Spiritual Care and Mental Health Scholarship 2021 Reflections – by Hannah Friebel

Hannah Friebel completed a Graduate Diploma in Pastoral Care through Stirling College with a Clinical Pastoral Education placement at Royal Melbourne Hospital in the mental health setting. She was a recipient of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and Stirling College Spiritual Care and Mental Health Scholarship for 2021. 

2021 was the year that I undertook training as a University of Divinity Spiritual Care and Mental Health Scholarship recipient. My what a year it was…. The year people hoped the pandemic would simply just – go away – but yet, it stayed. We (Melbourne) became the most locked down city in the world, and for many, an existential crisis emerged.

I submitted a progress report half way through 2021 pertaining to my experience thus far in the Spiritual Care and Mental Health Scholarship program. Enthusiastically, I listed many accomplishments and possibilities, including finishing my unit of CPE with placement at Royal Melbourne Hospital (Mental Health Inpatient Unit), and completing my Graduate Diploma of Pastoral Care with Distinction. I was looking onwards and upwards towards a possible PhD, and I had also started a new job with Monash Health working as a Consumer Consultant. The first half of 2021 was jam packed with ‘accomplishments’. The second half of the year would look much different, as we were met with grief and joy and pain and a call to a space of: ‘turning inwards’.

In the second half of the year, I spent much time with my (now) husband’s family, whose father was passing away from brain cancer. Every day I practiced pastoral care – with his father, with family and with friends. My new ‘placement’ became my own family relations. During this time I also learned the importance of self-care.

The days were slow; enduring lockdowns where we were not sure if our care visits would cause us trouble, or if they were entirely legal. Would we spread COVID? My nervous system was dysregulated, and spiritually I was dry. Not in an acute mental health crisis; but I felt in a chronic state of depletion.

On the night of my 25th birthday I stared death in the face. The veil between heaven and earth wore thin. I held my husband and together we cried, but quietly, with brave faces and white knuckles. We slept beside Tony that night as his breathing became heavier and heavier. He passed away the next morning.

He was only 55.

It wasn’t fair.

This was a time where I supported both my husband, mother in law and grandmother’s grief. But we didn’t stay for too long….

Grief is confronting and ugly and messy. Unpredictable.

Yet, it can be so holy.

Realising the value of community and connection….

Grief is a natural and necessary part of life, co-existing with joy; a new model of recovery.

Recovery being that we might grow around our grief.

It is this very revelation that I wish to be able to impart more into the mental health sector; a core value that Spiritual Care offers, as we endure these trying times.

The idea that grief is holy, and that it should be embraced in our lives in support of our collective recovery – from COVID, from loss, from mental distress, illness and beyond.

Grief is not something that should be shied away from – in the same way that other experiences of mental distress/ill-health should not be shamed from the public sphere.

My learnings from the first and second halves of the year coincide with this belief: as our capacity to hold grief enlarges – depleting the stigma that it surrounds – I believe that we will become better equipped to support those encountering mental ill-health and distress. The two go hand in hand.

I pray that the God who holds those in deepest despair will also enlarge our capacity to hold one another in a new way – tenderly, mutually and patiently.

Hannah now works as a Project Lead and Consumer Consultant at Monash Health, along with a private practice in Recovery Coaching and Supervision. More info can be found at www.hannahgabriellefriebel.com

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