A personal story on coping with grief

Stop asking what you can do to help - and start doing it

Paula Shackleton

For The Similkameen Spotlight

How do we deal with the loss of a loved one? It seems to be touching so many of us these days. Regardless of the timing: sudden or expected; at a young or old age, we struggle to comprehend. Our ability to grieve, cope and come out on the other side requires we first accept that life is now forever changed. I cannot speak to achieving that milestone just yet, but others say it goes like this: “Let father time steel your grief, for he is but a gentle thief.”

In the lead up to my particular loss, I did find several books helpful, and even cathartic. To learn to release my fear, stress and tension were books on philosophy, meditation and breath control. The need to pay attention to the mind-body connection, since I am typically that person who forges blithely ahead into life purpose-driven, suddenly fails one as a strategy when life’s purpose has had the carpet ripped out from under you.

Books and particularly CD’s by Dr. Andrew Weil were helpful on drives to the coast for chemotherapy as you are a captive audience to instruction with the added benefit of being surrounded by nature once you’ve escaped the urban corridor. I also yielded to insomnia by moving to another part of the house and reading a book whose cover was too stark to bring out in light of day, “A Good Death” by Sandra Martin, winner of the BC Canadian Nonfiction award last year. It deals with end of life issues and the history behind the people who fought for advances to patient rights, a glimpse into the concept “dying with dignity”.

I have discovered the closeness and quality of our relationships can make a difference. This is the time to put aside petty differences and commit to unconditional love and support. The expression of loss matters too – try to go beyond the hollow words, “Sorry for your loss.” Instead I’ve found that the recounting of a personal anecdote involving our loved one helps to remind us of the qualities and characteristics that will be missed and now be celebrated. Many friends sent pictures and stories describing their unique relationship that was both heartwarming and illuminating—you’ll be surprised to learn how many things your loved one did for others. We hang on every word.

Don’t call to ask what you can do; just do it. The smallest, most random act of kindness is so helpful. I arrived back from the coast and my neighbor had plowed our entire driveway of 3 feet of snow, and shoveled the walk! A call or text to say that a delivery of home made soup or salad with bread and cookies is being left on the doorstop was wonderful. With so much to do, feeding ourselves is a low priority but a vital necessity.

My musical friend arrived at the door with a ukulele and a book of sheet music in hand, saying: “Take this instrument. It is cheerful and easy to learn and will give you something positive and uplifting to focus on. We’ll play a duet when you’re ready.” I’m presently working on “Riptide” and actually getting into it. The journey continues, and I know I’ve many peaks and valleys. But I am eternally grateful for the gift of friendship.

Paula Shackleton lost her husband, Christopher Shackleton to a private battle with cancer after 40 years together. Chris was an academic surgeon-physician who made seminal contributions to the field of organ transplantation and immunology and latterly to initiatives in healthcare finance. He started out doing locums for the local doctors in Princeton and fell in love with the countryside. They bought a farm along the Similkameen River that became their refuge—as urbanites-turned-farmer-whanna-be’s. Paula is a writer, publisher and literacy advocate who has been adopted by the good people at the Princeton Branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

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