By Holly Herring
I love Buddhism, but I have not found comfort in the Buddhist teachings on grief.
I have a lot of grief in me, probably more than your average person. I don’t know what to do with it all. It’s like I went into a giant warehouse store without a cart and I am trying to carry cases of soft drinks, a 1000 pack of toilet paper, a 65’ TV, a new queen sized mattress and a bushel of blueberry muffins out to my compact sedan.
Strangers in the parking lot can clearly see this is never going to fit inside my car if I can even get it all there myself.
This is an area of my life where Buddhism has not been helpful. I grieve because I was attached to a person who passed—people who passed. Exactly! So, because I was attached to their presence, their absence causes me to suffer. Yes! Absolutely. I’m attached, 100% attached to my people. I’m suffering due to the loss of them.
Dear Baby Buddha, I cannot get myself to a point where this doesn’t cause suffering in me. I’m sorry, Buddha, but I gotta seek outside counsel for this one.
As the Buddha exits stage left, in walks Mr. Fred Rogers. Yep, The Mr. Rogers we remember from our childhoods on public television. You see, here’s the thing about me; I’m not too proud to give up a perfectly solid grown up approach to resolving my issues if there’s one created for children that will work better for me. So, after crying a few weeks ago when I discovered, 19 years after the fact, that Mr. Rogers had passed away—I decided I had a grief problem.
I was grieving the loss of loved ones and acquaintances, but also suddenly grieving Mr. Rogers.
I found a documentary about Mr. Rogers on my streaming service and watched it. My husband came home from work, so I ran it back to the start for us both to watch together. I’m grateful that my husband practices compassion and patience with me when I am processing my losses.
Watching that documentary got me thinking about how Mr. Rogers approached the grieving process with children. I set out to watch old episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood where grief was discussed. I was super bummed that he was gone, but I also realized he left behind a valuable road map that seemed central to my ability to process grief.
Mr. Rogers looked me in the eye from my television screen and told me about losing his childhood dog.
Then he sang to me about how the same people who are sad sometimes are the people who are also glad sometimes. Then he continued the song with an observation about how it’s the same for him and I—this sadness and gladness.
In the closing scene, he sings a song about asking “why” and it expresses the idea of asking “why” all the time in regards to things that a person cannot control. Why does it have to get dark? Why don’t bad people just go?
Then he says that he doesn’t always know why and that maybe someday he will. But, he ends the episode with words I need to hear: he tells me that he likes me, just the way I am.
I realized at the episode’s end that when Mr. Rogers sang to me about how the same people who get sad also get glad that he was pointing out what the Buddha has pointed out also. The Buddha understands that there is Holly the Person. Then, there are all these temporary conditions that attach themselves to Holly the Person; such as sadness, gladness, hungriness, hopelessness and other conditions.
Mr. Rogers seems to be saying the same thing, just with different words and in song.
In short, grieving is also a temporary condition—Holly the Person is not grief. Death itself suddenly also seems temporary to Holly the Person, seeing as she just took a valuable lesson about life from a man who died 19 years ago. The Buddha, who I also continuously learn from, died as well. Both of them are very current in my life, however.
If there’s an afterlife—and maybe it’s Nirvana—I imagine the Buddha and Mr. Rogers are hanging out together.
I can see them watch me as I discover the lessons they left behind about how to conduct myself and how to navigate a very complicated path. And when someone I know passes away, those two see me grieve. I imagine Mr. Rogers puts his arm around the Buddha and says, “I like her the way she is.”
The Buddha smiles and says “She, herself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserves her love and affection.”
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