Category Archives: relationships

Sibling Reconciliation: A Beginning

Years ago, when I wrote SISTERS, Rosanne, a woman whose sister had died, attended a seminar I led on sisters’ relationships. After listening to the participants discuss the myriad joyous and painful sibling interactions, she commented how fortunate everyone was to have their siblings alive. She said that she could never again fight and then make up with her sister. Nor would she be able to work through the difficulties which she now realized, helped her to grow as a person. Those conflicts provided her with valuable life lessons which only her sister could teach her. She underscored the value of appreciating that when there is life there is the possibility of hope for healing and transformation within relationships.

In many families, adult siblings consider one another “persona non grata”; they just do not factor into one another’s lives. They may see one another from time to time, but their interactions are superficial, coated with a protective shield. When they talk, they “walk on eggshells” avoiding potentially explosive topics. There is little if any depth or true sharing. Some siblings hold onto pain and hurt for years, refusing to consider either forgiveness or reconciliation. Their brother or sister may or may not be aware of the reason for the schism.  Sometimes, the difficulties stem from personality differences, lifestyle choices, parental or in-law influences, or behavior that is perceived to be intolerable. Whatever the reason, siblings avoid and fall out of each others lives.

Rosanne’s commentary can be seen as a cautionary tale and for many, that day, it was. It is often a serious life event that is the catalyst for siblings to attempt to reconnect after months or years of separation. (the opposite is also true. It can be a serious life event that triggers a cut.)

Over the years, I have sat with adult siblings who decide that they want to reconnect with one another but do not know how to begin. Often they just don’t know a language necessary to move toward reconciliation. It can be challenging to understand ourselves and our siblings in the context of our family as we attempt to create a different relationship based on reasonable expectations. Sometimes we as siblings are too focused on our past to envision a relationship different from the one we had. Most often, allowing our sibling to be who they are without the need to change them or alternatively, understanding ourselves in the context of the relationship is a good place to start.

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When Someone is Dying

Lately, I have talked with more than a few people about how they feel when they sit with someone who is dying. Although it is not easy for most of us to talk with someone whose death is near, I believe it is invaluable to interact with a person who is dying in a way that helps to maintain their dignity while offering them comfort. When we communicate in a way that shows we care and value the person, we send the message that their life was, is, and will always be  important to us. This reinforces the most basic caring and human connection.

So, if you are in the position of visiting someone who is dying, try be “present.” I believe as a visitor, our purpose is to be comforting, concerned, calming, empathetic.  Be there as a listener if the person wants to talk. If you are not sure — they may be tired or not in the mood to talk — simply ask, “Do you feel like talking?”  As death gets nearer, our value as a visitor is to be present, providing comfort, and reassuring our loved one with soothing words and actions that help maintain their comfort and dignity.

Simple things can make a big difference. Try to sit so you can be at the person’s eye level, even if their eyes are closed.  You can sit on the edge of the bed or pull up a chair.  Everyone will die.  It is just not yet your turn. When we are on the person’s physical level, we reinforce this fact non verbally.

If the person wants to talk, be as good a listener as you can. Avoid interrupting or finishing their sentences. Just attend; with sensitivity, interest, and an open heart. Respect silence. Thoughts and feelings may need time to form or maybe the person has said all that they need to say and don’t want to go further.

If the person you are with talks about something that is uncomfortable for you, silently recognize your own feelings, but don’t change the subject. Clearly, this person wants to talk about whatever it is. You can say “it is tough for me to talk about these things” but you can still convey that you are there for them. Listen with your total being.  Unless you are specifically asked for your advice, don’t offer any. You can be there for them, responding by giving verbal, physical and emotional feedback, as they think things through. Sometimes words can be helpful, at other times, we need to respect a silent interlude. Not everyone who is dying wants to talk about dying. The quality of a person’s life is very important and it’s helpful to remember that we are visiting them while they are alive!

