Thank you to Steve Hill, Pastoral Care Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital, for bringing his expertise and knowledge on coping with grief.
My fingerprint is unique. So is yours. I cope with grief in my way, in my time. So do you. And, that’s OK.
I have found helpful wisdom in an old Latin phrase, tantum quantum: if something helps, use it; if it doesn’t help, don’t.
When significant loss rips a gaping hole in the fabric of our life, the ways in which we cope during the days, months and years that follow, will largely determine the healing and new life we find — or not.
Some choices, be they actions or thoughts, will lead slowly, imperceptibly towards a future full of hope. We look back later and see through the pain we made a gain, our lives enriched by a deep encounter with the truths of being human.
However, not all choices lead towards healing or fulfilling our deepest desires.
When we feel raw vulnerability and our self-esteem hits rock bottom, it’s not uncommon to make choices we later regret. Some coping strategies for managing pain cause more pain: addiction, promiscuity, workaholism, and so on — things that keep us on the surface and distract us from the deeper challenges.
From experience we can learn and grow. Hopefully, we don’t just repeat activities which give false hope.
What helps me hang on when I can’t find even a tiny a ledge to hold onto? Which memories will rekindle the hope that I will ever find peace and happiness again?
In the lonely valley of loss and grief, what matters most is what is most essential. Clarifying essential needs from nice-to-have wants, as the saying goes, these truths can set us free, give focus, guide our way forward.
What strengthens and balances my body, mind, and spirit? What do I need to let go of? What do I need to add?
Some people find comfort leaning on family and friends. Experts advise, don’t grieve alone. Yet, not everyone knows how to listen. We must choose who we open up to. Some people find strength in solitude.
Others use support groups or counselors; some find therapeutic solace in nature, music, writing, gardening, a day spa. Some don’t.
Some individuals rely on their faith, a church community, mindfulness meditation, yoga, centring prayer, walking a labyrinth. For others, anything remotely religious or spiritual feels repugnant. Some people’s lives will be transformed by having found a depth of meaning previously utterly unknown to them.
Tantum quantum. The proof is in the pudding.
Does my particular way of coping lead me towards a new dawn? A renewal of hope, love, beauty, humour? Or, towards bitter sunsets? Conflict, despair, depression, isolation?
Like courageous explorers and ancient pilgrims, getting lost, dead ends and stormy weather are part of being human and part of grief. Trusting our own unique truth, we can navigate a journey towards a new life very much worth living.
Guest columnist Steve Hill spent his early adult life working as an actor in Toronto and London, England. For 30 years he has ministered in health care settings, currently, as pastoral care chaplain at St Joseph’s General Hospital.
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.