Life is a terminal condition

Shhhh! Don’t talk about it, pretend it didn’t happen, and carry on.

Maybe if you ignore it or stay busy, it’ll go away. Time heals all wounds.

Distracting ourselves with busyness, offering trite, but unhelpful sayings, and avoiding contact, are all common ways many’ve learned to deal with the uncomfortable truth…. Life is a terminal condition. No one gets out of this world alive. Loss and grief are painful.

Each of us will experience loss and grief, they’re inevitable facts of life. Even though grief will touch each of us, we often know so little about it and are unprepared for the impact it’ll have on our lives.

I thought I knew how to “do grief.” I’d experienced many losses as a young person, and I’d learned to avoid the painful feelings by staying busy.

I had the prescription down pat: when someone died, it was time to start cleaning, and start cooking and baking. Distract, distract, distract! Do anything, but feel those painful feelings.

Don’t cry, because it makes everyone else uncomfortable. If you do cry, do so when you’re alone. Don’t talk about it.

I believed the words of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, when she wrote, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.”

I didn’t know there was a different way.

I learned to become a caregiver when loss was experienced, taking care of everyone else, but me. I became the great pretender as I put on a brave face, even fooling myself for a while.

I learned to suppress and not feel or express the growing ball of grief, until I couldn’t.

I thought I could soothe painful feelings of grief with my intellect, and reason and talk myself out of the pain, yet I learned this doesn’t work. Learning to feel my feelings, the good, the bad, and the painful was essential to healing.

The head wants answers when the heart needs to heal. I couldn’t intellectualize myself out of my grief; I had to be present to my feelings to heal my heart.

People often feel their experience of grief is abnormal when it’s not abnormal at all.

Grief often has unusual faces, looking like anything but grief, and there’s no predictable path You need to grieve. Learning how to support ourselves and others who are grieving is empowering.

While we grieve for many reasons, the pain of losing loved ones often leaves us feeling alone, isolated, and uncertain of how to navigate and rebuild our lives following a death. While we may tend to isolate, we don’t have to experience grief alone.

Thank goodness for the wonderful people who’ve found meaning and purpose in supporting grievers. One such individual is Joanne Bonk, grief share facilitator and community relations with Springfield Funeral Home.

For Joanne, walking beside others in grief is one of her greatest privileges. While accompanying people during their most vulnerable time, she watches them heal the pain of loss, learning peace and pain can coexist.

While people may hide behind sunglasses, shrouded by hats or hoods with downcast eyes as they start their journey, Joanne takes joy in watching them open as they connect, sharing stories, receiving support, understanding and hope as they engage in their journey of healing.

I loved Joanne’s words: “Soon it is discovered that, although we all have a different journey, we are all on the same journey and it is OK to be real; emotions are welcome” as people connect and discover their journey with grief is normal.

If you need support in your journey with grief, please reach out and don’t isolate. It doesn’t matter if your loss is new or from long ago, help is available.

Support groups are available via technology, connecting grievers with experts, counsellors, and facilitators who’re offering support in these challenging times.

In Kelowna, Central Okanagan Hospice Association and Springfield Funeral Home and Crematorium are community leaders in providing support to people who’ve experienced loss.

Check within your local community for support.


What's the rush?

Do you have it?

I used to, yet I nearly got sucked in again. But, I didn’t.

Do you:

  • Have a sense of time urgency
  • Have endless to-do lists
  • Rush and multi-task chores
  • Constantly check phone or email
  • Become restless when waiting in lines
  • Skim reading material instead of reading it
  • Have a driving need to make the most of every moment
  • Speed when driving
  • Experience irritation with delays
  • Constantly try to find ways to save time.

If you see yourself in these symptoms, you may have hurry sickness. It’s both epidemic and contagious.

The seduction of hurry raised its head recently for me, as a fellow shopper taunted me about the length of the line at the cash register.

Quickly scanning the lines as she raced toward the front of the store, she cautioned me, “You’re going to wait an hour in that line.”

It was jarring. I instantly felt my body tense as I experienced her sense of urgency.

