Today is the first quiet morning I’ve had in… I couldn’t tell you when. I am enjoying having the house to myself and am cozily sitting in my bed in my pyjamas drinking a chai tea latte that I made for myself. Olivia and her two friends will descend on the house for the afternoon in 2.5 hours at which time I will commence housework, but in the meantime, I am using this quiet time to work on some research for my classes.
I am writing two papers on grief this semester: one on a cultural issues on death, dying, and grief, and the other on grief in families. Knowing that I am entering into my last year of seminary and knowing that when it is over so does my free access to online journals, I have started downloading any article that looks interesting in the area of palliative care. So when I searched my inbox today I wasn’t too surprised when 86 messages came up with the word “grief” in them.
I began culling the emails for pdf articles that would be useful for my paper topics, saving them into the appropriate folders on my computer. I got to one email that had 47 articles downloaded with SO MANY good articles but only a few about my paper topic. Most of them were on meaning making and existential issues at the end of life. I sent Marc a quick message about how many amazing articles I had and how I wished I could write a paper on that topic and how I felt so alive each time I found another amazing article on the subject… So I decided I should just make a new folder on my computer where I could deposit all of these great articles for “fun” reading (41 pdf articles and 26 articles to search for pdfs, thus far).
I know. It’s strange. I am talking about how “alive” I feel when I find articles on the end of life. But this is *my* thing, don’t you see? I’ve finally found *my* thing! And the more that I recognize that this is my thing, the more I see how it has been my thing for so long! The more I study end-of-life counselling, finding meaning in life, walking through the fear of suffering and death, the importance of telling one’s story, and finding spiritual, personal, and interpersonal peace… the more I see that I have been interested in this for almost all my life.
It goes back into my childhood where I had an awareness from a very young age of the reality of death because of my dad’s law practice which focused on wills and estates. To the years I spent with my grandparents (people who seemed “so close to death” when I was a child, yet lived until I was 30!). To junior high where I was kind of obsessed with a teacher whose husband had died suddenly of a heart attack and I would sit and wonder how she went on living with that loss as part of her. To thinking I wanted to run a funeral home when I grew up (wondering why I was so “morbid”). To loving history and the importance of facing the past and telling our stories. There was the slight Holocaust obsession where I tried to grasp the depths of humanity in suffering and evil. Then deciding to add to my history major in university a major in philosophy, where I could formally study the things I’d thought about for so many years (knowledge, existence, meaning). In my early mothering years, loving the “thin” moment of childbirth where the line between life and death/suffering and joy are so tangible. (For years and still, I felt the same way every time I’d go into a hospital, but couldn’t articulate until I realized it’s also because hospitals are these “thin” places.) Having the honour of being there for the deaths of my granny and grandpa and experiencing my father-in-law’s years with dementia. Even recognizing that palliative counselling may, in the words of the head of the Prov counselling department, be “pioneer work” and knowing that I am passionate and enough of a go-getter that this excites me rather than scares me.
So many things make this kind of counselling “my thing” and each day I feel energized by what I get to learn. Of course, that also means that at night — why is it that the night is often such a scary time?! — I often go to bed overwhelmed by the sadness of loss, the complicated ethical questions that go along with dying (I wouldn’t recommend watching a documentary where someone commits assisted suicide on-screen for your “relaxing evening viewing”), and the fear that each one of us faces as we think about our own mortality and death.
But I will learn how to hold all of these things and recognize that it will not be easy because it should not be easy because it is not easy… Instead it is an honour to pursue this field of study with the hopes that in the coming months I can put all of this hard work of research and writing to use in the “real world.” There is so much to learn, and I can’t wait!
This is my thing. I know it’s a strange *thing* to be a *thing*, but I kind of don’t expect anything different from me. We all have our thing. And I’d love to hear if you’ve found yours and how it energizes you for life and living. Because mine does, even though it is about death and dying.