by Dr. Tandi Wilkinson, Thriving Project Lead, RCCbc
I am surrounded by death right now. A loved one’s death is imminent. An old friend will die soon. And there are the ones left behind—my aunt grieving her husband, and a dear friend bereft by the death of her daughter. The older I get, the more death there will be.
I read recently that there are three unavoidable facts of life—that it is uncertain, that we will feel pain, and that there is a constant need for us to grow as human beings. Nothing teaches us this like death.
How do we live amidst unbearable loss? How do we grieve in a society that doesn’t make space for it? How do we give ourselves permission to be with the dark and chaotic messiness of grief? And how do we move forward—what gives our lives meaning?
I have some hard-won lessons about grief, and life keeps asking me to learn more. I have learned that reminding myself that life is uncertain always feels like a relief. And acknowledging my feelings is essential. I can now turn towards the pain of loss and feel it. I know it will feel like it might kill me, and I know it won’t. Turning towards my grief often feels like I am stepping into a bonfire that will consume me, but that feeling is brief, and afterwards I feel much lighter. I have learned to make space for grief when it arises—when it swirls in, like a tornado: Fierce, unannounced, and incredibly inconvenient.
Grief and Joy are twins, they are two sides of the same coin.Stephen Jenkinson
Allowing grief also allows me to experience feeling more alive. I have experienced the deepening of all emotions, the bitter and the sweet, that comes with allowing for my grief—it’s as if the grief I would rather be numb to comes at the cost of all emotions. In my better moments, I can glimpse the way grief calls up joy—the deep knowledge that now is all I have, that life is only happening right now, that it is deeply precious. Grief asks us to live fiercely, right now, in this very moment.
Here are a few resources that have helped me on this path:
- Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart, by Alan D. Wolfelt. This is my favourite book on grief. It’s a map for when you are lost in the wilderness of grief, for when you don’t know where to go, or why you’d even want to.
- The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, by Frank Ostaseski. I haven’t read this book, but many people have recommended it to me.
- All There Is with Anderson Cooper is a podcast that explores many aspects of grief, like one I experience these days: Anticipatory grief.
About Dr. Tandi Wilkinson
Dr. Tandi Wilkinson is a Nelson, British Columbia-based emergency medicine physician with a generalist background. At RCCbc, she leads the Thriving Project, which facilitates unique wellness offerings for the province’s rural healthcare providers. These include the Providers Thriving Together Wellness Conversation Series—free monthly virtual drop-in sessions for rural healthcare providers to experience camaraderie and peer support in the service of activating their collective resilience. Read how Dr. Wilkinson’s journey to wellness became the impetus for the Thriving Project.