By Dana Gornall
1. a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition
2. the state of being homesick
There have been a number of deaths of people close to me, recently—most notably, my dad.
When you list it all out, the details and the what-nots, it seems like a lot, and truly…it is a lot. Grief is different for everyone, depending on the person being grieved and what role they played in your life. The fact is though, loss in its own right, is heavy.
Humans don’t like change, typically. We think we want change, but only on our terms. We don’t like the unexpected unless the unexpected is the thing we are asking for. This is a big point in Buddhism—the idea of change and how to deal with it. Whether it is a loss of a job, the loss of someone we love, the loss of anything we see falsely as stable and permanent; it sends us reeling.
Suffering and the relief of suffering all originates with understanding the idea of attachment.
The first time I was told that nostalgia was not a positive thing, I paused. I had always associated nostalgia with memories of good times. The idea of looking back to “the old days” or “happier days” seemed like a rite of passage as we all age. But someone told me that nostalgia comes from the Greek word algia, meaning pain, grief or distress, and nostos meaning homecoming or escape.
When I think about my dad and the losses of other people in my life, I have this indescribable sadness, and sort of a pit in my stomach. It’s not the overwhelming waves that many feel when losing someone completely out of the blue. But nostalgia—painful homecoming—is the best way I can explain it.
I can clearly see myself as a child, on summer vacations with my parents and my brothers. I can see my dad’s face and the way he raised one eyebrow when he was trying to be funny, hear his booming voice and infectious laugh that made his whole mouth open wide and his eyes crinkle up. I can see his gait, the rocking back and forth like a pendulum as he walked, due to years of bone deterioration in his feet.
I can see how he was growing weaker day after day in the last six months before he died, the way he struggled to stand, and the knowing I had—the deepest knowing—that everything was changing—and so fast.
I recently read something about The Ostrich Effect: a term psychologists use to describe the human nature act of metaphorically putting our “heads in the sand” when things get overwhelming or when we are feeling anxiety about something. Whether it is watching someone’s health slowly fade, or the state of political crisis in a country, or whether it’s about looming debt piling up that needs to be addressed, we wall off our minds instead of allowing ourselves to think about it.
I suppose I’ve done that and probably still do.
But life is suffering, at least that’s what Buddha says. We all know that after years of isolation, the Buddha finally was faced with seeing aging, illness and death. He finally had his eyes opened and could no longer keep his head in the sand. Instead, we acknowledge it. We hold it in our hands, we let it rest in our minds and we lovingly release it—again and again.
For now, the grieving isn’t a dark alley that winds and burrows in my heart, like it could be. For now, it’s a subtle quietness—like an empty untouched beach on an early morning. It’s the water before the wind begins to blow, and it’s a solid blue, cloudless sky. For now I hold on gingerly, and let go, grasp, and let go.
And I rest in the in-between, and the uncertainty. From here, I pull my head out of the sand again.
Editor: Michelleanne Bradley
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