Thank You

I was asked yesterday - Why do you do this work? Doesn’t it make you sad? People ask these questions often, but my answer remains the same – I am so grateful for the work that I do. I am privileged to share in people’s lives, to be trusted with their stories, and to walk beside them as they find the change they seek in their lives. Yes, there are stories that are shared with me that are sad, but ultimately, I have the honor of not only watching the very same people find new meaning for their lives, but to also learn and grow from them myself. I am reminded of how precious life is everyday, to cherish my family and friends because life is very short and sometimes unfair. Every individual person is the expert of their own situation and of their own lives. I suggest possibilities for achieving what they hope to achieve, but it is the person who must choose the path best suited for them. I am thankful that this work chose me and that I enjoy helping people learn how best to help themselves. So thank you to all of the people I have had the honor of working with and to those I will work with in the future. I am appreciative for every one of you and the lessons and skills you have taught me.


ADEC Conference 2012

ADEC is the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Attendance at the conference provides me with the opportunity to stay current on death, dying, and bereavement counseling and therapy skills as well as network with the most celebrated professionals in academics and in practice related to this field. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow, and share my own professional knowledge each year at this conference. Thank you to all of the attendees and presenters for another amazing year!


Take a Time Out!

“I get so mad at him and then we both start screaming, say things we don’t mean, and never solve the problem that got us to that point in the first place.” I hear this barrier to communication regularly from people who I work with. When two people are caught up in proving that they are right, to the extent that they become heated, no one hears the other person’s perspective, nor do they effectively communicate their own point of view. So what do you do? Give yourself, and the other person, a time out – take a walk, go in separate rooms, whatever gives you both time to cool off and think before you engage with one another (although I wouldn’t recommend driving!). This amount of time will vary depending on the people involved and the intensity of the issue causing the disagreement. Have a code word when you feel a conversation is escalating beyond a manageable level and respect that code word if the other person calls it, even if you don’t agree. Then take the time apart to reflect on what specifically you want to express to the other person. Figure out what pieces of your position are fairly rigid and what pieces may be flexible. When you both have settled down and you are ready to discuss the issue, truly listen to what the other person has to say. Don’t plan what you will say next when the other person is talking. Acknowledge elements that you do agree with and wait until the other person finishes their point before making yours. Many disagreements are best solved by meeting somewhere in the middle. It is less common for one person to be completely right and the other to be totally wrong.

The practice of taking a time out works not only in conflict between two adults, but is also effective for parents when they are having a problem communicating a difference of opinion without escalating with their children. I have seen this process work with children as young as three years old all the way up to adult children who are having disagreements with their elderly parents. It is an excellent example for a child or teen to see their parent control their anger and frustration by taking the time to separate for a moment, organize their thoughts, then be able to listen to their child’s perspective of the situation and effectively communicate their own perspective. With children, the parent’s time out does not necessarily have to be a physical separation. If a parent needs a minute to avoid losing control and escalating, they can have a process that is explained the child during a non-conflictual time where the child will know that when the parent says they need a time-out, or any other phrase they choose to call it (I worked with one Mother who called this time a “Mommy Minute”), that the child will need to refrain from engaging with or speaking to the parent until the parent says they are ready to continue. The parent can then proceed to reengage with their child in a more effective style of communication.


Finding Light in the Holidays

The holiday season is thought to be a jubilant, festive time of year. But for many people who have experienced a significant loss, whether that loss is a death, loss of health, divorce, or any event that has led to feelings of grief, the holidays bring with them reminders of what was and what could have been. These two thoughts can create guilt and/or depression, the most difficult emotions to conquer in the grieving process. So how can someone make it through this time of year in a meaningful way, not just by going through the motions and yearning for it to finally be over? While the answer to this is individual, we can draw from the holidays themselves as examples of how light, both literally and metaphorically, can provide for us a way to remember, to honor, and to celebrate our lives, our past, and our future.

