May 2017 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center
My mother, Winifred (Winnie) Grace Hayes, died April 24, 2017, after a three year dance with pancreatic cancer.
We all face death, dying, grief, and the support necessary to endure at various points in our lives. I have spent a good bit of my career walking with and counseling folks who have lost a loved one. As I recently mentioned to a colleague here at the Center, when it comes to grief there’s a big difference between the theoretical and experiential. As one of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, put it in one of her letters (collected in The Habit of Being), “pity the one who loves what death can touch.”
It’s disorienting. As much as I like my new job, I find myself regularly distracted as I think of my Mom—or my Dad who is now navigating life without his wife of 59 years. I worry. You reach out to pick up the phone and then realize it won’t be answered. It hurts.
One of the great benefits about working here at the Center is that I’m surrounded by folks whose job is to be sensitive and empathetic. Their concern is sincere as they ask me how I’m doing. Like many people in our lives, my perfunctory response is that “I’m fine.” Usually I am. When I’m not, it’s nice to be able to open up a bit. One of those colleagues gave me a bookmark which we hand out to those who have lost someone. It captures this quote from Helen Keller: “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us.”
We distribute or reference many books on grief here at the Center. Among the popular authors is James E. Miller, who just happened to live across the hall from Ellery Duke in grad school. Miller’s books are eminently practical. In his book, “How Will I Get Through the Holidays?” he enumerates 10 ways to cope:
- Accept the likelihood of your pain.
- Feel whatever it is you feel.
- Express your emotions.
- Plan ahead.
- Take charge where you can.
- Turn to others for support
- Be gentle with yourself.
- Find a way to remember.
- Search out your blessings.
- Do something for others.
Many who visit us for counseling and spiritual direction have been touched by death and grief. I am so grateful that they will find at the Center a place of hope and healing as they go through the grieving process.
Thank you for all you do to make our mission possible.
Read more from Jim’s blog: dmpcc.org/Jim
Read more Health Tips from the Center: dmpcc.org/healthtips