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The loss of a loved one—whether a friend, family member, coworker, spouse, or even pet—is part of our process.

As much as we try to prepare for and confront death, it is not in our DNA to accept our mortality or the mortality of others. In some cases, we have time to wrap our mind around the impending event. But, even under the most certain circumstances, the emotions surrounding death are often uncontrolled, spontaneous and terrifying. 

With the recent passing of a close friend, I feel a light in my life has dimmed. While I am comforted knowing his spirit will find a space where it can shine again, I question my own existence and wonder how I can live my life with intention and purpose going forward.

Grieving is a natural process, during which we reflect on a life lost and hope that, with each passing day, our suffering subsides a bit. As we breath in deeply to fill the spaces of our sadness, we exhale a sense of peace on our path to acceptance. We can begin to focus our own lifestyles and priorities on creating a balance, as we strive to live life to the fullest.

One of the most organic ways to cope with loss is to connect with nature, where life begins and ends. After my friend's passing, I traveled to Oregon to stand on the Pacific Crest Trail, a path his feet had grazed only months before. I felt him next to me as I stood atop a waterfall, closer to his journey. There, I realized I had found the clearest channel to our connection: a place where—with every beam of sunshine that hit me—I felt the warmth of his smile, an acknowledgement he was there with me. 

My travels to Oregon led me to the coast, where I swam alongside Haystack Rock, a beautiful monolithic sea stack that reminded me how small I really am. In the ocean, my tears became indistinguishable from the salty water in which I bathed. It was there that I realized that, like the ocean, the emotions of grief ebb and flows through us. The more freely we move through these waves, the more we acknowledge we cannot change the past, but can transform our future.

Like most situations in our lives, we rely on those closest to us to share our happiest moments and support our darkest times. Dealing with death can be a very individual experience. However, when you lean on others to help you cope, you build a support network that carries you through times when sadness threatens to beat you down.

As a friend of someone who is grieving, you may not know how to reach out or even what to say. Through my struggle and daily grief, I have found respite in the sharing of stories and memories with friends and family. Strangers have reached out to share a thought, a mantra, a condolence. With the intention of keeping Andy’s memory alive, no effort has seemed too small. I plan to honor my friend's life individually, when I embark on a Vipassana meditation retreat later this year and, continuously, as I live my best life. But spending time with those closest to him has been the greatest honor in remembering his life, his light and his love.

In the end, we are well if just for the fact that we are alive. Grief provides a period of intense clarity and insight into what is most important in our lives. It is an opportunity to identify what truly makes us happy, so we can align our actions with those intentions. When we honor our bodies and minds, speak our truth and acknowledge that change is constant, we can cherish each moment, knowing our lives will one day transition on too.

Living your process through grief means crying when you need and smiling when you want—possibly both at the same time. When tough thoughts arise, meditate on the memory and let it pass or write it down. Acknowledge the mark your loved one has made on your life, and carry it with you forever.

My friend's passing will not be my last encounter with grief or loss. My heart is full but heavy. I carry with me the love I have for him and the love he has shown me. I am reminded to share this love with others, as he did and would have continued to do. 

If I love fully, I will never forget him, as he is always in my heart and it is there that he will stay.

photo credits: katheryn love, emma louise

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