Know you're not alone

As I engage and connect with folks on a deeper level, one thing has been pretty consistent, we’re still on an emotional rollercoaster that doesn’t seem close to stopping. It can feel like emotional whiplash.

We’re all at different places in this collective emotional experience. People are reporting feeling things they’ve never felt before, as life has changed dramatically in a short period of time. 

Some people are impatient, just wanting life to return to normal. Others are praying we don’t return to the way we were living life before, hoping the pace of life can remain slower, and we can each take the lessons the pandemic has taught us.

It’s been a confusing, frightening, lonely, exhausting, and anxiety-provoking time for many. Grief, along with its many faces, is still a prevalent emotion for many people. This mixed-bag of emotions further isolates us, if we don’t know what’s happening.

Some people are questioning their sanity, others are exploding in angry outbursts, and some are withdrawing. 

Store clerks, who are risking their health to keep us supplied, speak of people being rude and abusive toward them. Spousal and child abuse have increased, anxiety and depression, as well as overdose and suicide rates are also on the rise. Relationships are strained, as feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and frustration accumulate, only adding to the difficulty.

For some, feelings of anxiety and concern are heightened as more businesses and services are allowed to open, while the need for social distancing remains in place. 

Masks or no masks? Gloves or no gloves?  I hear people expressing frustration, anger, and doubt as rules change to accommodate what we learn about the virus. The level of uncertainty and change is stressful.

We even have emotions about our emotions, as I’ve heard people express fear, shame, or guilt for what they’re feeling. This only adds to the emotional stew we’re in. 

In a society well-practiced in suppressing uncomfortable emotions, it can be incredibly difficult to know how to support ourselves and one another. 

Thinking you’re the only one who’s experiencing challenging emotions further isolates, and complicates matters. Knowing there’s no right or wrong way to feel is important. 

With so much out of our control right now, it’s important to focus on the things we can control; to remove focus from what we can’t do, and plan for what we can do. 

I’ve found mindfulness essential in supporting myself and others. Learning to turn toward what I’m feeling, and not judge it or suppress it, has been essential. 

It doesn’t mean that I act out of my emotions, but that I’m aware of what’s bubbling up inside of me. It’s not getting lost in the story of the emotion or needing to start to blame others for how I’m feeling. Learning to turn toward the feelings that are arising, and becoming aware with self-compassion, and simply breathing until the feelings are not as intense, is helpful.

Acknowledging where we each are at emotionally, and knowing that emotions change and shift day to day, sometimes moment to moment, is important.  Knowing we’re not alone and other people are experiencing a whole array of emotions, allows us to relax and often allows the intensity of the emotions to ease.

Stay out of the ‘what-if’ spiral of thought, and focus on the present moment, and what’s real right now. When a big wave of emotion arises, come to your senses; use your senses such as sight, touch, sound, or taste to anchor you to what’s real now.

Consciously breathing, slowing the breath, and feeling it as it enters and leaves, soothes our nervous system and invites the thinking part of the brain into action.

Take care which social media sites you’re visiting and how much time you’re spending on them. 

Stay connected with helpful people, even while maintaining physical distancing. Take care of your body and your spirit. 

Be discerning of the type of people you’re connecting with, because emotions are as contagious as the virus. Connect with supportive people, and let people know how you’re feeling, really feeling. You may be surprised to find out you’re not alone, and connecting with others, in a real way, brings comfort.

Please seek professional help if needed, and know you’re not alone. 


Death during COVID-19

And then it happened to us.

The phone call wasn’t a total surprise, we knew his health was poor. But, as we received the news a beloved family patriarch had passed, my mind instantly started to plan to travel to be with family. It’s what we do, we gather when we grieve. There’s comfort in that.

And then, I remembered; we can’t gather as we always do. 

A whole new wave of grief hit me. I grieve not being able to offer support to his immediate family in the way we’ve always done. We’re going to have to grieve differently this time.

Losing a loved one is hard enough, but grieving in these unprecedented times can feel overwhelming. 

Many of the rituals and activities typically associated with the end of life aren’t possible right now.

In our grief-adverse society, being able to receive and offer support during times of grief has grown a whole lot more complicated. The ability to gather, to connect as family and friends, and offer and receive support during the end-of-life process is so supportive, and this no longer exists.

Grief is lonely, and this loneliness is amplified in our current situation.

As the duration of our need to distance increases, the likelihood of death touching the lives of those within your circle increases. Knowing how we can receive and offer support is important. We may need to get creative.

