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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Finding hope during uncertain times

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

During this COVID-19 pandemic, I sometimes think of Natalie, a very special friend that I made five years ago. I visited her weekly during the last few years of her life. Unknowingly, she taught me simple and valuable lessons that give me comfort and hope during this global crisis today.

Natalie was a woman in her mid-90s who lived in a nursing home close to where I live. We became friends in the last three years of her life. She had very poor eyesight and was wheelchair bound. Her white hair usually fell softly onto her shoulders and she wore cozy sweaters and blankets whenever I saw her, regardless of what the weather was like outside. For most of the time that I knew her, she was mentally sharp. During our visits I often brought along one of my children, and her smile lit up the room when I did. “Hello little boy!” she called out when we arrived. She let them feed Ginger the cat whenever they asked. We sat together, prayed together and chatted about the weather and our families. Some days, she was tired or sick. There were also times when she was sad.

My favourite conversations were about what she had learned as a mother over the years. “Children always want to know that you are there, even if they think they don’t, and even when they say they don’t,” she told me one day.

She lived through the Second World War and told me what it was like growing up in Winnipeg during that time. Natalie had never used the Internet or e-mailed anyone in her life, nor did she watch reality TV and she never cared about the latest must-have anything. “I don’t need much!” she told me often, and also, “I try to be grateful for what I have” – this from a woman whose worldly possessions fit into a small closet and cabinet in the room.

Her days were peaceful and simple, but I’m sure they were lonely and agonizing too. I would marvel at how different we were, yet the same in many ways. We had similar spiritual perspectives, worked in healthcare, and were mothers of three boys. Our visits were never silent, were sometimes cheerful and sometimes tearful. But I looked forward to seeing her.

A force greater than the both of us brought us together. Natalie was my friend. It’s been a few years since she died but I think of what she told me and how helpful her words can be to everyone during this pandemic. In a nutshell, her wisdom is: Keep it simple. Cherish family. Sadness and joy are part of life. Be thankful.

There is a lot going on in our world right now. The pandemic has had an impact on health, employment, the economy, politics, social interactions, schooling, and many other ways. There are also tensions between people, within and between countries. It is natural to feel helpless and experience strong emotions such as sadness, anxiety and anger.

Some more reflections on my conversations with Nettie:

  • Keep those who are suffering, grieving, alone, lost, and ill in your thoughts and prayers. Mourn and identify with the situation of another. Contrary to what some might say, wishing good for another is not passive or pointless. It is a powerful intention that leads to more good deeds, humbles us and leads us to more appreciation of what we have. Sooner or later, each and every single one of us will be in need of compassion and assistance from another.
  • Be careful of prejudice, hatred and the spread of irrational fear. Those who discriminate and judge never have truthful facts to support their message. Fear is used to keep people apart, and prevents us from truly seeing each other. There are a lot of messages of intolerance circulating right now. Every time we refuse to spread messages of hate and educate others, instead, we contribute to peace. If you look for the good in others, you will find it.
  • Connect with others. Now is an opportune time to send a card or e-mail, call, or video chat with a loved one, especially if you haven’t spoken in a while.
  • Pay it forward. If you have been the beneficiary of someone’s act of good will, take your turn and be kind. This will renew people’s faith that humans are good and generous. Acts of good will can be done easily by donating to the poor and needy,

One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from my friendship with Natalie is that humans are resilient, and this gives me hope during these uncertain times. She showed me that people are more alike than different. Everyone wants to belong. Everyone feels pain. Everyone falls in love. Everyone experiences delight.

Realizing and remembering this truth will get us through this crisis. It will be difficult at times, but humans have proven time and time again that healing and growth come out of suffering.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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