When Linda Losey’s parents needed her assistance, she answered the call without hesitation. Her induction into caregiving began when her father, who was terminally ill, moved into her family home, where he was lovingly cared for by her siblings, her husband, and the couple’s four children until his passing. Later, when her mother, who was fiercely independent, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Linda and her sister worked tirelessly to ensure that her needs were met and that she remained empowered under what were both complicated and stressful circumstances. Linda was blessed to care for both her mother and father when in their final days and, in retrospect, describes both experiences as graceful.
Although her spiritual pilgrimage began while she was caring for her parents, her most significant losses were still on the horizon. On June 22, 2004, her youngest son, Sam, was crushed beneath the wheels of a trailer hauling a five-ton tractor; he did not survive and was only ten years old. Just when she was beginning to make peace with losing Sam, her intense spiritual grief was complicated when her eighteen-year-old son Eric, who was also a U.S. Marine, took his own life.
Complicated spiritual grief
Complicated spiritual grief is usually precipitated by the loss of someone who is significant in your life or by a quest for deeper understanding about the meaning and purpose of life and results in answers to your questions that are unsettling, nonsensical, or both. Although not all loss leads to spiritual questioning, it is common to experience complicated spiritual grief if you have cared for a loved one with a debilitating or terminal illness, if your loved one experienced a great deal of pain, or if you have unresolved feelings associated with your loss.
Caregiver Wellness: U model
Spiritual wellness is a part of the Caregiver Wellness: U model, a conceptual model that incorporates the movement toward social, psychological, physical, intellectual, spiritual, occupational, and financial wellness, while also incorporating the empowerment and resilience necessary to take charge of your health on a holistic basis. The components are not chronological; rather, they represent collective components. According to the Caregiver Wellness: U model, spiritual wellness incorporates the experience of caring for another to find new meaning in life that can include religion, faith, belief, and self-actualization, each of which has been associated with positive health outcomes.
From complicated spiritual grief to spiritual wellness
So how do you move from complicated spiritual grief toward spiritual wellness? It will likely not be easy. In fact, it will take time to process all that you have been through. Yet, you are invited to ponder two very important insights shared by Linda as you process your sadness.
Let the process unfold. Linda was devastated when Sam died, but even in her pain, she had hope. Some time prior to his accident, Sam had confided in her that he wanted to travel across country on horseback, and she agreed that they would, one day. Of course, she had no way of knowing the significance of her promise at the time or how keeping it would aid in her healing. You see, Sam had written a private letter to John Deere asking that they help him with his journey by providing the feed he would need for his horses. The company contacted Linda, not knowing about Sam’s passing, and offered to provide the feed that would be needed for the trip and suggested that she go in honor of her son. Just eight months after his death, Linda began her pilgrimage by riding 4,032 miles across America alone on horseback.
Expect miracles. Linda’s pilgrimage across the country took seven months. When she arrived home, her son Eric was waiting and handed her a bracelet etched with the words expect miracles. Sometime after his passing, Linda and her husband, Tom, found that they were on yet another pilgrimage. This time they traveled together to Italy. On that trip, the couple attended Tom’s great-great-aunt Mary Mackillop’s canonization as Australia’s first saint. The trip would be the start of Linda’s next venture, opening Bloomery Distillery, where she was able to focus her creative passion and work through her agonizing heartache. Linda endearingly calls their mini-distillery the happiest place on earth.
“I used to think that life was getting past the obstacle, just beyond the obstacle, to get to the other side,” Linda said. “I just needed to get there in order to live again. But you know what? Life is not on the other side of the challenge. Life is the challenge. The challenge is the journey. Getting to the other side is just the pit stop, where you can re-energize before the next hurdle is in front of you. With each and every loss, every challenge, every obstacle, it empowers me to know that I’m gaining the courage and the wisdom to live life beyond what it was and used to be. Triumphing over grief, challenge, and adversity is never easy, but it is surprisingly simple. All you have to do is have faith, faith in yourself and beyond, and the courage to take the next step.”
Should you find that your sadness lasts six months or longer with a general disengagement from participation in normal, everyday life activities; that you are burying your feelings; or that you generally feel hopeless, seeking professional counseling and care is essential. Venting is critical, as is finding someone who is a good listener and who will allow you to share your feelings without repercussions. The goal is working through any unfinished business associated with your spiritual distress so that you achieve spiritual wellness.