Written by Panorama resident, Deb Ross. June 2016
In a previous blog, I learned about dealing with transitions: the decision to move to Panorama, then on to the Quinault or Assisted Living when that’s appropriate. Recently I’ve been pondering another kind of transition: how do we respond to the loss of our neighbors and friends through death or dementia? As a baby boomer living in an “advanced” society, I’ve been sheltered from regularly experiencing the death of friends and neighbors. And I have found few on-line resources that address the question.
I started thinking about this topic a while ago, when my close friend moved out of her retirement community because she could not handle becoming friends with someone, only to have them “die on her.” Another person was reported to have said, “Why bother making friends here? We’re only going to lose them.” I decided to interview some folks who see loss on a regular basis. Two are hospice volunteers and the third is a pastor. They all agreed that each person deals with the loss of a friend in a different way: there’s no “right” way or magic wand. Suggestions included attending the person’s memorial service, writing a letter to them (perhaps when they are facing the end) telling them what they mean to you and how they will be remembered. My pastor emphasized that it’s OK to grieve for the loss of a friend: only by allowing yourself to grieve can you move on and be able to continue to love.
Today, I heard a radio interview with Sebastian Junger, who has written a book called Tribe. Junger notes that in the past, we all belonged to small groups, or tribes, who relied on each other for food, warmth, shelter, and protection. As our society became more isolated, we lost that sense of tribe. But remnants exist, including military service, summer camp, and communal response to disasters. In these situations, our need to support one another makes us feel more fully human and alive (Junger noted that after 9/11, suicide rates went down in New York City).
It occurred to me that we here at Panorama are, or can choose to be, a kind of tribe as well. Through the Benevolent Fund and the Foundation, we support each other financially and physically. The intimate size of our districts allow us to get to know each other and make sure we are looked after – a notable example is the Map Your Neighborhood program.
As voluntary members of the Panorama tribe, we can grieve the loss of one of us, knowing that we fully embraced and appreciated their contributions while they were alive. Thus grief, which can be experienced as isolating, instead becomes a shared experience. We often refer to this as “community.” I think the term tribe, though, adds that sense of inter-reliance that allows us to support each other while recognizing the gifts we all bring and will continue to contribute as our legacy survives.