By Andrew McCutcheon

In telling all the stories from our half-century of existence, I’ve looked at a lot of old photos.

Colour photos and black-and-whites, candid pictures and posed portraits.

What strikes me is how similar they look to the photos we take now.

Of course, the quality might be better: it’s hard to argue with the fact we all carry around high resolution cameras attached to our phones — which are often attached to our hips.

But all of the smiles? The dancing, the celebration, the giant cheques being handed over gripped handshakes, employees and volunteers working hard and so, so, so many smiles. It looks just like us, it looks just like now.

Of course, the one glaring and tragic difference between the photos of then and the photos of now is a thought.

The thought that is impossible to ignore, try as we all might when we look back into the past.

These people — with all of their joys and tragedies, hardships and accomplishments — aren’t around anymore.

For many of these people, the colour film is all we have left.

More than anything, we want folks who visit us to be happy, healthy and fulfilled.

We can hand out bags of food to the food insecure; we help people be lifelong learners, whether it’s a new language or avoiding the latest scam. We can get folks in to dance, and to shuffle decks of cards and to play pickleball — whatever pickleball is.

Wherever there’s a need, we want to help fulfill it. Wherever there’s a problem, we want to help solve it.

But there are some problems we just can’t solve.

Those with trauma, those with anxiety, fear or stress. These aren’t problems that can be solved.

But there is no rule to say we can’t make things better.

This is why the Unison Wellness Connection Centre exists at the Kerby. We might not be able to sew sutures in the wounds of the heart and mind, but we can offer something just as necessary.

A place for people to gather, to understand and to be understood.

We have plenty of different programs, from Laughter Yoga to Meditation Monday, to Music Wellness.

But I want to talk about the grief group.

Grieving Together is a support group for those who have lost loved ones. I had a chance encounter with someone who was just leaving the group — and since I can’t help but talk to everyone I meet — we struck up a conversation.

And I was struck at the overwhelming nature of grief. Grief comes in many forms: at its core, it’s the sense of loss.

You can grieve many things: you can grieve a lost opportunity, a missed chance or connection.

But it’s the loss of loved ones that causes us the most anguish in grief.

No one can truly understand it until it happens, and it’s beyond words that would make sense printed on the page. How could I, or anyone else, truly communicate how grief can overtake you? How it can be a shadow over your life for months, seeming to disappear in the background like radio static, before it hits you like car crash.

All it took was smelling their perfume or cologne.

What could we possibly do in the face of such overwhelming darkness?

We cling together. We share in our grief and we connect. This is what happens at the Wellness Connection Centre. This is why it’s important.

“I don’t know what I would have done without the Wellness Centre and its group bereavement program. It was my lifeline last year.  And the programs continue to be a life changer for me.  We are raising each other up out of our mental anguish and black darkness of grief and hopelessness.” – C

Then what are we to do now?

Kerby Centre prides itself on being a place of community: a place people can come and meet and get to know others, making lifelong friendships and connections.

Is it worth it to make these connections, knowing how hard it might be when we might eventually lose them?

The answer, of course, is yes. Absolutely. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

I’ve made so many friends and connections in the four years I’ve been here, which is just a drop in the bucket compared to our half century of history.

I did so full well knowing that these people would likely pass on long before I do.

Some of them already have.

And yet, I refuse to give into the despair; the idea that we shouldn’t make connections just because one day we will have to grieve them. I fight against that. I think we all do.

Grief is the price we all pay, but we do so happily, because life is just a loan. Something we all have to give back at the end.

And I know that I will forever be thankful for the time of my life I spent here, with all of you.

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