Living Well, Dying Well

Mary Friedel-Hunt

I started this column focused on the long list of painful, frightening and in so many instances deadly events that have occurred during the past summer and fall. I do not need to repeat them here. We all know what they were (and are). 

I remember feeling, as these tragedies streamed through my heart, how grateful I am that I am safe in my home. How could I feel anything other than gratitude? However, it was not long before the gratitude got lost when I learned via a phone call that my brother in hospice care was lying in pain from a fall that resulted in a fractured hip, and that his care continues to be far from good as it is also lacking in compassion. That phone call momentarily took precedence leaving me in tears, helpless to do anything more than my sister and I have already tried to do to ease his discomfort and meet his basic needs mostly from a distance in his last days. The trips we’ve made are hardly adequate.

It is difficult for me and for all of us to remember gratitude when our world is in such a terrible state and so much is going wrong. It took a while for me allow the pain to move through me and focus on the good in our world. We need to do both. Our pain is as real as our joy. In fact, joy is only as deep as our grief. Think about that.

Somehow, we must find ways to remain balanced. We must pause often to remember the beauty of this world, the love we give and receive from family and friends, the food on our tables, the jobs we have (if we do), the sunsets that have been so beautiful in spite of the fires out West that have contributed so often to the depth of the colors. Ironic, isn’t it. And as we focus on that … we are being asked to carry the feelings of helplessness, frustration, anger, fear, loss and grief. It is the pain in life that deepens us and helps us grow in compassion if we use it well. Yes, the price is high. 

It is the beauty of those sunsets, the smiles of our little ones, the food we will soon share with loved ones, the flowers we have enjoyed all summer, and the hope for better days in our world; it is these that heal the pain. It is not the way I would have designed the plan. But it is the way it works.

The key is to live in the now as often as we can. Enjoy the peaks. Be present to the valleys. Stop and be aware.

I wish each of you a Thanksgiving Day filled with gratitude and love. I urge you to reach out to those who are grieving and/or alone; to stop and remember all who are in pain, and all the gifts that bless our lives.

Mary Friedel-Hunt has retired after 50 years of practice as a licensed clinical social worker and certified bereavement counselor. She can be reached at mfhunt44@gmail.com or P.O. Box 1036, Spring Green, WI 53588.