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Sitting with DeathBook Title:

Sitting with Death: Buddhist Insights to Help You Face Your Fears and Live a Peaceful Life


Margaret Meloni

Publishing Information:

The Publishing Portal, 2021

Link to Buy Book:



This book will help you use Buddhist teachings to include death in your own spiritual practice. In bringing curiosity and an open heart, you can train for the death of your loved ones and, as a result, you will live more fully, with more compassion for others, and more peace for yourself.

Author Bio:

Margaret Meloni is a businessperson, Buddhist practitioner, and an advocate for what she calls Death Dhamma. The practice of inviting the awareness of death into your life. She has seen how Buddhism, combined with a healthy respect for the Grim Reaper, has helped her create a life with more peace and less suffering. Margaret earned her Ph.D. in the field of Buddhist Studies.

Book Excerpt:

Chapter 5

Grief Has Many Faces Too

Venerable De found that for him, grief can be different each  time. For example, when his father died, it brought him face-to face with decades of trauma. In life, his father had been a harsh and abusive man. Now he knows that his father had his own  kind of suffering, and this led him to be physically and emotionally abusive to his children. As the oldest child, Venerable De bore the brunt of this abuse. 

As Venerable De experienced the death of his father, it was as if all this trauma came rushing up to greet him. He felt it in his head and in his body, and it took years of work to flush it out of his system. 

When his mother died, he felt more peace. He was able to face her death in a calm manner. He still experienced very powerful emotions. A raw sadness. And a feeling of loss. He recalls thinking that this person who has loved me unconditionally is gone, and I am alone. Sometimes he felt  empty, and not in the Buddhist experience of emptiness. Rather in the feeling of knowing that something meaningful had been lost. 

A couple of weeks after his mother died, Venerable De  attended a group. The purpose of the meeting was to grow in leadership, and to be able to have difficult conversations in a loving and peaceful way. When the discussion turned toward describing suffering, he mentioned his mother’s death. Suddenly he was overtaken by tears. He recalls that he could not have held those tears in if he wanted to. And now, he realizes that this was the best possible time and place to express the grief that he had been feeling. Sometimes that is how grief is for many of us. We are going about our business, and then boom, sadness comes. And you cry. Let those tears come out. You do not need to hide them or suppress them, and you do not need to apologize for being a human being who is grieving. 

I remember walking around after the death of my family and just thinking, “Don’t ask me. Don’t ask me.” Because if anybody said anything, I knew I would cry, and I did not want to cry. The result was that after suppressing crying for so long, when I needed to cry, I couldn’t cry.I was broken.I would start crying, and then I would just stop. I would think to myself, “You need to cry, and this is a good time to do it, so come on, cry.” Well, it turns out, you cannot always schedule crying time. And if you too have tried to schedule your sad time, it is OK. Do not be hard on yourself. We all approach this in our own way, and we learn what supports our grieving process. 

Grief is a very personal process. Each of the monks and nuns who shared their wisdom for this book expressed that grief is  difficult for all of us. While much of our focus together is on death, we grieve many things. Relationships, jobs, material objects, and past experiences. Don’t think that grief will not impact your mental health, because it absolutely will. It is not reasonable for you to think that your daily life will be the same. Be honest about behaviors that are helpful versus harmful. If you are unclear, speak with a trusted teacher, friend, or therapist. 

Your Buddhist practice can help you prepare for the idea of death, and it can help you while you are grieving. Know that  most of us are still going to experience grief. Do not judge yourself harshly because you experience sadness and loss. Remember, only a stone has no feelings. 

Buddhism Is Not a Silver Bullet 

Buddhism does not necessarily stop the pain of grief. It  helps us understand it, sit with it, and fully feel it. To embrace it. Venerable Guan Zhen reminded me that as humans we experience all kinds of emotions. And it is recognizing these emotions, understanding them, and learning to handle them that is part of our path to enlightenment. 

Grief can be a physical reaction. Venerable Guan Zhen described it as a chemical reaction occurring in his body, which was triggered by his shock, sadness, and grief at the news of his father’s death. Diane Wilde felt it in her throat. When she told  me that, I was so relieved, because I did too. Even now, when I experience moments of grief, it is like my throat is threatening to close right up! 

Timber Hawkeye’s first experience with grief did not come from death . It came when his parents disowned  him. When Timber was eighteen, he chose to date someone his parent did not like. They did not approve, and they expected Timber to obey them. When he did not, they told him that he was dead to them. Their decision to cut him off was very painful. He felt betrayed. When someone dies, they have not betrayed you, they have gone through the natural and inevitable process of dying. Having his parents cut him off was a different form of grief. 

Timber tends to shy away from funerals and public displays of grieving. His concern is that at some point, the gathering stops being about the person who has died and turns into a bit of a pity party—too much about the sorrow of being the one who is left behind. He is much more in favor of life celebrations. Joyfully remembering that your loved one was a part of your life and showing your appreciation for your connection. In this way, it is not about, “Poor me, my loved one is gone.” Timber will also tell you that others have accused him of being insensitive for not subscribing to societal norms. 

Timber’s favors spending our time and money on visiting our loved ones while we are all still alive, as opposed to traveling great distances to attend the funeral so that other family members can notice that you were there. Be a caring friend or family member when your loved one is alive. 

How we experience grief is directly related to the state we  are in at the time of our loss. Noël Alumit, Dave Smith, and Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo all shared stories of how death  when we do not have the tools or help to cope, can linger for decades, perhaps even an entire lifetime. 

