By Jenny Cromie
As my mom’s health began to decline and trips to the hospital became more frequent, I began to realize that the grieving process does not have a definite beginning or end. It often begins long before the final separation, and it is never easy. In the middle of pre-planning my mom’s funeral, moving her into a nursing home, and managing the financial and other details of her life, it became impossible to maintain anything like a normal schedule. I ultimately had to give up a part-time job with a local charity and cut back on my freelance editing and writing assignments to manage the various details of my mom’s life. I found myself battling don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed depression.
As I struggled to go through the motions of daily life, it suddenly dawned on me one day that I was moving through a grief process—feeling intense sadness over the losses in my mom’s life and in my own, knowing that we had taken another sharp turn in the caregiving journey. While life has settled into a new normal, the emotional, financial, and physical strain of caregiving and dealing with long-term care issues remains overwhelming at times. Some days, it is difficult to stay in the present moment, thinking about when the next proverbial shoe might drop. During the past three years, I’ve also watched a close friend cope with a string of cancer diagnoses and family deaths. To say that my friend is shell-shocked would be an understatement. My friends and I now recognize that we’ve entered a new season of life. Illness and death are starting to show up more often, along with grief and how to cope with it.
Working your way through.
A common theme in our conversations is how to find peace in the present moment even when it is tinged with grief and fear about what the future might hold for us and our loved ones. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things that help me find peace and strength in the present moment more often than I used to, regardless of how difficult or overwhelming it feels at any given time. It is not always possible to find a place alone or stop in the middle of what I am doing and get completely still. But no matter where I am or what I am doing, I can find that peaceful, serene spot where the God of my understanding always lives—it simply takes a shift in focus.
When I struggle, it’s often because my focus is on something that happened in the past or something that might happen in the future. In those moments, I remember the words of Jesus: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). It is also helpful to remember that I do not have the power to change what has already happened, and that God will provide the guidance I need in future moments if I simply stop and ask God for help. I hope that this CareNote will help you understand how you can faithfully be in the present moment and to find healing and comfort as you confront your loss.
Focus on one breath, one moment at a time.
When I am struggling, it helps to remember that moments are like the weather—they always pass. So if I don’t like how a moment feels, I ask God for help in accepting and getting through it. Taking time for prayer and meditation—not only at the start of the day but also during any troubling moment—is what gets me through. When a moment is particularly difficult, I look for a quiet place alone where I can close my eyes and focus on my breathing. I imagine myself breathing in God’s peace. I ask God to remove all thoughts that are not of Him and to replace my thoughts with His. A mantra based on Psalm 46:10 is particularly helpful to me: “Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am. Be still and know. Be still. Be.”
Be where your hands are.
In difficult moments, it also is helpful to say things out loud to remind myself of where I am—right now, I am washing the dishes or right now, I am watering the garden. There is a Latin saying—Age quod agis or “Do what you are doing”—that carries the same idea. It always helps me to tune into the present moment by asking: What has God placed in front of me this second to appreciate, accept, or do? A long walk in the woods always helps me tune in—I listen to the birds, watch the wind rustling through the leaves, gaze at wildflowers, and breathe in all the scents of the forest. In surroundings that aren’t necessarily peaceful—like hospital waiting rooms—it is helpful to focus on what I am grateful for in that moment. I ask God to show me the spiritual gift He is allowing me to receive if I only accept the present moment as it is without trying to change or fight it. I find that reading the Bible also helps when I have problems tuning out distractions. Others may find that traditional prayers (like the rosary) help them to focus. Whatever I focus on grows, so I always have to remember that relief in difficult moments only comes when I shift my focus away from the problem and focus on how God is at work in this moment.
While I turn to God first, when I am having a difficult time, it also is helpful to seek guidance from friends, family, spiritual mentors, and others who are going through—or have gone through—similar life circumstances. Over the years, I’ve learned that God uses other people to deliver messages I need to hear. Sometimes the message comes from a stranger or a chance conversation overheard in a coffee shop. Other times, a trusted friend or family member delivers the message. When I ask God for guidance, I have to remember to stay open and alert so that I am able to recognize and receive help no matter how or when it shows up. Many have also found it helpful to talk to a therapist during their season of grief. I seek regular guidance from a spiritual adviser—my parish priest—with whom I meet every few weeks. He knows my various struggles, and always sends me away with some kind of assignment—ideas to write about or Scripture to read, pray, and meditate on—that will help me deal with my present difficulties from a spiritual standpoint. I also have friends and mentors whom I call regularly when I need to cut things in half or talk about how to apply spiritual tools to life on life’s terms.
Regardless of how difficult some moments feel, we never walk alone—even though it sometimes feels like it. And if we actively seek and ask for it, we can always find strength in any given moment. Our task is simply to stay in the present—the gift God continues to give us with each breath—and to find strength there by relying on God’s grace and the support of those around us. After all, as Scripture reminds us, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). If we remain open, we also see that God places people in our path who can guide us based on their own past or present experiences with illness and grief. Every moment of every day is a gift. Remember that no matter what any given moment brings, you can always know peace—like the peace in the eye of a hurricane—by simply trying to live and to love in this present moment.
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