Celebrating Life, Remembrance and Mental Health
By Nazila Isgandarova, Spiritual Care Provider, CAMH Spiritual Care Service
The following is a reflection taken from a recent Celebration of Life service at CAMH.
When we have had a loss of a loved one or the one we cared for, we experience different feelings including loneliness, sadness, apprehension, anxiety and depression. Nevertheless, with a high risk of mental and physical health problems for a long time afterward, the sadness or grief we experience in our lives also reminds us the significance of relationships in our lives, especially when the sun goes down for someone who we love. We come to realization that our relationship with the person who we loved and cared for had its own special level of responsiveness, emotional attachment, quality and was unique.
As a feeling, grief is completely natural process and starts before the person who we love dies. However, whenever we participate in this kind of celebrations we realize that this natural process can be profoundly painful and distressing.
This is not because they cause many feelings to arise and remind us a complex nature of relationship with the person who died or with surviving family members. It is also because we come to be aware we are entering into a different stage of our relationship with the person who we love and care.
When we grieve, very often we witness that it involves complications in the first hours and days of bereavement, and we struggle to carry on. We may under the constant pressure “get yourself together” of people who are around us. In many occasions, they have a very good intention: they love us and want us to be stronger in the face of loss. However, they forget that it is hard to “get yourself together” because our relationship with the person who we loved and cared for was a special one.
We realize that through the grieving process which is very personal. This process usually involves the stages of denial and shock, when we refuse to believe that we lost the person we loved. Then we move to the stage of anger and guilt and start blaming ourselves or others for our loss. We may be angry with ourselves that we allowed the person to leave. In the next stage, we try to bargain with ourselves or with God with a hope that death can be reverted. When we do not see this to happen, we enter in the world of deep sadness and despair. This is the moment when we realize that we have to walk through painful memories and start coping with the changes in our life. A last, we enter into the final stage. We feel that sadness is less intense now and life continues.
Of course, all of these stages can happen in a different order or overlap, and vary in the amount of time they take. We also realize that everyone grieves at his or her own pace. There’s no “right” way to do it. It’s not possible, nor is it fair to compare our experience of grief with that of anybody else, or to adopt assumptions about what grief should look like, or how long it should last. We need to be patient and tolerant with ourselves. Sometimes, we may need to reach out for help from someone who’s not within our immediate circle of support, someone who can listen objectively and be less likely to try to rescue us from our feelings. Someone once said, ‘Asking for help is strength, not a weakness’. Are we able to trust that this could possibly be true? Is it possible that we could be as kind and gentle with ourselves as we would be with a close friend?
Physical, emotional, and/or spiritual healing with residual pain is often much slower process than we anticipate. Although full restoration is not always possible, it is worth to experience it because at the end it may bring us back. Therefore, giving ourselves the time we need to grieve is necessary as we move toward a renewed sense of purpose, meaning and direction that shape and color our lives.
What does help us during this process? I would like to mention that memories about our relationship play an important role in this process of grief. Among the relationships families, partners and friends have with one another, no two are exactly the same. Whether the relationship is of a personal nature or a professional one, we are somehow changed by the lives of those we love and care for. When we love, and give care and support from our hearts, our lives are changed. In families, this may happen on a very intimate and personal level. How our lives are touched by people who we love and care for, and how we are inspired reflect our own vulnerability and humanness, and also our own priorities in life. I have to tell you that CAMH provides such a space to work with people who give the tremendous honour and opportunity to bear witness to their lives, and through our work we find that, with this comes the opportunity to reflect on our own lives and how we wish to live them.
For some of us, the Celebration of Life service will bring emotions and memories. Memories are one of the best legacies we have after the death of someone we love and care for. When someone who we love and care dies, it is usually hard to talk about them and even harder to recall memories, vivid, detailed descriptions of them and our past time together. Because with the memories came the obvious grasp that they are gone. It was the very definition of bittersweet. Sometimes these memories will bring laughter and the subtle shape of a smile, but inevitably there would also be tears and the realization that this is where the memories ended. But as the falls, winters, springs and summers replace each other, remembering and recounting tidbits from their life, their sayings and jokes and other memories start doing the opposite: they start bringing us a sense of peace. Not an overwhelming wave of calm, but a small token of serenity.
If our relationship was very special, open, friendly and trusting, full of sharing of thoughts and feelings, interests and jokes, our memories will be filled with meaningful times you shared with that person. If our relationship was strained, damaged, or difficult, where there may be “bad blood,” our grief may contain aspects of regret, mourning not only the loss, but missed opportunities in our relationships, as well. It may be helpful to explore the memories that trouble us. Even difficult memories find healing in expression and provide a space for learning and growth in such a way that clouds more come float into our lives carrying rain or usher storm “but,” as Rabindrahanth Tagore said, “to add colour to my sunset sky.”
And so, by reflecting on these aspects of our relationships, we try to honour the grief we feel following the death of someone we’ve cared for and we try to work it through to the best of our ability. At best, we hope for some healing of our sorrow, some relief from the heaviness of our feelings and, even though we may be reluctant at times, we try to move forward with our lives. Let those bittersweet memories comfort us. Let’s treasure those memories that bring us comfort.
As we go through this time may we draw on our inner spiritual and emotional strength and resources to sustain us, whatever this may be for each of us. May the God of each of our understandings comfort us as we continue on our life’s journey. Leaving this place, may we be surrounded by love and strengthened by peace.
This is part of a series dedicated to CAMH Communications Specialist Joan Chang, a talented and passionate communicator who appreciated the value of spiritual care. Joan developed a story framework to shine the spotlight on spiritual care at CAMH, and completed some interviews for the series. She died suddenly in June, 2015. A tribute to Joan is included on the CAMH Foundation website. Other articles in this series:
- A quest for purpose: Defining Spiritual Care at CAMH
- Treating the soul: a history of spiritual care
- Spiritual care: balancing science and faith
- Keeping the Faith: One student’s experience with spirituality and mental health
- Youth Mental Health & Spirituality