This week on top of ANZAC Day, 325 ECSS has suffered another loss, with the tragic death of another valued member of the MEOMS team. The details are still sketchy but Peter Bell, one of the civilian APS members, died in a car accident near Wagga Wagga on Wednesday night. Peter had a long history with the RAAF, rising to the rank of SGT before getting out to come back to work in the same basic job as a civilian.
We have had a bad run here at Richmond over these last couple of months, with many people struggling to cope with the significant losses in their lives, not just the loss of valued workmates, but loss of relationships, loss of health and mobility, and loss of meaning and purpose in life as well. The fact is grief is complex, and will affect us in different ways, with each additional loss complicating existing grief.
So, in short, grief cannot be avoided, sidestepped or cured by medication, alcohol or drugs. It is a journey, and often a lonely one in which there are no shortcuts to relieve the pain and no maps showing how far you still have to go, because everyone’s route is unique. The obvious question is “What can we do to cope and help those around us to continue the journey?” My suggestion:
1. BE HONEST! Share your own feelings and reactions. If you are overcome with emotion and the tears begin to flow, let them. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything, you presence is usually more important than your words anyway.
2. BE OPEN! Grief has the capacity to isolate us from the people that are best equipped to help us. Choose to be open to help, and be prepared to rely on people offering support, even if it feels awkward. Be open to telling and hearing the stories.
3. BE PRACTICAL! Look for opportunities to provide a meal, offer child care, help with transport or any of those other practical things that make up ordinary life and get forgotten in the fog that often surrounds grief. Life continues to go and there are many things that need to be done.
4. BE EMPATHETIC! Simply be there and listen, and be prepared to share the pain of the journey. If you have offered to help be aware that it might be a long hard trip, because grief does not stop when the funeral is over. Be prepared to stay for the long haul.
What is the key? HOPE! Each of the above responses helps with the physical and emotional issues but true hope is only possible when we work through our own spiritual issues and grapple with the meaning of death. That too is a journey, and if you keep meeting dead ends maybe I can help you.
Chaplain Ian Whitley