Rebecca walks her talk and lives her mission, embodying her professional identity in her everyday life. I know this personally, both from our five years of being colleagues at the Northwest Center for Creative Aging and also because she is the person who brought me and Sandy Sabersky together. The result of that bringing together is a book, The Elderwise Way: A Different Approach to Life with Dementia, which is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Thank you, Rebecca!
We’re all grieving
by Rebecca Crichton, Seattle, Washington
It’s a perfect day in Seattle. The sky is bright blue and clear. Mt. Rainier glistens outside my living room window. The temperature hovers around 70 degrees with promises of equally beautiful weather for the next week.
And I am struggling with how to handle the hard realities of these times: good friends dealing with difficult diagnoses ranging from dementia and Parkinson’s disease to recovery from strokes and impending heart surgery. I can’t stand the toxic political rhetoric the GOP and right-wing loonies spew, and I hate getting at least 20 e-mails a day from every Democrat running for every office in the country. Despite giving weekly to Biden and Harris, they ask over and over, reminding me how dire it is. I believe them and I can only give what I give.
Terrible, scary things are happening to people all over the country and the world. Don’t even get me started on the Pandemic or Climate Change. And I know I am not alone in managing an uncomfortable paradox.
I feel guilty. The ease, beauty and richness of my life compared to all the suffering feels almost obscene.
Then I realize I am experiencing Grief. As a facilitator of Grief Groups and provider of counseling to people who are experiencing loss, I remember how difficult it is to fully experience grief. We are a society that denies our feelings and the sheer amount of grief we are now experiencing collectively is taking its toll.
I remind myself of what I know about Grief and grieving. Right after Shock and Denial at the top of the list of normal responses is Anger and Guilt. Guilt hounds us with the endless litany of what we should or could have done or did or didn’t say.
Two concepts from working with Veterans come to mind. Survivor’s Guilt and Survivor’s Mission. When vets come back from war having watched friends die, seen slaughter and lived in fear, they often experience Survivor’s Guilt. Why did I survive when my buddy didn’t? What right do I have to live my life when others lost theirs?
These questions require answers for people who need to move forward.
One approach is to ask if there might be a Survivor’s Mission they can adopt to create a path ahead. What can you do, since you are here, that will make your life meaningful? How will you give back when others have given so much?
A sense of meaning and purpose is critical to living life. We all need to have some sense of what is ours to do, even when faced with the chaos and confusion confronting us.
Sometimes, there is more than one right question to ask when something bad has happened. Asking why might give an answer that can prevent it from happening again. Another, equally important question asks: What will I do since it has happened, no matter how much it hurts?
I’m writing postcards urging people in South Carolina to vote. I’m listening to my friend who is dealing with her father going into a Memory Care community. I’m slow roasting tomatoes to take to people when I visit their decks for dinner. I allow myself to feel sad and angry and fearful.
And I find things that make me laugh or spark my curiosity. I remind myself to be thankful. I tell people I love them and let them remind me that I am also loved. They are all part of surviving and remind me of my own deepest mission.
I know that my purpose is to connect and feel connected to others. I regularly introduce people to each other who I think will benefit from the connection. It is why friends sometimes call me the ‘Catalytic Connector.’ I share resources and knowledge that will help or inform others in their lives, and I recognize that grief is an active element in our lives and am always willing to listen, support and share what I know that can make things just a bit easier.