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Jenifer’s Journal: Finding a path through grief and loss

Falling apart is a sure sign of your healing. When this happens … try to leave any self-judgment behind… — Betty Hill Crowson

Today marks what would’ve been my husband Tom’s and my ninth wedding anniversary. Two days ago, June 21, was the third anniversary of his death.

June has become a “month of gold, a month of lead” for me. In fact, for many of us in the past two years, grieving of all kinds — for people, for careers, for a way of life — has become almost a full-time job. One million of us dead from COVID-19. Directly or indirectly, no one has been untouched by loss, but seniors, of course, are often the most vulnerable.

According to Senior Center Director Laurie Fanelli, social workers Nancy Green and Bonnie Berman Stockwell, who facilitated Bereavement Groups on Shelter Island in the spring of 2021, will be returning to lead small groups of those who have recently lost loved ones.

New groups are forming now and those interested in joining can call Laurie at the Shelter Island Senior Center at 631-749-1059, or Nancy at 917-842-8440. All information is confidential.

Another rich resource for guidance and healing through the grieving process is provided by former longtime Island resident and my good friend, Betty Hill Crowson, in her new book, “We Don’t know What We Don’t Know: A Woman’s Guide Through Grief and Loss,” which came out this past February. A few weeks ago, I asked her not only about this, her third book, but also the evolution of what she refers to as her “calling.” In part, this is her response:

“When did my ‘calling” begin you ask? In hindsight it began with the tragic death of my husband Robert in 1979 who died from terminal brain cancer a month after our first wedding anniversary. At the time, I felt there was little support for cancer patients or their families, so I went to college to become an oncology social worker. I also became an earnest spiritual seeker with a love for weekend retreats and body/soul conferences.

“While doing an internship at a hospital in Salem, Mass., I was to meet Steve Crowson, an Episcopal priest. We married in 1984 and, on our fifth wedding anniversary, brought home our newborn son, Robert. When Robert was not quite 3, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years later, something arrived in the mail from a little town called Shelter Island, N.Y. They were looking for an Episcopal priest. [With] no idea where Shelter Island was, I immediately felt ‘called.’

“We arrived in the spring of 1995 and for me, it was love at first sight, sound, smell, and feel. Shelter Island was the home for which I had been longing. Steve went to work, Robert went to school, and there I was, ‘called,’ but for what? In my heart of hearts, I knew … I had probably attended at least 50 weekend retreats and numerous holistic workshops and conferences … and always felt as if I were on the wrong side of the podium. I was soon to meet Sister Maureen at St. Gabriel’s Retreat House and held my first retreat there in 1996. I [called] it ‘The Joy is in the Journey,’ which ultimately became my registered trademark.

“With the thousands of books written on this subject … what makes this one [so] relevant? To begin with, it was written to help women acknowledge and grieve all losses, not just the obvious, catastrophic ones. Many of us are among the walking wounded right now due to COVID, world events, family estrangements, etc. We have been taught that stoicism is the answer. This book thinks differently. It gives us permission to acknowledge and honor our feelings without judging them; to gentle ourselves as we get our feet back under us; to dis-empower the shadow aspects of our grieving process, such as regret, guilt, and resentment; to take appropriate and timely action to become unstuck and to move forward.

“Does that mean we ‘let go of’ or ‘get over’ our losses? Not really. What we do, instead, and the primary reason this book was written, is to take steps to ultimately transform this same grieving energy into something that gives meaning to our loss and substance in our lives; deeper compassion, greater wisdom, and an ability to be of service that can be found nowhere else.

“There is no doubt that it is my life losses which have informed and given authenticity to the work for which I continue to be called. For that, I am forever grateful.”

The redoubtable Mary Lou Eichhorn has made Betty’s book available at Cornucopia. I wonder — are we all called to heal in some way? Ourselves? One another? Clearly, Betty was called and, most importantly, she has answered.

Thank you, Betty.