In my experience when visiting people who are close to death, I have learned that it can be kind and truly heart opening to remember moments we had together and share stories, and experiences. I like to remind the person of how they  touched my life and to specifically share the impact they had (or have) on me; specifically, my thinking, my approach to the world, or to other people. When I am able to do this, I realize that I am validating our relationship. I am reminding them and myself that it was, is, and will continue to be meaningful and fulfilling.  Over the years I have learned that tears of joy and sorrow mix freely. Remembering times when we laughed together helps a lot. I want them to know the many ways they made a difference. Who knows? It may be my words that help someone experience closure in some way.

To me, it is essential that the person I am with feel comforted, “held” in an emotional and spiritual way, so they do not feel alone.  It also helps to tell the person that I love them, and will miss them.

Self-Care for Caregivers

It is well-recognized that patients with long-term illnesses such as terminal cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease go through phases of inevitable decline. Transition into a new phase requires the medical team to make appropriate adaptations to patient care. Through my work with caregivers serving family members with such serious illnesses, I have found that while the changing needs of the patient are anticipated and met, the concomitant change in the needs of the caregiver are often overlooked.

In some cases the family member, usually a spouse or daughter, is the primary caregiver. In other cases the family member oversees home healthcare professionals who provide direct care on a daily basis. Both situations generate significant levels of stress for the family member. To sustain her own physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual health, the family member needs to be intentional about her own self-care. Self-care programs need to be flexible and dynamic. Strategies that served the caregiver well in the initial phases of her loved one’s illness need to be reassessed and changed as the illness progresses.

Prolonged involvement in stressful environments takes a toll on a person’s physical and mental health. This is certainly the case for caregivers dealing with the inevitable decline of a loved one. Prolonged stress leads to increases in cortisol and other stress-related hormones that can depress the caregiver’s immune system making them more prone to health problems. Caregivers often live with interrupted sleep as they respond to patient’s needs during the night. Exhaustion and an ongoing sense of loss and grief can contribute to depression and a sense of hopelessness.

Far too little attention is given to the tremendous stress such caregivers live with on a daily basis. In my work I help caregivers take a close look at the state of their physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual health. What strategies are they using to help themselves sustain health in all these areas? Which strategies are working well, which are not? As the patient declines further and the stress on the caregiver increases, what adaptations are needed in self-care?

Caregivers are often very observant of the changes in their loved one’s mental, physical, and spiritual health. At the same time, they may be giving no attention to the significant changes occurring in their own health. They cannot assume that strategies that served them well early in the family member’s illness are going to be sufficient to see them through a long journey. Failure to recognize the inevitable increase of stress they are under can lead them to feel they are becoming less patient, less compassionate, and less competent. Caregivers report increased feelings of being overwhelmed and a diminishing sense of confidence in their ability to function well. Failure to address these issues puts the caregiver at greater risk of illness and reduces their ability to provide the care their loved one needs.

The specific components of a self-care plan will vary for each individual. In this brief paper, it is impossible to cover the range of issues that caregivers face. However, I want to address a few critical considerations that are relevant to nearly all caregivers.

Interdependence of Caregiver and Family Member with Illness

Although there are many reasons why caregivers fail to give sufficient attention to their own self-care, one major reason is their failure to appreciate the profound interdependence of the caregiver and the family member in declining health. One way to probe this interdependence in speaking with caregivers is to consider the caregiver as a fresh water well.

Fresh water wells penetrate deep into the earth and tap underground water reservoirs. Reservoirs are continuously fed by underground streams that are in turn fed by rainfall and snow melt. A well with a deep reservoir can provide fresh water to sustain the lives of families and whole communities for many years. Deep, well-built wells function beautifully for long periods of time. However, they cannot function in isolation. If the streams and underground resources that feed them dry up, an otherwise excellent well provides no water.

