survival tips for family gatherings
SURVIVAL TIPS FOR FAMILY GATHERINGS
Well, it’s official. We’re in the Holidays. And here’s another ‘How to Survive the Holidays’ blog. Go ahead – scream! Yet, maybe, this one can encourage you.
This is not about grieving through Christmas, or how to deal with all the broken relationships. No. I would rather tackle the traditions of Christmas. So go ahead and scream again.
In a non-scientific poll, I asked people what they thought about how to cope through the three sacred festivals (Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter). Here are a few comments that came up:
The last is my favorite. The designated driver, that is.
It also dawned on me that two of these holidays are supposed to be sacred, and I didn’t get one sacred comment on how to manage the holidays, such as “pray before you go”, etc.
So then, how do we cope with traditions and culture which seem to be practiced but not understood? Here are some thoughts.
HOW TO DEVELOP SUPPORT FOR CHANGE
People come in for counselling for one primary reason - to deal with an issue. This is an over simplification, yet at the base level this is the case. Healing needs to take place and that requires some sort of change. The challenge comes when there is limited or no support for that change.
THE PRINCIPLE OF THIRDS
The Principle of Thirds is a principle which helps us see where our energy is going and the steps we need to take to bring about healthy living.
Here’s how it works:
Take four cups.
Place three of them in front of you.
Now go and fill the fourth cup with water (This is represented by the cloud in the figure above.)
Now label the three cups: The middle one is you. The right one is labelled “those who help me grow”. The left one is labelled “those I give to”.
Now take the water. Pour ¾ into the cup to your left and ¼ into the right cup.
The water symbolizes all the people who come into your life. There are those who challenge you. The other group are those you give to or that you help.
Now take the cup which is labelled “those I give to” and put it in the freezer. When that cup is frozen, bring it out and place it in front of you.
Now take all four cups. The left cup is frozen, the second cup is the one that is labelled “you”, the third cup is a quarter full and is labelled “those who challenge you”. The fourth cup is very important. Turn it upside down and allow it to be a stand for the third cup.
Here is the lesson. Look at your cup. It’s empty. That symbolizes your need, i.e. you’re thirsty. Try pouring some frozen water into your cup. Notice what happens … nothing. Let that sink in. All the people you have helped and that are in need - not one of them can help you. If this continues, you will dry up completely.
Now go to the cup on the right and pour what water there is into your cup. Observe what is happening. You have some water. This means you are not going to dry up. There is hope. Change is happening. These people you have invested in are there for you.
When my wife and I lost our son, Matthew, we noticed that a lot of people were not there for us who we were certain would be. They obviously were in the frozen cup. But then there were those who we never thought would come alongside us, but to our surprise, they did. They were in the right cup.
In order for healing and change to take place, we need to put more energy and effort into the right cup. Now notice that the right cup is on a pedestal. This symbolizes the effort it takes to put into these relationships.
If you apply this Principle of Thirds, you will notice some of the people in the “frozen” cup will come and meet you halfway and there can be some good relationships resulting from that. You will also notice that you will help fewer people and begin to recognize where you can make a difference. Lastly, you will be happier as you put more energy into the third cup - those who challenge you.
Give it a try. It really does work.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
I have often spoken in front of numerous groups including churches, youth events, volunteer staff, fishing clubs, etc.
But I recently had the privilege of speaking to a group of individuals in a segment of our society that is often looked down upon. I was given ten minutes to speak and was asked to make it motivational. I was able to do that in 9 minutes and 32 seconds. I told them stories and made my key point – while having someone time me with a stopwatch.
After the event, I wondered why I was so well received by this group of individuals. I don’t think it was because I spoke for only 9 minutes or that I displayed incredible charisma and energy.
This group, however, responded differently from other groups. They listened attentively. I even received some comments during my talk that stumped me.
This was a group of ex-cons.
I believe that the warm reception they gave me was due, at least in part, to the fact that I was not there to judge them, or that I was fearful of their past or that I had the answer they needed to hear. I believe the reason they accepted me so graciously was because, rather than judge them, I accepted them. I shared some of my own painful journey with them and I was not focused on their past.
My talk was about looking ahead – versus looking back into our past – and not letting titles dictate who we are. I encouraged them by letting them know that their past does not have to predict their future.
I may never know why they responded so positively. The one thing I do know is that they taught me something. I learned from this experience. These men and women all play a vital role in our community. They work hard. They play hard. They genuinely care. They give respect and they expect respect. Even though they have spent time in jail.
