Flowers, Impermanence and the Grief Cycle

The death of a loved one is a painful event. The loss of a loved one  means the world as we knew it has changed and those changes require that we in turn adjust to a new “normal.” As time passes and more people we know pass away and we are reminded of our own inevitable end.  Yet thanks to impermanence everything is possible.  Life itself is possible.

Impermanence should also be understood in the light of inter-being. Because all things inter-are, they are constantly influencing one another. It is said that  butterfly’s wings flapping on one side of the planet can affect the weather on the other side.  Things cannot stay the same because they are influenced by everything else, everything that is not itself.  — Thich Nath Hanh

Japanese cultural tradition and classical Japanese philosophy understands the basic reality as constant change, or (to use a Buddhist expression) impermanence. The world of flux that presents itself to our senses is the only reality: there is no conception of some stable “Platonic” realm above or behind it.  In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, awareness of the fundamental condition of existence is no cause for nihilistic despair, but rather a call to vital activity in the present moment and to gratitude for another moment’s being granted to us. — Japanese Aesthetics

In Buddhism, a lotus flower is symbolized as an awakening of the spiritual self and to Japanese Buddhists the lotus flower symbolizes Buddha’s life.   Blooming in mid summer the lotus symbolizes perfection, truth and immortality. A lotus flower emerges from mud, slowly grows toward the surface of water and finally when it reaches the  surface, it blooms.

My mother loved flowers and Ikebana the Japanese art of flower arranging, just as I do.  The beginning of  ikebana can be traced to the 6th century introduction of Buddhism to the Japanese with offering of flowers placed on the altar in honor of Buddha.  Ikebana is more than simply putting flowers in a container. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing where nature and humanity are brought together. It is steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature. Buds may represent youth and innocence, full blooms maturity and virility, and sticks or withered flowers may convey age and wisdom.

In Japanese culture, the concept of death with dignity focuses on enhancing the relationship with significant others (especially with family members) and is expected to continue even after death, unlike the autonomous decision-making in Western cultures. Deaths in such relationships are self-worthy, majestic and wished for. As I grieve my loss I paint flowers, admire the vintage Japanese doll collection my mother left me, soak in bubblebaths, meditate and honor her memory.

Awareness and understanding of nature’s laws allow for pro-active involvement in day-to-day interactions with others. This knowledge provides a basis for dispelling negativity and fear for life is fleeting and time is precious.

If you or someone you know has lost a loved one, the following tips which have helped me, may help you or another cope with the loss:

  1. Let yourself feel the pain and all the other emotions, too. Don’t tell yourself how to feel or let others tell you how you should feel.
  2. Forgive yourself for all the things you did or didn’t say or do. Compassion and forgiveness for yourself and others is required for healing.
  3. Talk about your loss, your memories, and your experience of the life and death of your loved one with others who have loved and lost.
  4. Take  good care of yourself. Eat well and exercise daily.  Allow yourself small physical pleasures that help you renew yourself, like hot baths, naps, and favorite foods.
  5. When you feel ready, do something creative to honor the memory of your loved one.  Some options include: Writing a letter to the person who died to say everything you wish you could say to them; Making a commemorative scrapbook; Painting pictures; Planting flowers or trees; Or involving yourself in a cause or activity that your loved one loved.

Related posts:
Alan Watts – Death
A time to mourn
Love is a Rose
A Bleak February

Further reading:
Asia in My Dreams: Romanticizing the East
Romanticizing the West:  Asian Craze for European Gourmet Desserts