Living Well, Dying Well

Mary Friedel-Hunt

By Mary Friedel-Hunt

None of us wanted to start 2022 guarding against COVID, especially as a new variant threatens lives and leaves many feeling grief, frustration and loneliness. As I write this in mid-December, the hospitals in Wisconsin are very close to full and understaffed, leaving many who need non-COVID medical care waiting for treatment. I believe the majority of us are tired, weary of confinement, anger and division. Many ignore COVID and count on vaccines as they attend events that can be risky. Some pay a price for that. 

We want our “normal” back, but as those who have experienced a great loss know, the normal we know is gone; we are called to adjust to a new, yet unknown normal.  

Dag Hammarskjold said: “For all that has been, thanks. To all that shall be, yes!” Coming to a place of gratitude for pain, losses and resentments is challenging. I struggle with resentments these days, as many of us do. It is simple to feel grateful for the roof over my head or friends who support me in so many ways. That is not a challenge. The challenge is feeling grateful for what hurts. 

How does one learn to feel gratitude for the mess our planet is in? How do I learn to feel grateful for the losses in my life? Well, many years ago I chose to see everything that comes into my life as an opportunity to grow. Everything! We can’t pick and choose. In this arena, it is an all-or-nothing stance. So now I can see that the death of my husband, Bill, taught me greater and deeper compassion for myself and others. It took a while to get there. Losing him led me to know how strong I am to lose such a huge part of me and still go on with hope and even joy. The pandemic teaches me an increased comfort with solitude that was a challenge after Bill died. Losses, the pandemic and resentments fill me with sadness, however.

My friend and author Francis Weller says: “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That is how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I will bend toward cynicism and despair. If I carry only gratitude I will become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.”

In a class I take that met on Zoom the week of this writing, we discussed moving from resentment to gratitude. In order to do this we first have to acknowledge our resentments and come to terms with them. This demands solitude. It is a huge step to move from feeling resentful to feeling grateful. However, I just saw this timely quote by Otto Betz: “Whoever gives thanks for all circumstances receives new eyes and discovers things never seen before.” 

I know about that.

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.