Go, go, go, rush, rush, rush was my way of life for many years. A successful day was measured in the number of things checked off my to-do list.

I don’t miss the feeling of living like a coiled spring, always under tension.

The habit of hurry is pervasive in today’s society, yet it comes with costs. Researchers have found the habit of hurry impacts not only our physical health, but also prevents us from living in alignment with our personal values and intentions, and it affects our relationships.

Hurry sickness is a term coined by two cardiologists, Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, who noticed many of their patients displayed a sense of time urgency.

They always felt rushed and there was never enough time.

Hurry sickness keeps us stuck in the stress response of fight-or-flight, flooding the body with adrenaline and cortisol, as the body is prepared for battle.

It’s often accompanied by a constant undercurrent of anxiety.

The heart rate increases, the blood vessels constrict, and perception narrows, as many body systems are put on alert as it prepares for attack.

We may be more abrupt, and we don’t really hear what’s being said to us. Small things irritate us.

Because we’re over-using the stress response, our health suffers as we perceive threat to our lives in situations where we’re not at risk of harm. Every-day life is experienced as a threat to our lives.

Many people are so used to living in a constant stress response, it feels normal. It may be normal, but it’s not good for us, and can lead to burnout.

Interestingly, living a hurried life can also cause us to lose sight of our highest values and intentions for living.

Living in a constant state of hurry impacts our relationships, as we don’t truly listen to others, we’re often more irritable, and because of our narrowed perception, miss important cues others are giving us.

We may be more reactive and feel we constantly need to defend. Research suggests living a hurried life may make us less kind.

We can break this habit with awareness:

  • Become aware of the incessant internal dialogue to hurry, and question it
  • Make a commitment to enjoy and experience life, instead of multi-tasking your way through the day
  • Practise being fully present with people you care about
  • Don’t overfill your days with demands
  • Relax the demands you place upon yourself
  • Prioritize relaxation
  • Practice mindfulness.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “We are always getting ready to live, but never living.”

I’m grateful to the lady who reminded me of my former self. We left the store at the same time. She reminded me of the price I used to pay when I lived a life of hurry.

Living on fast forward causes us to miss the goodness of life. Life is to be lived and enjoyed.

Stop and smell the roses may be the best advice of all.

One year to live

If you knew you had only one year to live, what would you do, and how would you spend your time?

What matters most to you?

I love to ask myself this clarifying question, as it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, or diverted and hung-up on things that don’t really matter.

We can live life out of habit, of doing what we’ve always done, or what we think we’re supposed to do, instead of living the life we want to live.

We can forget, we’re always at a point of decision, and we can make a different choice.

I love the story of a man who’d been given a terminal diagnosis. He was called into the doctor’s office months later for some good news; they’d made a mistake and he wasn’t going to die.

The doctor was shocked at the man’s response; he was furious. He wasn’t mad at the initial mistake. He was mad to find out he was going to live.

As the story goes, the man, when faced with imminent death, had finally given himself permission to live the life he wanted, and he was enjoying life for the first time.

He now felt he had to return to living a normal life, bound by expectations and duty. In finding out he was going to live a longer life, the ‘excuse’ of limited time to do as he wanted, was gone.

He was now faced with making a decision; a decision to continue really living, or return to a life he didn’t enjoy.

We can believe we have no choice, but in reality, we’re always at a point of decision.

Years ago, Raymond Charles Barker’s book, The Power of Decision, awakened me from a stupour of living life by accident, to one of conscious decision.

For many years, I’d lived life as I thought I was supposed to, never asking the question about what I really wanted my life to stand for. I lived what I called an incidental life, like a support character in my own life.

I let life live me instead of really living my own life. I’d followed along in what I thought was expected of me, quite prepared to live a cookie-cutter life, based on erroneous assumptions.

It was like sleep-walking through life, following the footsteps of others who’d gone before me. It was pretty comfortable and safe to stay in the rut I’d carved out, but it wasn’t going to allow me to live to my full potential. Before then, I’d never stopped to consider what I really wanted my life to be.