It can help a caregiver to imagine herself as a fresh water well. As long as her water–her energy, her physical, mental, and spiritual energy–is being fed by deep streams, she can provide for her loved one’s needs. However, if she runs dry, if her physical, mental, and spiritual energies are depleted, she will be unable to care for her loved one with the strength, patience, compassion, and competence that is needed. Sustaining her own health requires intentional self-care.

I use the term “self-care” to represent ways caregivers sustain their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Wise self-care does not eliminate the significant stress involved in caring for a loved one. Rather it supports the caregiver in sustaining the balance and energy to face the challenges of each day.

The deep underground streams that feed a fresh water well represent unique sources of energy that fuel a particular caregiver’s physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual health. A factor that often complicates caregivers’ willingness to engage in adequate self-care is guilt. Many caregivers report feeling conflicted about going out to eat, to movies, spending time with close friends, or participating in groups away from home because their loved one is unable to do those things. They feel guilty enjoying themselves or getting help for themselves personally when their loved is suffering. Such guilt can be debilitating and self-defeating.

If caregivers think seriously about the need for their own reservoirs to be continuously fed so they can care for their family member, they may be able to release or minimize the feeling of guilt and realize that they are serving their loved one by taking care of themselves. This is not rationalization or self-justification. It is a reality that when they are in good physical, mental/emotional, spiritual health, caregivers are in a better position to care for their loved one with patience, compassion, and competence.

It is true that there are caregivers who feel so resentful and angry about having to care for a family member that they run to engage in outside activities every moment possible. In this case, feelings of guilt may be an honest reflection of underlying conflicts that need to be addressed with a counselor or therapist. They may feel it is unfair that they should be in this situation. Expecting life to be “fair” is ill-advised. There are no families untouched by illness, reversals of fortune, great disappointments. Mental health emerges from the ability to face reality as it is, not clinging to ideas of what we wish it were or think it should be.

It is important to note that the best of caregivers sometimes wish to just run away. They feel overwhelmed and can’t imagine how they are going to continue. Such feelings along with anger, resentment, and self-pity are to be expected in the course of such trying conditions. When the feelings occur, it is important to acknowledge them, be kind to oneself, breathe deeply, and remember these are just thoughts. Excellent caregivers are human beings, not saints. Developing healthy outlets to release such negative thoughts and feelings is important. Beating oneself up for having such thoughts is self-defeating and does nothing to help the patient.

Recognizing the interdependence of the patient and caregiver can help caregivers accept the need to assess the adequacy of their self-care on a periodic basis. The following aspects of self-care are important considerations for all caregivers. The specific forms self-care takes will vary for each individual.

Developing a Safety Net of Support

Caregiving in particularly challenging situations is a high wire act. Living at such dizzying heights requires a good safety net that provides protection and solace for the caregiver. Caregivers need to be intentional about developing, evaluating, mending, and augmenting their support safety net on a regular basis.

Nets have many nodes that keep them strong. There may be a few large nodes that are critical to the strength of the net – key people on whom one can rely. These may be professionals who provide information and/or counseling. There may be one or more family members and friends who serve as major nodes. These critical people are available, reliable, and respond in ways that serve the particular needs of the caregiver.

People who serve as critical nodes may change over time. With prolonged illness, caregivers find that some people who were supportive initially become less and less available. Caregivers need to be aware of such changes and take steps to repair and modify their nets. As the patient declines, the caregiver’s needs will change. Individuals who previously served the caregiver well may not be able to meet their changing needs. It is important to mention that the failure of close friends or family members to sustain involvement with the patient and caregiver over time is common. This can cause great pain, disappointment and anger.

Support Groups

Joining a local support group or finding one on-line may be useful for some caregivers. The internet can provide information about groups related to a particular illness.

A well-functioning support group offers participants:

  • an environment within which to share feelings, fears, and frustrations with others who are facing similar challenges
  • opportunities to learn strategies from one another to address specific problems relating to both the patient and their own self-care
  • a way to overcome the feeling of isolation many caregivers experience
  • knowledge about resources available to help patients and caregivers
  • an increased sense of strength and self-confidence when they are able to offer helpful information and advice to others. They may find they are coping more effectively than they thought.
  • encouragement and empathy from people who understand what they face each day.

