bodies or by what method. They leave everything in Kṛṣṇa’s hand and so easily and happily return to Godhead (Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, Ch. 8, Purport to Vs. 23).
There is no way that anyone can assuage the vexing pain that is so often felt in the area of one’s solar plexus, even feelings of dread, and at times a sense of the uselessness and hopelessness in everything: like a deep crack that forms in one’s existence, that such a loss surely creates in a life. It can often call into question the whole point of living, and the purpose of living, the very meaning of life itself.
Times like this only sharpen existential issues that confront us all at least one time or another . . . the inevitable departure from this world that we all must make . . . and the total life process in which we all participate and in which we all unwittingly find ourselves. But know this:
Death for the bhakta means a heart that can no longer contain all the love that it has for the divine beloved. One bursts out of one’s mortal frame into a form that can embody the abundance of love derived in bhakti.
And yet such a departure, amazingly, is filled with yet so many blessings. You did not know the departed one before he/she was born. That life then built an ever-growing network of loving connections throughout the person’s life. And surely the ways this person’s embodied life and love in the short sojourn here in this world undoubtedly will have touched the hearts of a certain portion of humanity along the way. Your grief is—and will continue to be—a sober testament to, and cause for, celebration of such a life.
Dwell at this time on the very miracle of this person! The world of however many or few persons whose hearts the departed one has touched—this is what this person came here to do. This person’s unique presence in the lives of those whom he/she loved was essential, vital, and irreplaceable. And this person will continue to be an unduplicatable, special presence in the hearts of all those who loved him or her.
What I feel is so important to contemplate at times like these is that while the departed one’s physical presence is no longer, your relationship with this person is, indeed, longer—it, in fact, remains. Your love, your affection for this special person and his or her persona, his or her energy and presence, and your appreciation of so much of what he or she was in this short life . . . all of this and more is a special gift from Sri Sri Radha and Krishna.
Your love for the departed will continue and thus your relationship with the departed indeed continues on. As it is love that is at the foundation of all relationships, and thus your relationship will continue as you continue to love the departed. It is this sudden shift that we call death that is our challenge in the re-orientation of our continued relationships with those who have departed.
You will continue to love this person, you will continue to remember this person and recall all the times you’ve spent with this person, and thus you will continue to continue a relationship with this person. Though you won’t have this person’s embodied presence in your life anymore, you have parts of him or her in your heart that no one can take away from you that are still part of you because this person has never been limited to his or her state of embodiment when here in this world. The true you are more of who you are because of this person.
The gift that this person has given all those whom he or she has loved is the gift of a greater heart. Had he or she not been in the lives of those whom this person loved, all of them would have been deprived of this person’s special contributions; all of you would have not loved as much as you have loved and are loving so intensely now because of his or her unique presence in your lives.
We may be separated from the embodied states of our beloveds, but the bodiless portion of our relationships (anaṅga = bodiless form of pure love) continue on within our hearts and in a love that suddently can manifest in and through other messengers of their love. You will receive such gifts!
Even so, while all of this can be so beautiful, and the miracle of his or her being and presence in your life over such fleeting years has been undoubtedly such a gain, it is now a time of such deep sorrow, and even at times, even a fury or anguish at the very process that removes such dear souls from us. These feelings are okay. Don’t push them away.
This is not a time to hold back or to put off what so deeply pains the heart, for the extent that you have loved, it is to that extent that you will feel a kind of pain that perhaps you’ve never experienced before. You must go through this painful process, and give yourself the time to do so. You may weep for this person, and you may celebrate this person, at the same time. You may need to talk it out to others and with others, and you may need to talk it out just to yourself. You may need to take walks in nature in order to let natural life embrace you and comfort you at a time such as this, and may need to fall before Prabhupada and the deity form of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna to beg them for their help. You may need to create a special shrine for your beloved within your heart or in a special place within your home.
Please do not limit all the ways you must process this loss, for if you do, to the extent that you do, you would then commensurately prevent those special gifts from coming to you that await you for having gone through this process fully. There are indeed special blessings that come from this, blessings that could not come any other way.
This person’s passing is the very harbinger of a deepened sense of life, and greater depth of heart, and of heightened awareness of the devotional path that you yourself are treading. The departed one is showing you the way to a more profound sense of life in the here and now by his or her very death.
May this person’s gifts ever flow into your heart and into your life and continue to do so for the remainder of your time here and forever after.