In 1938, the Harvard Study of Adult Development (the Grant Study) embarked on a longitudinal study of 724 males to find out what factors are most important in long-term health. Eighty-two years later the study is still going on; some of the original study subjects are still living. What researchers found above all is that relationships with people and the quality of those relationships most strongly correlated with long-term physical health, good cognitive health in later years and a general feeling of happiness. For a closer look, I recommend this TED Talk by Robert Waldinger.
I stumbled across this study while preparing a presentation on resilience for work. I know this is probably obvious to most of you and, intellectually, it is for me as well. But as I was thinking about writing this, it became an “aha” moment for me personally. The “aha” for me had to do with my own personal spiritual journey toward what I consider openheartedness. I’ve only recently recognized it as such, that is, that openheartedness was something I wanted to feel and live. As a young person, I experienced significant loss and not the support to grieve it. Although I’ve been able to function fine and succeed, I’ve certainly carried it with me in a variety of unhelpful ways. Loss and unexpressed grief do not just go away. But over the 10-plus years I’ve been in relationship with UUCF, I believe I have been able to move from a place of protected heart and often closed heart to one much closer to feeling openhearted. I don’t even think I knew what that was until the last few years.
When I come to church on Sunday, I step into a community of familiarity, caring, connection and relationships. It’s my resilience. It’s my ballast. I refill my reserves. I love the caring about others and connecting with others. It has been my relationship with UUCF, my persevering in this relationship, that has softened my old grief, making room for me to experience more recent losses and sharing those of others. I know at places along the way, I dug in my heels and resisted. Having lost people I loved, making commitments and attachments and being vulnerable was a scary proposition. But the more time I have stayed in this relationship … in this community, I have felt my heart open up, and in the last year or two, I have been able to label it.
I’m sure there have been other factors in this journey, maybe a little therapy, my dog and certainly family and friendships, but UUCF has been my safe harbor, my community and my relationship. I’ve especially appreciated the deepening of relationships I’ve experienced in my role on the Pastoral Care Team. And I’ve been so touched by the beautiful tributes families have made for their lost loved ones in memorial services. I’ve learned how others grieve and it’s been so helpful.
Sometimes grief can take a long time, but being in relationship with an open heart, it can soften and find a voice. I am grateful for my relationship with this community.
On Sat., Feb. 15, the Pastoral Care Team is hosting a potluck for those who have lost a romantic partner – however recent or long ago – for a gentle supportive opportunity to share. Please join us at 6 p.m. in the Commons. More information is available on the website.