Monitoring Physical Health   

The demands of caregiving can make it difficult to pay attention to one’s own physical health. Developing an intentional plan for attending to one’s diet and exercise is critical.

If is helpful to have food in the house for easy, nutritional meals. Many caregivers report that they don’t take time to eat well. They snack during the day rather than sitting down and eating a good meal. When we are tired and under stress our bodies often crave foods that do not serve our long-term physical health. Keeping high quality, nutritional food available in the refrigerator or freezer can make it easier to maintain a diet that promotes physical health.

Caregivers report the need to feed the patient at mealtime can make mealtime difficult and unpleasant. Some find eating at the table alone upsetting. These factors may also contribute to a caregiver eating poorly. While certainly understandable, it is important for caregivers to find workable ways to eat healthy food on a consistent basis.

It can be enjoyable and relaxing to have a glass of wine with a meal. Caregivers report the need to monitor their drinking and use of prescription medications, however. With prolonged stress, it is easy to begin drinking too much or relying on medications in ways that undermine physical and mental health.

Physical exercise plays a key role in sustaining health. For some this may involve going out for walks regularly, going to the gym, or putting music on and dancing in the house. When we are tired it is easy to think exercising is just too much. However, most caregivers report that their energy increases with exercise once they get themselves going. Over time they develop increased stamina. For some it works best to have an exercise partner, perhaps a neighbor who likes to get out for brisk walk through the neighborhood. The key is to find something the caregiver can do easily and regularly that works well for her body.

Caregivers need to pay attention to changes in their own physical health and check with their doctor if symptoms persist that might indicate an underlying problem.

Monitoring social engagement with others

Caregiving can lead to a sense of isolation. It is important for caregivers to engage in the forms of social activities that are most nourishing to them. Spending time with good friends is an important way to replenish the deep reservoirs we need to stay healthy. Many caregivers report feeling guilty if they go out with friends because their loved one can’t participate. This can lead caregivers to forego pleasurable activities that actually contribute to their ability to care for their loved one to the best of their ability. As the patient experiences steeper decline, it may be important for the caregiver to increase the amount of time she spends with good friends in order to deal with the increasing stress of caregiving.

Monitoring and adapting self-care as stress increases requires evaluating what social engagements are healthiest. With the increasing demands of caregiving, it is critical to prioritize the time one spends with others. Rather than spending time with people based on old habits, caregivers are wise to evaluate what encounters strengthen them. Some people drain our energy and leave us feeling tired and edgy. When one is under the continual stress of caregiving, it is wise to limit time spent with such people. Some caregivers feel energized engaging with large groups of people; others are energized by engaging with just one or two people at a time. Caregivers need to be self-aware and make intentional choices about the people with whom they spend time.

Recognize that talking on the phone and being connected to people can be both energizing and enervating. Many caregivers report that others want to support them, talk to them, and be there for them at a time when they are exhausted and don’t want to talk. What they really want and need is to read a book or take a bath. This leads to some delicate issues. Caregivers may need advice and support in learning how to let others know that they appreciate the concern but need to be quiet. There can be conflict and misunderstandings if adult children want to offer support with their daily morning or evening call. As grateful as the caregiver may be for their love and concern, it may be exhausting and unhelpful to the caregiver. There are no easy answers to these issues. Caregivers may need to engage the support of a wise friend, a support group, or a therapist to work through ways of handling these situations. Ideally friends and family appreciate the tremendous stress the caregiver is under and will not be defensive if the caregiver says it is not a good time to talk. Unfortunately, many people are unable or unwilling to make it easy on the caregiver to set up healthy boundaries.