As a person who supports grieving people, I’ve grown concerned for those who’ve experienced personal losses before and during these times of social distancing. We’ve had to cancel our monthly Celebration of Lives at Hospice House for now, and many funerals are being put on hold until after the pandemic.

This can leave mourners stuck, and experiencing a state of suspended animation, as the normal rituals and practices we engage in after a loss, are more difficult. It leaves caring friends wondering how they can show up and be of support. Many are postponing funerals, while some may be tempted to skip the funeral completely. This may be a lasting mistake.

As grief expert Alan Wolfelt shares, without some form of ceremony following a death, being able to integrate the reality of the passing can be difficult, and we can have “a surreal sense the death didn’t really happen.”  

Postponing a service for too long can keep us stuck, as these times of gathering help us in our process with grief. Having no service easily leaves us feeling lonely and unsupported, or feeling like we haven’t really honoured and acknowledged the importance of the life of our loved one.

Consider holding an informal small ceremony close to the death, and gathering with the closest mourners at social distance. A larger service can then be held when conditions make this possible. It doesn’t have to be once-and-done; holding two services is perfectly reasonable, given the times.

Becoming creative in these times is helpful. While virtual services may not be as satisfying as those held in person, they create an opportunity to gather, and to receive and offer support. Some say they prefer them.

There is even an up-side to virtual services. As one friend reflected, she was grateful to be able to attend a service online, that if held in person, during normal times, would have been impossible. 

People who experienced loss and were grieving prior to COVID-19, may be finding their grief amplified and reactivated. Their fragile ability to cope, prior to the pandemic, may have been stripped away, as newly-constructed activities of life and support networks are affected. Loneliness may be amplified; coping can be diminished.

Reaching out to those who’ve experienced loss, letting them know they’re not alone or forgotten in their grief, is vital right now. 

While emails and texts are one way, there’s more personal connection with a video call, if that’s possible. Consider picking up the phone and being a good listener, or resurrecting the practice of a handwritten note or card. Sending flowers or self-care items is also a lovely thing to do. 

The age-old practice of dropping off food, or helping out with yard work or errands, if you live locally, is a powerful way to let people know they’re not alone. There’s likely still so much you can do to demonstrate your caring, despite the constraints. Again, you might need to be creative.

This is a challenging time for people who are mourning, and for those wanting to offer support and care. With a little creativity, our love and caring can mean the world to those experiencing loss. 

Walter Crockett, you’ve left an indelible mark of goodness on our lives.

Go ahead, get dirty

There’s a new virus emerging from the pandemic, the gardening bug; it’s a good bug to catch.

The rush on gardening centres has left supplies in short stock. Even gardening virgins are being drawn to this ancient practice.

From a very practical perspective, the desire to grow our own food emerges from a concern for food security, but it turns out there’s much more to the story

Horticulture therapy, originally developed for U.S. soldiers returning from war, has expanded and is used in elder-care, psychiatric-care, prisons, and with children. It’s something to consider as we live in these uncertain times.

The health benefits of gardening have been the subject of research that reveals both physical and psychological bounty.

  • Decreased anxiety and depression 
  • Increased hope, purpose, and sense of achievement
  • Increased sense of calm
  • Decreased behavioural issues in children
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Increased sense of satisfaction, and vigor
  • Decreased cortisol, a stress hormone
  • Increased secretion of beneficial hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine
  • Improved diabetes, heart health, and longevity
  • Decreased body mass index
  • Improved immune function
  • Improved quality of sleep

Gardening is a stabilizing force during times of uncertainty. If you plant a radish seed, you can bet the seed will produce a radish. A core stimulus for stress is lack of control, and with a garden we can control what emerges.  

Plants call us to present moment awareness, as we use our senses in touching, smelling, and seeing plants emerge. Tending our plants, we let go of concerns of the past and worries of the future, and are drawn to what’s real now. Simple acts such as weeding, pruning, and dead-heading flowers easily soothe our systems, as we let go of the virtual reality of our minds and our devices. 

Being connected to, and caring for other living things, engaging in learning, and creativity sustain us. Watching new life spring forth from a tiny seed is exciting. Each morning, I can’t wait to do my ‘plant patrol,' and find myself chuckling at the many conversations we have about our emerging bean seeds. My goodness, I’ve even texted pictures of seedlings to our daughters.