We have choice in how we live and spend each day, but sometimes we forget. We aren’t what happens to us in life, we are what we do with what happens.

We can follow along in the rut that seems carved for us, or we can make a decision to step outside the rut, and carve our own path.

It’s said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

While it may not be insanity, it’s curious indeed how easy it is to get stuck in a rut and stop living a life of conscious choice.

We can feel like we’re drifting through life, pulled forward by life’s demands and the habits we’ve created.

There’s power in making it a practice to reflect on our lives and ask ourselves what we’d really love to do.

Don’t let your song die unsung. Again, if you knew this was the last year you had to live, how would you spend your time?


The chicken or the egg?

What comes first?

We haven’t resolved this question when it comes to the chicken and the egg, but there are answers being revealed when it comes to happiness.

Most people just want to be happy.

Our happiness matters, as happy people tend to:

  • Be healthier
  • Have better relationships
  • Experience greater vigour and energy
  • Have a better sense of humour
  • Live longer

Not surprisingly, happiness affects both the quality and the quantity of our lives.

It’s common to hear people putting off happiness to some elusive future date. I’ll be happy when… (you fill in the blank).

Why wait? Start now, you deserve it.

Knowing how we can cultivate greater happiness in our lives isn’t as difficult as you might think. Happiness isn’t contingent on external circumstances; it’s a inside job.

Interestingly, environmental circumstances only account for 10% of our happiness, while our genetics and personalities are 50% responsible. Yet, we don’t have to be victim to these factors.

Our power abides in the remaining 40%, in which we are able to influence our happiness with intentional activities.

There are simple, quick, and easy things we can do to increase our own levels of happiness.

Happiness and gratitude are hot topics in the research world. Interestingly, multiple researchers have found a strong positive correlation between happiness and gratitude.

Back to the riddle of what comes first: are we more grateful because we’re happy, or are we happier because we’re grateful?

Multiple studies reveal one sure fire way to increase happiness is to, first, be grateful.

Practicing gratitude boosts the production of neuro-chemicals and hormones that support well-being. Our brains and our bodies benefit from practising gratitude.

We can re-wire our brains for gratitude. When we engage in gratitude practices over time, there are lasting changes in the brain, particularly in areas associated with decision-making and learning.

Even if we can’t find anything to be grateful for, the mere practice of stopping to look for something to be grateful for creates a shift.

Or, you can up the power of gratitude to improve happiness.

While merely listing what we’re grateful for is helpful, thinking of why we’re grateful for the items on our list enhances the benefits we receive.

Try this out for yourself, paying attention to how you feel inside.

Think of something you’re grateful for, pause for a moment, and notice how you feel. Then list the reasons why you’re grateful. How do you feel now?

For example, my husband, Tom is frequently on my gratitude list. That’s nice.

But when I consider all his beautiful personal qualities and the amazing way he supports me, I can feel a deepening of my gratitude. Sometimes, I’m moved to lovely tears as I remember how blessed I am and I appreciate him even more. And, what we appreciate grows; it appreciates.

Don’t save gratitude for just the big or fancy stuff. I practise gratitude for some of the most basic things that are easily overlooked, such as a warm and comfy bed to sleep in, the sunshine, or new growth on the trees.

The use of my gratitude journal improved dramatically when I started storing it on my pillow with a pen tucked inside. I can’t forget like I used to.

Considering the many blessings of my life just before going to sleep is the perfect way to enter dreamland.

Even my most challenging days are filled with reasons to be grateful, and the focus on negative thoughts is reduced as I remember to look for the good.

Another of my favourite gratitude practices is the old-fashioned thank-you card; I keep a stock on hand. I love to send thank you cards, all jazzed-up with colourful and fun stickers.

I find myself continually canvassing my life for the good to find reasons to send a card. I love how it feels inside of me to consider my wonderful friends and family and sincerely thank them.

For me, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Card writing fills my heart and people love to receive my jazzed-up creations. In the process, my mind and body benefit greatly.

Gratitude is such a simple practice, it’s portable and it’s a proven method to increase happiness.

More New Thought articles

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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