Beyond the time and energy involved in conversations with close friends and family, the content of conversations can also be a source of stress. Well-meaning family members or friends may inquire frequently about patient care: has the caregiver taken the patient outside, recorded the patient’s eating habits, or arranged for a new medical test? Some callers may doubt the adequacy of the caregiver and believe different, better care is needed. Others may believe the caregiver is doing a great job. Yet they believe it would be helpful to ask questions about what kind of care is being given and report on new approaches the caregiver might consider. Whether the caller is motivated by critical feelings or intends to be helpful, the effect on the caregiver may be the same. Questions about the care being given and suggestions for new options may add more stress and contribute to feelings of frustration and exhaustion. The caregiver may need help from a friend or professional to develop ways of handling debilitating calls to reduce the toll it takes on the caregiver.

Many caregivers are engaged in multi-generational relationships. A wife whose husband has early onset Alzheimer’s Disease may also have parents, children, and even grandchildren who are also important in her life. Caregivers in these situations may need to find new ways to “be there” for these family members as the demands of patient care change. It may be necessary to establish or re-examine the boundaries and limitations within relationships that may not have been needed before.

With self-care in mind, many caregivers find simple ways that do not demand much time or energy to let others know they are thinking of them. It is important to the caregiver to express their love and interest in friends and family members whom they may rarely have a chance to see in person. The caregiver’s needs are well-served by knowing they are expressing their love to those people who are special to them while respecting their own limitations.

Social engagement need not always involve verbal interaction with others. Many caregivers report that participating in a yoga class, for example, provides a time of gentle movement and relaxation with others whom they enjoy seeing.

In addition to social engagement with people, many caregivers derive significant social support from pets. Dogs and cats often provide a critical source of love and companionship.

Monitoring Mental/Emotional Health

Developing and engaging a social safety net, attending to one’s physical health, and monitoring one’s social involvement with others contribute to one’s mental/emotional health. Prolonged stress and exhaustion affects mental function. Caregivers may find it helpful to have a specific notebook in which they keep notes about the patient’s condition, dates of appointments, changes in medication, and information about on-line resources, etc. In the past one’s memory may have been excellent and easily able to hold the changing data. When we are tired and stressed, our memories do not function as effectively. When caregivers begin to make mistakes, it adds further stress and contributes to a cycle of frustration that can contribute to depression. For some caregivers tracking information on a smart phone or tablet is the easiest way to keep and access information. For others, learning new technology to track information just adds frustration and a sense of incompetence. Caregivers need to be encouraged to use whatever means serves them best whether the technology is old-fashioned or new.

There are simple deep relaxation and meditation techniques that can be used throughout the day for brief periods of time to release the buildup of stress in the body and clear the mind. For example, one can sit in a comfortable chair, tense and release the muscles of the body a couple of times, then take ten slow, deep diaphragmatic breaths. On the inhalation, the belly should extend, allowing the oxygen deep into the lungs. Exhale slowly and fully. When we are under stress we often breathe shallowly, using only the upper part of the lungs. This puts more stress on our cardiovascular system and reduces the amount of oxygen going to the brain. Ten slow, deep breaths followed by 2 or 3 minutes of sitting quietly can help break the stress cycle that builds in the body. There are also energizing breathing techniques one can learn to give oneself a quick boost of energy.

It is wise to intentionally plan several of these breaks throughout each day. Such brief breaks add up during the day and help to replenish the caregiver’s reservoir.

If caregivers enjoy movies or watching television, it is helpful to choose shows that are funny, uplifting, encouraging, or strengthening in some way. During periods of high stress, it is not helpful to watch depressing, violent shows. Researchers have found that our brains respond to what we watch whether the story is true or imaginary. Frightening films can raise our blood pressure and lead to the production of stress hormones as if what we were watching was actually happening. A few minutes of belly laughing changes the chemistry in the body and increases energy. Taking time every day to intentionally read or watch something that makes them laugh, along with retaining their sense of humor in general, can calm the mind and feed the caregiver’s energy reservoir.

