Sisters Teresa Doherty, Anna Marie Mc Laughlin and Madeleine Meagher recently attended an educational workshop for Leadership and Members of Congregations. The title was; “Through Grief to New Life: A Spirituality for Meeting God in Transition Times”. It was organized by the National Religious Retirement Office in the U.S.A. In this article Sr Madeleine shares some of the key points:
We were reminded that in religious life, we are living in a time of radical deeply unsettling change. With every change comes loss and the need for healthy grieving and experiencing a new sense of hope. Crossing the bridge from the pain of loss to hope requires that we acknowledge what has happened and find ways to enable community members to support and minister to one another.
The majority of the Congregations present had the same story, houses closing down including “mother houses”, and some of them part of Congregations over hundred plus years. The average age of membership is around 78 years and there are many deaths yearly. There is a great need to provide care for sick and elderly members. Provinces and Regions are being reduced to one or two, and some Congregations are amalgamating with those whose charisms are alike. We are being reminded that nothing is permanent except change and that change and life are inseparable. This can lead to an accumulation of losses and grief. If the grief is not processed appropriately it can block human and spiritual growth.
It is important to examine our attitude to change. It is an inner and outer experience. It is also an opportunity for growth. Some people cope well with change and thrive and others can be overwhelmed by grief. In the past many members did not deal with their grief. We were not encouraged to share feelings and or talk about family and friends. This often led to apathy, depression, lack of trust and meaning, loss of creativity, overworking or inappropriate behavior. Today there is a greater understanding of the need to grieve and have support of friends and community.
The way we see change can determine the outcome and change can lead to new opportunities. Peace comes with letting go and keeping our focus on the mission and global issues. There can be increased understanding of the Pascal Mystery. A Russian author states “the future belongs to those who know how to wait”. It is important the members have opportunities to share feelings, thoughts and vulnerabilities as well as share stories. Doing so can bring groups together. Ritualizing endings with prayer services, blessings and sharing of memories can lead to positive outcomes. T.S. Elliot states every ending has a new beginning.