Supporting Those Who Support

“The sad irony is that so many people are too preoccupied with worries to spare time for that which could help them better bear their worries…” –Paul Brunton

On Saturday March 3, a hardy group of Sudbury caregivers, palliative care workers, and pastoral care visitors struggled through 37cm of snow to participate in Rev. Dr. Anne Simmonds’ workshop “Supporting Those Who Support.” Dr. Simmonds is adjunct faculty at Emmanuel College, a gifted retreat and workshop facilitator, spiritual director and pastoral counselor specialized in practices for balance and healing of body mind and spirit. A former nurse and hospital chaplain, she was Minister of Pastoral Care at Rosedale United Church in Toronto.

When Simmonds first asked what people wanted to get from the day, most people agreed that care for the self is prerequisite to caring for others, for without proper self care we are rarely present. Participants admitted to engaging in some behaviours (watching TV) that are probably just “pretend” versions of self care.

Noting that devoted caregivers are prevented from taking the time to care for themselves, sometimes because they need to please, or need to be perfectionists, Simmonds recommended The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. It was only one of several useful resources suggested during the workshop, and the book table from the UCRD (United Church book store) saw some very lively sales during the day. Living the Resilient Life (R. Wicks) and The Choice: Finding Life in the Face of Adversity (J.Hatanaka) disappeared quickly from the table.

Simmonds presented research on self care as it applies to professionals, volunteers, and family members supporting people in major life transitions. These research findings were alternated with paired exercises in deep listening and whole group exercises like chakra tai chi that address energy and the mind-body-spirit connection. Questioned about Christians incorporating other spiritualities, Simmonds replied, “I believe that if you come with healing intent, you will not do harm.”

During exercises in deep listening, some of us were challenged to sit for five straight minutes without any verbal response to the speaker. Simmonds shared research that most people with chronic illness have something that they have never told a soul; part of self care is letting that go. As she led individual journaling as prayer practice, Simmonds cited research confirming the actual physical boost in T-lymphocytes after only days of journaling both the feelings and details of a person’s key experience. We were presented with some specific ways to avoid unhelpful “comforting clichés”: “Say more about that.” She talked about acceptance: what we can’t tolerate in others is generally what we can’t tolerate in ourselves. A good caregiver must learn to feel comfortable when powerless.

One part of the workshop addressed our attitudes towards death and grief, taking us well beyond the standard well-known stages. Simmonds argued that good grief work is ongoing, that we learn from grieving each loss and that we need to avoid the distractions that take us away from deep places.

The enthusiastic reaction to Dr. Simmonds’ workshop has prompted MILC to collaborate with local professionals to plan several workshops in 2012-2013 for pastoral visitors, the first to be held Oct. 27 in Sudbury.