Toward the end of All My Puny Sorrows, Lottie (Mare Winningham) sits in her Toronto apartment comforting her sobbing daughter, Yoli (Alison Pill), noting, “The pain of letting go of grief is just as painful—even more painful—than the grief itself.”
My family does cancer in a big way. In my immediate family of five members, there have been 10 occasions when a doctor told one of us that we have cancer, or that, despite the treatments, the cancer has returned. My wife Esther has had two rounds of breast cancer. Our son Tim, who was born with significant physical and mental disabilities, was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he was three.
In 2013 I went on a pilgrimage to Scotland to explore my family roots and the “thin places” and sacred sites in the land of my ancestors. I arrived at the Glasgow airport shortly after 8 a.m. After landing, I immediately picked up my rental car and headed to my first destination. I hadn’t been able to sleep on the overnight flight, so I hadn’t slept in 30 hours.
'I headed out the door for a beautiful snowy 10 km. run which ended with building a snowman—a little bit of play amidst the difficulty of this time.' (Photos by Matthew Isert Bender)
A few weeks ago, I received a package in the mail from the Boston Athletic Association for finishers of the Boston Marathon.
It was exciting to receive the package and yet it was also quite sad.
Elaine Presnell has presided at around 600 funerals. That’s a number most pastors won’t achieve in a lifetime. But Presnell isn’t an ordinary pastor. For more than 10 years, she has worked for Mourning Glory Funeral Services in Saskatoon as a funeral officiant.
Previously, she spent 16 years as a psychiatric nurse at Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre.
“It was here somewhere,” I said to my son Allan. “The Boese canning factory was over here, and over there was an orchard where we lived in our trailer until about 1962. It was near the dormitory for the workers. At least I think. I should ask Dad.” (Dad was Peter Rogalsky. He and Leona [Unger] Rogalsky, my mom, had both worked for Boese in the late 1950s and early ’60s.)
Holly (a pseudonym) began experiencing serial pregnancy loss several years ago, after the birth of her youngest son. In her mind, the words “church” and “support” don’t really go together.
I wrote this story two years ago, and since then another suicide has occurred and been mourned, in a neighbouring community. That man I did know. To remember both of these men who left behind wives, children, even grandchildren, today I publish it. Let’s learn how to handle mental illness in the church in a way that embraces rather than isolates.
It is with a heavy heart that I write today, and even now I debated sharing this. I do so because I believe that the story I am about to share is one with a lesson that we, the Mennonite church, need to learn.
How resilient are people? Do we really fall apart in every situation of grief? How is it that we can recover from horrendous trauma to life normal lives again?
In his book The Other Side of Sadness, George A. Bonanno explores mourning and the nature of human resilience in the face of grief. He suggests that the idea of people getting stuck in grief and overwhelmed by loss to the point of being unable to function over time is actually less common than people may think. The norm is actually resilience.