Two experiences over the Christmas/New Year break have been the cause of much reflection and contemplation. Firstly, I was privileged to be presented with a manuscript for Kerrie Atherton’s latest edition of her book Stories of Hope. Secondly, I was grateful for the time spent with a dear friend who lost their life-long partner just a short 2 ½ years ago.
Stories of Hope can be a challenging, yet perspicacious read; a series of short stories from people who, having faced significant challenges in their life (often accompanied with significant heart ache), through self-reflection, share their stories of overcoming these adversities and ‘coming out the other side’. It is a book that inspires, encourages and moves people toward hope.
Catching up with our friend is always a special occasion. I remember the funeral well, a gathering that overflowed with both love and sadness, with distress and peace, with despair and relief. In the few months after a loss, there can be a lot of support and love for those left behind, this was certainly the case for our friend. But once the immediate response and attention passes, a different level of grief and sadness can creep in, so it is important to us to maintain connection with our friend, to be there for them and just hear how things are going.
As I reflect on both the stories shared in the book and the catch-up, I’m reminded that life is not a thing that is simply done, rather it is something that is experienced; it is ongoing and dynamic and it is constructed as we go about living with others – it’s an ‘ing’ thing!
Yes, living is ongoing activity, just as the stories and the experiences of my friend have revealed.
While we may fantasise about time travel and being able to return to the past or skip forward into the future, the reality is that what we are presented with each day is the moment we are in. Perhaps we spend too much time worrying about the past or fretting about the future and not enough time embracing the moment that we are living in?
As I think about the stories in the book and of how my friend is coping with the loss, I’m reminded of a blog piece written by my good friend Gab Carlton where, in describing the often overused and perhaps misunderstood term ‘resilience’, she puts forward the idea that ‘Humans Don’t Bounce’. In this short yet insightful piece, Gab asks some poignant questions that may help us think more critically about what resilience is, including;
How can one ‘bounce back’ to what they were when a life event actually changes us? How can we be the person we were before the struggles, the hardships, the pain, the suffering? We can’t and we won’t. Those struggles and crisis will become part of who we are. We emerge into a new ‘me’.
As I think of the stories in the book and of the life that our friend is now living, the idea that people “emerge into a new me”, resonates. In fact, I would take Gab’s idea a step further and suggest that we are always emerging into a new me, our narrative is continually changing. Living is an ongoing activity, interconnected with growing, learning and developing. Of course, this means that it is also connected with grieving, suffering and ‘mistaking’. And in continuing the ‘ing’ theme, Gab also refers to ‘resiliencing’.
Look at all those ‘ings’… all reminders of our life is about the now and about moving forward, not going backwards; certainly not ‘bouncing back’!
Another related ‘ing’ theme that occurred to me recently is in relation to suicide prevention and the broader field of mental health where we talk often of involving the voice of ‘lived experience’. It’s important to hear the experiences of those who have lived through suicide, either with their own thoughts and/or attempts, or through bereavement after the loss of a loved one, or caring for them.
However, in keeping with the ‘ing’ theme, I’d suggest with one small addition….. Rather than referring only to ‘lived’ experience, perhaps it is a more appropriate language in the case of some people, to describe a ‘living’ experience of suicide. That is, to acknowledge the ongoing challenges and tensions that go with regular thoughts of suicide or other mental health experiences, rather than suggesting that it is an experience that has simply been ‘lived’, which may insinuate that it is now ‘done’ (rather than ongoing).
In concluding this piece, I wonder if we are easily and quickly seduced into spending too much time planning and forecasting, rather than allowing for things to emerge and for us to experience learning through living? Do we focus too much also on attempting to create resilience, when in fact ‘resiliencing’ is something that we are always doing?
There can be many reasons why we worry about the past or become anxious about the future and there is no doubt that it is important that we do learn from our history and plan for what lies ahead. However, do we need also to be cautious not to do this at the expense of learning, living and resiliencing?
About the Author:
Robert Sams is a current student at Griffith University and the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP) currently completing the post-graduate Masters of Suicidology program. Rob is also has post-graduate qualifications in the Social Psychology of Risk (ACU) and an undergraduate degree in Health and Safety (University of Newcastle).
Rob has been involved with Lifeline, an Australian organisation focused on suicide prevention and crisis support services, since 2012. Initially this was as a volunteer and from 2017 in paid leadership roles. Rob authored his first book, Social Sensemaking in 2016 and has a particular interest in a community-led approach to suicide prevention and he proudly lives on the land of the Awabakal people in Newcastle, NSW.
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