You are brave. I heard these words many times this morning. I find them a little overwhelming, to be honest. I felt somewhat nervous about the task at hand. I don’t often feel brave. I feel at peace. I feel accepting of what is going on in my life. I feel unsure about many things. It is a nice reminder to know that I am brave.
Today I was interviewed in front of an audience of about 70 people from around the world who are learning to do the work of Dignity Therapy that Dr. Harvey Chochinov has created. Part of a larger conference, my segment was to have Dr. Chochinov ask me questions about my life that would become part of a legacy document for my loved ones. As I reflect back on the session, I am grateful for having said yes. My original agreement in participating was part of living out loud this experience of mine and to continue to use it as a teachable moment. I knew it would be meaningful to have the document for family members but the experience turned out to be so much more profound than I could have predicted.
At one point, the conversation turned to my career training in the United States where at the ripe age of 20, I met women who became life-long friends and mentors. When asked to select a memory regarding these women, the one that came to mind surprised and moved me. Ever a keener, 1981 was the Year of Disabled People and so I became temporary disabled that year. For six months, I was unable to walk without crutches because of the surgery that I had undergone due to hip surgery. Thus when I went down to the US later that year to study I had certain physical limits. A group of us had gone out to the country to cross country ski which was something I was not able to do and when the other women discovered why, everyone decided to walk instead of ski. That was such a beautiful evening, sprinkled with the stunning nature of the park that we hiked in and punctuated with deep conversation. When asked by the psychiatrist why this moved me, I think I realized anew how much these women loved me for who I was, as I was. These women are arriving on my doorstep tomorrow evening. They have taught me so much over our 30+ years of friendship. I am ever grateful for all the lessons that I have learned from them.
Another part of the interview that surprised me was talking about one of my cousins who I love deeply. I was surprised that amongst the words that did not come out for my family were I love you. We are not a family where those words are commonplace but these are the words that I wanted to say for my cousin who is the person most in life who gets me. I became quite emotional at this realization–both that I could not say them to my family and that I wanted to express them to my cousin.
The other unexpected blessing of doing this interview was the reaction of a very generous audience. The people gathered were incredibly kind. At each question, the participant began with a thank you for my involvement and many stated how brave I was as I’ve said. As a spiritual director, I know that it is not easy to share one’s life story with a stranger, let alone a room full of strangers, but I do know that it is a sacred task. I am always amazed at how forthcoming the retreatant can be when they meet with me. The healing that can happen when one’s story is told always strikes me. I found it helpful to keep it real with this particular audience. Those gathered held space as gentle witnesses to a life well-lived and honoured the sanctity of the story. They affirmed the journey that I had lived.
There is more that I want to say about this experience and I will do so in the days ahead. For now I will say that I am grateful that I found the courage to participate in this event. I am not sure how I was selected but I do know that I was supposed to be there–for my own continued healing and for the audience members
Do you recognize your own courage?
What memory from your life teaches you something about your graced history?
Good and Gracious God, you bless us in ways we cannot even begin to imagine and equip us for each encounter. Thank you for stretching comfort zones and speaking through us for your glory. Amen
Dear Suzanne, I was one of the people in the audience yesterday and thought I was not one of the people who stood up to thank you yesterday, I wanted to do so now. I was deeply moved by your conversation with Dr. C, and am very grateful that you chose to share your stories with us and help demonstrate how the Dignity Therapy process unfolds. To paraphrase you, it was like the process was opening up before our eyes. In that hour we could see who you are and what you hold most dear. It was also clear how you have left your mark on so many people and in so many places, and I’m so glad to be able to read more of your words of wisdom in this blog. You are an inspiration. God bless you, and thank you 🙏 Chloe from California
Thanks so much, Chloe, for your kind and generous words. It was a pleasure to be part of the process and a real treasure to me to see what unfolded. Dr. Chochinov does amazing work. I am glad to know that so many places around the world will benefit from his training. I wish you all the best in your work. May it bring much healing and joy. Peace!
Oh, Suzanne….”our” session yesterday was such a blessing! Thank you so much for being so articulate, so open, and so genuine. Your gratitude for a life well lived was an inspiration to me and to many others in the room. You truly walk the path of your Faith. I salute your courage, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving us all the opportunity to bear witness and to help hold safe the space for you to tell your story.
In Gratitude, Pauline from Winnipeg
I am glad that the session provided the participants with what was needed. Dr. Chochinov does amazing work. My faith is an important part of my journey. I am grateful in return for the generosity of those gathered.
Thank you Suzanne for sharing this important life experience with all of us. I not only think of you as brave like so many others. I think of you also as very generous of your time to write about this and share it with all of us. You are so deeply honest, always leaving us with powerful questions, engaging us in reflection of our lives, important for our own personal growth.
Love, Karen xoxo
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