Many caregivers find it essential to check in with a trusted therapist regularly to talk through what they are feeling and experiencing. Therapists can help them understand what is happening mentally and emotionally as they care for their loved one and can guide them toward constructive ways of coping with their reality.

Spiritual Health

The spiritual dimension of life involves our deepest values, our ways of understanding the meaning and purpose of life, our view of what life is all about. Some people find their spiritual life is fed by participation in a community of faith. They derive understanding and solace from the teachings and beliefs of their faith.

Some people do not associate their spirituality with a particular religious tradition. Despite diverse spiritual perspectives, many caregivers report that their sense of life’s meaning and their deepest values are clarified in the fire of daily caregiving. They are challenged to look at themselves deeply and learn what they are capable of. When self-reflection is done honestly with a large dose of gentleness and self-compassion, caregivers find themselves becoming wiser, stronger, more resilient people, despite the trauma of their daily life.

Through daily spiritual practices such as inspirational readings, prayer, and meditation, many caregivers find the strength they need to face the day. They learn to find beauty and goodness in small things and small acts of kindness – cardinals and chickadees that visit the bird feeder daily, a neighborhood child who smiles and waves as she passes the house, a card from a dear friend. They seek to appreciate the strength the loved one has left, the unexpected song he begins to sing when the radio plays, a loving touch. So much may be gone, but there is still much for which one can be grateful, if one chooses that view. When we focus with gratitude on what we have in our life rather than on what we do not have, it feeds the reservoirs of our life in every possible way.

Approaching Self-Care as a Dynamic Process

Caregivers need to be encouraged to see their own self-care as a critical part of caring for their loved one. This requires that self-care be intentionally planned and regularly monitored. When caregivers understand self-care as a dynamic process, they will be in a better position to develop and sustain their physical, mental, and spiritual health throughout the strain of a long illness. This, in turn, will help them provide competent, compassionate care to their loved one.

Who’s Your Great Grandma?

It seems to me that more and more friends are investigating their “roots.” Genealogy used to be just a pastime (excuse the pun) and now the search for one’s ancestors is taking hold with children and adults in families all over the world.  Even news anchors are tracing and documenting their roots (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/10/10/world/gallery/roots-cnn-anchors/index.html).

Not only does this searching personalize history, it can make events that children, in particular, study, come to life.  Each of us recognize and feel connections to places and people in unimaginable ways.  When we engage in this type of search we have the opportunity to “solve mysteries” about our family which may turn out to be informative, embarrassing, awe-inspiring, or whatever.  We feel that we are part of a larger story which enhances the significance of our personal chapter.

Whether or not we do formal search, it is hugely important to share family stories with younger generations.  Although everyone’s story is different and everyone’s memory focuses on different aspects of their family story, sharing perceptions of who our forebears were helps solidify connections among generations.  It also helps names come to life.

This notion struck me when my grandson had the beginnings of a sore throat and I immediately began to prepare a warm lemon / honey tea recipe from my grandmother.  As he sipped that tea from my grandmother’s cup,  I saw a wonderful opportunity to share stories about her.  My grandmother died when I was 3 and for my entire growing up, I used her soup spoon for my soup or cereal.  With every spoonful I heard another (or the same) story about a woman I never knew but who was “THE MAMA” of the family.  I learned about how she fled Poland and came to Canada and then to the States for a visit and she and “THE PAPA” decided to stay.  I heard about this selfless woman who insisted that my mom (then pregnant with my sister) move into the tiny apartment behind my grandpa’s carpentry shop.  For nearly 3 years that my father was in the war, they lived together.  Each story helped me form a picture of her generosity, warmth, and making personal sacrifices for her family.  Although I do not remember her, I have stories upon stories (along with precious few photographs) that bring her spirit to life.  Now that I am a grandmother, I try to model myself on this loving and patient woman I never knew.  We need those stories to help us discover ourselves and decide how we live our lives in relation to those who came before us.