Noël looks back on his time doing hospice work during the AIDS pandemic. Even now, each year on World AIDS Day, there is a woman he still remembers. Sometimes he thinks that he did not handle her death well. That perhaps he could have been more engaged with her. Yet he understands that at age twenty- two or twenty-three, he did not have the emotional capacity to deal with all the fear and death that was coming his way. This was a time when AIDS patients were being shunned by their family and friends. Now when he hears about soldiers returning to civilian life after active duty, he feels a deep empathy for the trauma and mental illness that so many of them deal with. Like Venerable De Hong, Noël believes that grief directly impacts your mental health. He does not regret the time he spent being with the dying during the AIDS pandemic, but it has left an indelible mark on his psyche. 

Describable and Indescribable 

If grief is different from person to person, and from loss to loss, is it possible to describe it to others? Look at these descriptions, and you might find yourself saying, “Oh yes, that is it.” Or you might have your own personal definition. 

Diane Wilde said: 

“I think I would say it is the experience of the heart being so full that it breaks. It is so full of love and it’s full of grief, and it  just can’t contain anymore, it breaks, and then it comes back together again. That breaking, I think it puts us in touch with all sentient beings, and I now feel much more compassionate, and kind to other beings. It was like my heart finally understood what every living being goes through, and I was just filled with so much compassion, knowing that we are all going to deal with this.” 

Seth Segall explained grief as a kind of protest or nonacceptance of loss. Someone that we cherished, or who was inextricably bound up with our well-being, is gone. We might find ourselves feeling unsupported, angry, sad, or dead inside.  It can be any of these things, or a mixture of these different  feelings. 

To illustrate his perspective, Seth shares a story of one of his patients. He was seeing this patient weekly, and the patient was severely depressed. During the time he spent in therapy, he had a week that would have been extremely difficult for most of us. He lost his job and his mother died. Seth was very concerned about the state of his patient. Yet when the patient arrived for his next appointment, he was in good shape. You see, he truly disliked both the job and his mother. Now he felt tremendous freedom. His two biggest burdens had both disappeared. He even felt strong enough to end his therapy a few weeks later. 

Another patient lost her son. He had been on life support, and the doctors advised her that the son was brain dead and counseled her to terminate his life support. So, she did. Immediately, she was filled with regret. She felt that rather than let him go, she would rather have had him alive, and at home and receiving full-time care. Every day she regretted her decision. She would visit the graveyard and pray that he would come back. After a year of therapy and trying multiple approaches, she was still filled with regret, and visiting the graveyard, praying for her son’s return. 

The point in considering both of Seth’s stories is to examine the contrasts. There is such a variable range of reactions and recoveries. Some people move on right away, while some people may never move on. Most of us are somewhere between those two points. While there are many things we share in our grief, it is still a different experience for each of us. Like snowflakes or fingerprints—similar, yet no two are exactly alike. 

Perhaps, like Cayce Howe, you might prefer not to put words around it because it is unique to be experienced in our way by each of us. 

In English, we might not have the proper words to describe the different levels of grief. There is subtle grief, and there is much larger grief. Yet we seem to use one word for both conditions. Therefore, Cayce suggests dropping all the words and trying to be in the experience of it. We do not need to describe it, we just need to feel it—to embrace the process of grief, and the changing and shifting that is occurring within us. To be in grief is to be amid something that is dynamic. There is nothing to be done, other than to just hold the moment. You are sitting with such strong feelings, and in the next moment or moments, those feelings will change. 

If grief is different for each of us, is there something— anything—that our spirituals leaders agree on? Perhaps Seth Segall put it best when he said, “I think the first thing is that however you’re feeling, that’s fine. I mean whatever you’re feeling, accept that it’s okay to be feeling that way. That there’s no way you should or shouldn’t be feeling in that moment, and I think being able to just be open to whatever was there and to be with it. And to allow it to be there.” 

He reminds us that whatever your initial feelings are, they do not have to remain the same forever. This, too, was a  common thread among our teachers. With the passing of time your feelings will change, and you will be changed by this experience. Do not expect to go back to a past version of yourself. 

On Where You Grieve 

Where you grieve can be very important. Especially if you shared a space with your recently deceased. It seems like there are two distinct paths. One stems from not wanting to stay in the space you shared with your loved one. The second involves not wanting to leave the area you shared with your loved one. Which one is the best and most healthy decision to support you as you grieve? The one that provides you the greatest sense of peace and security and well-being. A caveat to this: if you cannot afford to stay in your current living situation, do not cling to it. This will ultimately cause you more harm than good. If this is the case, find a living situation that supports your emotional and financial needs. 

You might be surprised by your choice. I had always  believed that when the time came that I was left alone in the  house that my husband Ed and I shared, I would leave. I never  envisioned that I would want to stay or that I would be able to stay. And yet, as he approached his final days, I went through a shift. I could not imagine leaving a space that was filled with so much love and happy memories. I was able to find a balance, and stay, without turning it into some kind of “Ed and Margaret museum.” 

Seek to make your choice from a place of equanimity. If you decide to stay, try not to do so because you are clinging to your old life. That life is gone.I did not change everything right away. Some immediate changes were obvious. The hospice came to pick up the hospital bed and their other equipment. I disposed of unneeded medications and supplements. I did the laundry and sorted out items to be donated. I kept an item or two for  myself. I knew that this was a form of clinging, but I found it useful to have something that belonged to Ed. I let go of things in phases. And one day, I realized that I wanted to re-landscape the front yard. I wanted to repaint some walls. I wanted to  rearrange the dining room. I was making our space into my space. It felt natural and healthy.

If you decide to leave, know that a change of scenery can help escort you into your new life, but it will not alleviate your  pain. Your experiences and emotions follow you wherever you  go. A new place to live does not stop grief. But, in certain  financial and difficult emotional situations, it can be the right  choice for you.



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