There is a story about a man who spent his life at the side of a Buddha. Ananda was the cousin and disciple of Guatam Buddha, and he attended to the Buddha’s every need for 42 years. When the Buddha died, Ananda sat with the body. Only then did he understand his responsibility to cultivate his own inner spirituality, to attain his own enlightenment.
In most cultures, there is a time period and set of ritual behaviors prescribed for mourning the death of a loved one. Some of these occur immediately, like holding a Wake or Sitting Shiva. Others last longer. You may be expected to cut off your hair, dress a certain way, or withdraw from social activities. In Native cultures, all of the beloved’s possessions are given away after one year. These kind of practices mark a boundary. They create a space of permission for the grieving person, so that the community understands that they will be behaving differently as they adjust to the change. These practices also demarcate a time when grieving is to ease and the person is to begin their new life.
I have been thinking about this in relation to my own illness. Cancer diagnosis and treatment lasted a year and a half. During that time I experienced many losses, many deaths––physically, emotionally, socially, financially. I have been recovering for one year since then. I have been “Sitting Shiva” with my losses. Over time, it has become clear to me that I am not returning to the life I once had. I am done retelling that story, dragging around that baggage. I am re-creating my identity. I am stepping into a new life.
I’ve decided that it would be helpful to create some kind of ritual that welcomes my new self. A Welcoming Party. I am going to give myself an honoring feast. I will honor that which has brought me here, to this present moment. I will honor the support I have for the present. And I will honor the Me, without labels or judgement, who is moving into the future. I do not have to know what the future is. I only need to acknowledge that it starts now.