The holidays celebrated during December – Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa – all incorporate the use of light. The origin of Christmas lights is that the Christmas star represented G-d’s fulfillment of His promise to provide the Savior to the world. Christmas lights are meant to be a reminder of the meaning of Christmas and the spirit of joyfulness G-d bestowed upon the world. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. The Menorah (candle holder) is lit to remember and honor the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days during the rededication of the Temple during the time of the Maccabees (2nd century BCE). The light is meant to be seen from outside of people’s homes to remind everyone of the miracle of the oil that had only been meant to last one day. Kwanzaa is a seven day celebration of African American culture and unity. The Kinara (candle holder) represents the ancestral African people and the Mishumaa Saba (the seven candles that are lit) symbolize the seven principles and values that African Americans are encouraged to live by. Diwali is another significant Festival of Light (this year Diwali was in October). Also, Ramadan celebrations typically include lanterns and lights in the streets (this year Ramadan was in the summer).

The holidays incorporate light as a metaphor for a deeper meaning or tradition. The flickering flames of candles or the glow of festive lighting create a reaction in people that triggers feelings of warmth, comfort, and youthful delight. How can this carry over for someone who feels very much in the dark during this time of year? There is of course the use of light through festive lighting or candles that can help remind and honor the past in a personal sense as it is meant to do in the Holiday metaphors. Many people will light a candle to honor and remember someone or something that was lost. A favorite ornament or way of decorating the house with lights to feel closer to someone no longer home to share in the holiday is another (many parents feel significant loss after their youngest children leave the family home and maintain traditions that their children loved to feel closer to them during the holidays).

There is also an inner light, a nurturing of the soul, that can be sparked, or if already ignited, made brighter. Everyone is different, and the fire within each of us burns in a different rhythm and is fed by different things. However, there are things that most people find to be good kindling for this fire within. The first is to give to others, to find someone else that can benefit from what you have to give – whether it is sharing a good cry with a friend, bringing your leftovers from a restaurant to a homeless person on the street, or volunteering your time to a worthwhile, and pertinent, organization or movement. Sharing your time, your self, and your heart with another person can warm your spirit in ways that are immeasurable.

The second, and in my opinion the most important, is to validate and respect the emotions you are experiencing, while also making room for new and positive emotions minus the guilt or negative self talk. What does this mean? Well, it’s different for everyone, but basically this means that sadness and hurt and anger, while horrible to feel, are sometimes necessary. Feeling these emotions does not mean that you are limited from also experiencing joy and laughter. Many people find themselves avoiding situations like holiday parties where they are fearful of being happy and therefore feeling guilty for feeling happy. You can be sad for a loss and still deserve moments of happiness too.

Ultimately, it is up to you to determine what will create a light within you during the holidays, what will provide you with warmth and comfort. Find your light in the darkness and feed that light throughout the holidays and search for ways to keep that light going throughout the whole year.


Can we disagree to agree?

Is this familiar: how can we agree on anything when we are so different in our communication and coping styles? In order for communication to be effective, there must be a grey area when two people communicate in polar opposite ways. As an example, consider Bob and Mary. Bob is very reactionary. He confronts situations as they happen with a need to verbally explore his feelings and work through them with Mary during the height of conflict. Mary is more reserved. She prefers to avoid conflict at all cost, even to the point of bottling up her emotion and never truly expressing the way she felt about the situation that created conflict. Their difference in communication and style of handling conflict only further escalates the situation. So where can they meet in the middle? They must first accept that no one can change someone else. People must desire change and create change for themselves. So, Bob and Mary have to understand that they can only have control of how they react in any situation and that the other person will naturally prefer a style different from their own. Once this is clear, and they agree that they will always disagree with the way the other person prefers to handle conflict, they can choose to make concessions that would lead them toward a mutually respectful and effective middle ground for communication. This will depend upon the work both people are willing to invest and on the needs of the particular situation. For Bob and Mary, they agree to allow a period of time to lapse between the situation that has created conflict and having a discussion about their feelings, however they do commit to having this conversation after they are able to remain calm and more in control of how they will express themselves. Both gave room for the other person’s coping and communication style to be respected, however, they both also are fulfilling the needs that they have in their own method of coping and communication.

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