Beyond Wellness to Wholeness

In my work I have the honor of helping families create personalized and meaningful memorial services.  Several years ago a couple who I will call Bill and Carol asked me to create a service for Carol who was terminally ill.  I’ll never forget walking into their home, having a seat on their couch and chatting with Bill as we waited for Carol to join us. Knowing Carol’s diagnosis in advance I was prepared, but unsure in what condition she would be. A few minutes later Carol slowly entered the room pulling her oxygen tank along with her. Smiling, she gently sat down in a soft chair. It was obvious the walk from the bedroom to the living room had been tiring and I wondered how long Carol would be able to participate in our conversation.  


I started asking about her childhood, how she met her husband, stories about their young family years, their grandchildren, etc. I also asked about what she wanted and didn’t want in her funeral service.  The three of us spoke for hours. And then Carol looked at me and said something I’ll carry with me, “That was fun.”

Here was a terminally ill woman planning her funeral and the conversation was fun.  Fun might not be the word most people would use to describe planning an end-of-life ritual, but when you do it by sharing your life, your adventures, your family and what matters most to you, fun fits. Carol may not have been a picture of wellness during that storytelling time, but she certainly was a picture of wholeness.

Wellness has become a regular part of our vocabulary.  It didn’t used to be. When I received my Master’s degree in Wellness in 1990, very few people understood what the word wellness meant.  Today it’s understood to mean being”healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of a deliberate effort.” As a spiritual director and celebrant, I talk with people about their wellness, but I also talk with them about their wholeness -- something that lies deep within.  Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, poet and social activist, writes, “There is in all things…a hidden wholeness.” Your wholeness is available to you whether you are well or not. Wholeness goes beyond wellness.


How do you connect to that hidden wholeness? I’ve found certain practices, skills, intentions and postures that help.  I call them my 4-3-2-1 on Hope, Healing and Wholeness.

4 Practices

  1. Centeredness – going within and connecting to that hidden wholeness with practices such as meditation, prayer, solitude in nature, etc.

  2. Creativity – thinking outside the box and finding meaningful new ideas and ways of living your life, including participating in artistic endeavors

  3. Community – sharing yourself with others and others sharing themselves with you, like the conversation with Carol and Bill

  4. Caring - compassionately taking care of yourself and others, again like the conversation with Carol and Bill, both of them taking care of themselves by talking about their reality and supporting each other by planning her funeral

3 Skills of Emotional Flow (Taken from Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair by Miriam Greenspan)

  1. Attending – learn to listen to your emotions

  2. Befriending – you have to feel it if you want to heal it

  3. Surrendering – to let it go, you have to let it flow    

2 Intentions

  1. To heal, grow and be transformed – intending to be transformed

  2. To look for light along the way – just as we only see the stars in the night, intending to find light in the darkness

1 Posture

  1. Openness – having the inner wisdom of knowing that in order to receive we can’t hold things tightly – if you squeeze your fists, your hands aren’t open to receive

Know that there are things you can do to find wholeness even when you’re not physically well.  And know that talking about what matters most to you and how you want to be remembered will move you toward that wholeness. 

This article originally appeared in The Centre County Gazette.