But what happens when we ask questions about relatives whose stories we have never heard? Stories that are not shared?  What challenges did they face?  Did they suffer?  What qualities did they have?  Were they generous?  Loving?  Hard working?  Humble?  Short-tempered?  Did they cheat?  Gamble?  Drink?  What were like with their families?  At work?  In the community?  Who were they and how are we like them?
Sometimes when we search or hear stories from relatives, we find out things that are contrary to what we believed to be true.  What do we make of discovering that the woman we believed was our aunt is not our aunt?  We find out that in fact, she is our mother!  We believe a woman to be our grandma and we discover she married our grandfather years after his first wife died. Oh, he had a “first wife?”  She surely was our grandmother (just not genetically).  It makes more sense because nobody in the family looks like her.
How do we process the challenge to the story we always knew to be true about a cousin who died of cancer?  Years later at a family gathering, somebody mentioned that he shot himself.  And then there is the mother who had an entire first family that was killed before coming to America.  She never spoke about those who were lost yet there was a profound sadness that overtook her at particular times of the year.  Or the father who had two families simultaneously, one in Chicago and one in Houston, neither of which knew about the other until the father’s untimely death.  Or the young mother who discovers she is pregnant with twins and confidently responds that there were no twins in her family until her grandmother admits that she, in fact, had a twin who died at birth.  The stories are as varied as imaginable.
The search can be one’s own magical mystery tour.  Just know, you can gear up and become Sherlock but be aware that not all family members may be eager to learn what you discover.

It’s NOT Musical Chairs

Recently I attended a wedding of the daughter of a very close friend. I was delighted at the thought of celebrating with this terrific young woman and her family.

My friend gave careful thought regarding seating. She was particularly aware about who should be next to whom, maximizing each guest’s opportunity to have a special night. She is all about connections and she attempted to put people near one another who may not have known of connections or interests they shared.

After the ceremony, before the reception, guests were mingling in a glorious garden.  I saw this as a good time to put my wrap and purse at my seat.

To my surprise, I saw a woman at the table but she was not placing anything at her seat. To the contrary.  She was reading and moving place cards so that she and her escort would sit where she wanted to sit!

I asked her what she was doing and she said ” looking for a better table.” I said they all are good tables and I think it’s a good idea to sit where our host wants us to sit.  Clearly she disagreed and switched the place cards of 4 people.

During the reception, when the bride’s mother made the rounds of the tables, my friend  looked at the people seated at the table and said “this seating is not what I planned.” I could see she was confused, but gracious hostess that she was,  smiled and said “I hope everyone has a great time.”

This evening made me think about the obligation that guests have when they are invited to enjoy a celebration with friends.

So here are my thoughts.  When invited to celebrate with friends:

Sit in your assigned seat and make the best of it.

If your host asks with whom would you like to sit, answer the question.  Otherwise be content with your seat mates because clearly your host had something in mind when they sat you at that place.

If you have a real problem with someone and you absolutely cannot bear the thought of sitting with them, quietly tell your host prior to the event and ask if there’s any way they could consider not sitting with that person.

Refrain  from switching place cards because it’s not your job. Your job is to attend the celebration and enjoy it as best you can.

Discovering Patience

It’s when things go wrong that you can really tell what you need to know about a person. As I continue to learn from the people I meet through everyday life and work … it’s easy to be married when things are going well.

The real challenge is to figure out how to remain kind and respectful and compassionate to your partner when one or both of you are experiencing tough times, even if those times are momentary.

Patience is a virtue and an important attribute which enhances every relationship. When someone “loses” their patience, the damage can take its toll.

Good times together can suddenly turn sour when you or your partner lose patience. It can be something as mundane as waiting on line at the grocery store while someone ahead of you needs to exchange an item, or waiting for a parking attendant who is taking longer than you are comfortable with to find your car. In either case someone is making a very human mistake.

Losing your temper and your cool really isn’t very cool! And to be sure, if you are near children, they are watching and learning.

