By Ty H. Phillips


In one week, I had received three phone calls, each one notifying me that someone else had passed away.

I didn’t know the first two people very well, but the impact on my family was very real. The third phone call was like a blow to the stomach—one that I was not expecting to feel. The person who had passed was an abuser, a womanizer and a person that in all truth, I thought I would feel indifference or relief when the time came.

What I felt was anything but that.

I was angry, I was confused, I was plagued with doubts and questions and people coming at me with the “aren’t you a Buddhist and beyond all that” attack. There was also the turmoil of judging myself for maybe not being that beyond all doubt and questions Buddhist teacher.

And then it arrived in the mail.

I opened the package and inside was A Buddhist Grief Observedwritten by Guy Newland. When I looked at it, my first reaction was to throw it on the shelf and growl at it as if it could hear my frustration. That evening however, I found myself alone, in the dark, with it in my hands. Oddly enough, it was like the warm hug I needed. It wasn’t the “there-there” phony sympathy of an academic writing about death and how we should tip toe through the tulips like grand enlightened masters when it happens, but rather the deep hug of someone also in grief who understands exactly what you’re feeling, here and now.

As I kept reading, I found myself relaxing. The judgments of my judgments began unclenching as I realized that it was okay to lean into the sharp edges of my pain.

I didn’t need to be the mythical figure who walks in and out of death with barely a glimpse or whimper, but an actual person, guts deep in the here and now, open and spacious with my hurts and doubts.

Guy Newland’s book was not about how Buddhism helped him escape the pain of his wife’s death, but how he hurt—plain and simple. Not how he denied his pain and took some sadistic grateful smile at the “gift” of her sickness and death, but instead the grief that is leg-shaking, kicking and screaming against loss and pain we all share as humans.

It was not an expression of the positive thinking psychobabble. It was the deep understanding of human experience through the eyes of real dharma. Plainly put, this short book went from a growl of irritation to becoming a favorite text I have already read three times. It was life affirming in its openness and touched on not only the grief of death but our grief of attachment to all things.

It was beautiful.


Photo: publisher

Editor: Dana Gornall