Heather Conn Blogs

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Grief as revolution: Are you ready to be subversive?

“Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life is death.”

—  Stephen Jenkinson


Can you read that phrase without wincing or wondering what it means? It challenges many beliefs and philosophies upheld in popular western culture.


In the hospice volunteer training that I’m currently taking, we received a handout with a list of statements about grief. The two comments that most tugged at me were “Grief is a way of knowing. It is not an affliction” and “The willingness to suffer out loud is a gift.”


That last one especially confronts most tenets of western society: Don’t cry.  Get over it and move on. Don’t be sad, and so on. How many of us truly have the courage to let grief envelop us and receive any gifts that it might share?


That is what we’re slowly learning to do as hospice volunteers. Stephen Jenkinson, the star of the National Film Board’s Griefwalker, is head of palliative care counselling at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. He offers the notion of grief as revolution:


“What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught? What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway?


“Though addicted to security, comfort and managing uncertainty, our culture could learn to honour, teach and live grief as a skill, as vital to our personal, community and spiritual life as the skill of loving. In a time like ours, grieving is a subversive act.”


I love that approach. Rather than face grief with shame, apology, and embarrassment, we could embrace it like a much-loved friend, as cherished as life itself.


An excellent book of inspiration in this area, which we’re using in our training, is Alan Wolfelt’s The Handbook for Companioning the Mourner (Companion Press, Colorado, 2009). Wolfelt, a doctor who serves as director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, says: “Surrendering to the unknowable wilderness of grief is a courageous choice, an act of faith, a trust in God and in oneself.”


Decades ago, amidst tremendous trauma, I faced my own grief in its deepest and most despairing form. That experience, which lasted for months, enabled me to open and heal a part of myself that might otherwise have stayed frustrated and suppressed for years. As a result, I can now offer greater empathy and compassion to others who are grieving.


As a new hospice volunteer, I hope that I will be able to provide a loving and understanding presence for someone else to feel safe and trusting enough to open to raw, death-related sorrow. This is true soul work that heals us all.

My training is through the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society in Davis Bay, BC. If you’d like to volunteer at this centre, call 604-740-0475 or email coasthospice@gmail.com.

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June 1, 2012 at 11:07 am Comments (2)