What are these children learning when we fly off the handle? That yelling at others is an acceptable way to deal with our own frustration? What are they absorbing about dealing with life’s unpredictable snags when the immediate reaction we model for them is demonstrating our anger by shouting at others?

Each of us has the capacity to learn to value the humanness in every person. One way we can do this is by being mindful of the situation and choosing our patience when we are stressed. It is true that some of us have “longer fuses ” than others, but we can lengthen a shorter fuse when we have the desire to do so.

Partners can be very helpful in reminding us of the value of developing patience for ourselves as well as for others.

How we learn to grieve

Lately, what has jogged my blog are the conversations I have had with a number of people who are grieving.  New losses trigger old losses.  That’s what happens.  We don’t expect it and we wonder what the heck is going on.

In the process of uncovering layers upon layers of sadness that has been locked away, we becoming sensitive to the connection between the way we handle grief and what we learned about grief as we were growing up.

As we allow ourselves to work through and understand grief that we have held for decades, we can trying to free ourselves from a form of grieving (or not grieving) that is often patterned after our parents and the way grief was handled in our family.

I have always been interested in loss.  My own mother and father experienced significant losses when they were very young parents.  They were awfully busy with the day to day of raising two very young children and starting a business so from what I gather, there wasn’t much time or energy given over to mourning.  I am sure one of the reasons I found my way to my profession was because I learned, at a very young age, that I was pretty good at taking care of people.

And then, early in my career working with families with children who had hearing losses, I saw the powerful way previous losses stay, and how they impact us as we experience new losses. Whether and how we allow ourselves to grieve is very much tied to what we witnessed early in our lives and what we felt was allowed regarding our own processing and expression of grief.

The loss could be the death of someone close to us, a significant breakup, retirement, divorce, or a change in our financial or social status.  When we understand the myriad ways that present loss triggers the re-experiencing of previous losses, and spend time exploring the meaning of what we have gone through, we can work through our anxiety, guilt, and sadness.  We become freer to go to places that had been “emotionally off limits.”

As part of this process, I believe it is helpful to think about the messages that were attached to grief as we were growing up.  Likely what we heard and saw and felt informed the way we do or don’t move through grief.  It is hard (impossible?) to grieve when the people around us are so uncomfortable with our grief.

Some of the things people say:
No child should come to a funeral.
Only the good die young.
Just move on.
You’ll find someone else.
Focus on your schoolwork.
Now you are on your own.
It’s for the best.
We know he took his own life but we’ll say he died of cancer.
Don’t ever tell anyone what really happened.
You are a big boy; I don’t want to see you cry.
You have mourned long enough.
Stop talking about her so much. You are stuck.
He is with God, in a much better place.
Don’t celebrate her birthday. She’s dead.

Perhaps your mom lost her mother when she was a child.  As a result she became responsible for the younger siblings.  It may be that her “not thinking about mama” may have been what got her through.  But at what cost?  How did that determine the way she dealt with loss throughout her life?  And what did she teach you about sitting with grief, forging ahead, not looking back, and so on?

Maybe your dad was a widower who removed the photographs of his deceased wife because it is too tough for him to see her image.  You and your siblings got the message that even talking about your mom upset him.  And, so you don’t.

If after your parents’ divorce, one of your parents remarried and helped to raise you and your sisters, I am certain it wasn’t long before you and your siblings picked up what is appropriate and inappropriate regarding what you did with your feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, and abandonment.

Think of the messages you heard as a child and try to have compassion for the people who delivered those messages.  Given their experience, culture, or any number of factors, they were doing the best they could.  Now it is your turn to, if necessary, revisit the losses that you could not approach at the time.  You can understand the reasons as you allow yourself to experience the grief and “sit with it and then walk through it” without judgement, and with an open heart for your grieving self…no matter how long ago you experienced the loss.

What we need to do when someone shares their loss with us is to be with them.  Even when we do not feel comfortable doing so, that is our role and purpose.  As tough as it is, our role is to be with people where they are.