Even small balconies and outdoor sitting areas can be turned into places of living beauty, and resourceful apartment dwellers are growing many vegetables in pots. Community gardens abound in urban spaces, for good reason. There are even places to volunteer to help with gardening, such as Hospice House and Joanna’s House.

If it’s not possible to plant anything, there are big benefits to just being in nature. Forest bathing and being out in nature is restorative, and is shown to reduce stress and feelings of anger and anxiety. 

The changes forced upon us by the pandemic have allowed me to realize the sneaky way my previously busy lifestyle had robbed me of old pleasures. I’m delighted to rediscover my previous love of gardening, once born of need for inexpensive produce, now born of desire. 

Despite the constraints of the isolation, I’ve found myself filled with joy and excitement as I rediscover old passions. I’ve reclaimed parts of myself I thought were long dead, and I don’t want to let them go.

This pandemic has certainly reminded me of what’s truly important in life, and with this, many of my first world problems have simply fallen away. May I never forget.

Does it really matter?

The cream rises. This is true for dairy and it’s also true of people.

I continue to be inspired by amazing people who, despite the constraints of the pandemic, continue to rise up to make a positive difference in life.

Something that’s become clear is the importance and value of relationship, and our ability to show up for one another. Acts of caring and kindness make a huge difference, and physical distancing doesn’t need to stop us. If you think you don’t matter, you’re wrong.

It’s during these times that it’s important to remember that your presence matters and that showing up for others makes a difference to them. It also supports your own health and happiness.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” These words of Mahatma Gandhi have long served to remind me that I have to step forward and offer the world what I’d like to experience.

It’s easy to hunker down behind the walls of physical constraint, but it’s much more fun to become crafty in how we extend kindness, caring, and connection into life.

I’ve personally been the recipient of acts of caring and kindness that have touched me deeply.

I had a significant birthday in April. I made my best effort to put on a happy face, but inside felt sad to be isolated. Little did I know plans were going on behind the scenes to make my day special. 

One dear-heart, Val Hardy, silently dropped off a lovely hanging basket and card on my door step. Her thoughtfulness and kindness made me cry! Each day it continues to remind me of her and the power of one person’s caring.

Later, my Yaya Sisters held a parade, just for me! They came bearing cake, signs, COVID gifts and a tiara. I haven’t laughed and cried so hard in a long time, and never have friends felt so dear. 

I received many deep and meaningful birthday messages that landed richly in my heart. Surprisingly, it was the best birthday celebration I’ve ever had. People’s presence, thoughtfulness, and kindness were the greatest gift of all. 

People are resilient and we adapt. Oftentimes, we grow the most when we’re challenged. I’m moved and inspired as I bear witness to people showing up in new ways, making connections despite the distance, and being the change that’s so needed in this world.

Two home-town-heroes, Kim and Jim Rhindress are making their way through town delivering virtual hugs, in the form of painted heart-shaped stones. It meant the world to us and we were moved to know they’d been thinking of us. Kim and Jim were the artists who created the Health-care Heroes song and video shared widely in April. They are the change that’s needed in this world.

Barbara Samuel and Neil Klassen are sharing the gift of their musical talent by showing up on people’s door steps to bless them with song. I awakened to them singing to me on my birthday! They know their presence matters and they show up.

Others have taken to sending cards, making phone calls, or sending random texts of kindness, just because. 

It’s the gift of our presence, care, and kindness we can continue to extend, despite distance; it’s one of the blessings of the virtual world. Each one of us has something to offer, and as we spend ourselves in extending caring, in big and small ways, we add to the good our world longs for.

Loneliness was an epidemic long before COVID-19.

Prior to the constraints placed upon us by the pandemic, many people felt lonely and isolated, despite being able to be in physical contact. Barriers were created by a perpetually busy society. Our distraction with the virtual world of our devices, even when in the presence of people, seemed the norm. 

The epidemic of loneliness existed before our need to distance and isolate. The pandemic has only raised it in our awareness.

The past few months have taught me the importance of letting people know they matter, of reaching out to connect and to extend acts of kindness.

Researchers are learning more about the myriad benefits of kind acts. While recipients of kind acts benefit in a variety of ways, the greatest effects are experienced by those who perform such acts.

As we move forward and restrictions are relaxed, may we all remember the power of kindness and caring to create a sense of connection. Let us remember the epidemic of loneliness existed before isolation. Let’s commit to being the change we wish to see in the world.

What’s one thing you can do today to be an agent of kindness? Do that!

Send me an email at [email protected] to tell me what you’ve done!

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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