Maybe we can take the time to reinforce a non-judgmental attitude by looking at people in the face, saying hi and genuinely communicating how great it is to meet them.
In times of grief or significant loss, it can be difficult to find the right words of comfort to offer the bereaved. Often, we don’t know what to say, or we say too much – sometimes putting our foot in our mouth and wishing we could take it out!
Having suffered a traumatic loss in my own life, let me share with you two personal incidents I experienced that I believe may be helpful. In both cases, the person or persons said nothing, yet their silence spoke volumes.
The first incident occurred the day before the funeral of our 10-year old son. Although our hearts were heavy with grief and shock, it was a beautiful day – sunny and warm. I took something into the garage and then just sat down on the back steps of my house. I heard someone call out from the front, `Is Peter in?’ and the response ‘He’s in the back.’ When he came around to the back, I saw that it was a colleague from another church. He sat down on the steps with me. All he said was ‘Hi.’ A few moments later, another colleague joined us and then another until there were five of us – just sitting on the steps with the warm sun comforting us. No words were spoken. We sat on those steps for thirty minutes and then they left. For the first time since the loss of our son, I felt that someone was there - helping us to carry the load. No words, no coffee, no food were needed. Just a willingness to sit with me in my grief. This moment in time is etched in my memory forever. I don’t remember a lot of words that others spoke to me during this time, but I remember these gentlemen. Their silence and just their presence spoke louder than words ever could.
The second incident occurred several months after our son’s death. One Sunday morning, my wife, Annette, and I arrived late to church. Sitting in the back row, we hoped no one would spot us. After the service was over, Annette was suddenly overcome with grief, tears streaming down her face. People were leaving the church, at a loss as to how to respond. I sat still in my seat, hoping no one would come to talk to us. An older woman, whom I had seen in the church a few times but had never been introduced to, came and sat beside Annette. She did not utter a word. She just sat and stayed until the room was empty, then got up and left. I would later enquire as to who she was but the people I asked did not know. Her act of silent compassion left an impression on me that, to this day – over twenty years later - I have not forgotten. There were no words – just her presence.
If you know someone who is going through a difficult time of pain or grief, go and sit with them. Don’t feel like you have to offer any great words of wisdom. Just sit with them. It may feel awkward at first but, from my own experience, I believe it will have a comforting and lasting impact.
So you have probably figured out our son died. He died March 12, 1994 at the age of ten. And yes I know what you are likely thinking. How did he die? I will save that subject for another day. Today I want to focus on those things which triggered the traumatic memory all over again. It could be a birthday, or an anniversary. All these events will bring back memories of a past death. It’s the unusual events that I would like to address. We learned this principle very early in our grief journey.
The funeral service was over and our daughter wanted to go home, there was support for her there, so our driver took her home. Little did we know a drama was about to unfold. Our neighbour noticed the funeral cars coming home and realized we were all making our way home, and there was quite a lot of us. It also was supper time, so she went down stairs to get some potatoes for her supper. Like all household accidents, it happened so innocently, she dropped one coming up the stairs stepped on it tripped and broke her hip. She did an amazing thing, she told her husband do not call the ambulance the Halls are coming home. He did not hear the “do not “part. Well in a small town this would become extremely dramatic. All the EMT staff and police staff who were on duty for our sons accident were on duty. I later would learn all of them were in shock as soon as the call came in. Our daughter had just gotten home and the sirens and lights were in full force, she would later say it was worse then when her brother died. She immediately started to hyperventilate, and it was all happening again. I later learned there were three nurses in the house at the time and she was fine.
We arrived shortly after that. As we were coming home it became painfully obvious this was our new life. There was always going to be things which will bring us back to that tragic day our son died. And yes, still some 20 years later things so innocently can bring us back to that day. We have learned to call them Mathew moments. They are intense, they last a short time, yet they are a part of our lives. Sometimes they are hard to identify but usually not. When it happens we embrace it and give ourselves permission to express our pain.
Grief anniversaries do happen, embrace them, let them remind you your loved one was once alive and so are you. I am going to wipe some tears away, and go live another day.
It has become amazingly clear since recent events in Winnipeg that a lot of our city has been dealing with grief. There have been multiple deaths covered by the media recently, but there have also been many that have not; one is no more important than the other. Our city has seen some unfortunate and public loss, yet there are many families who are quietly struggling with their grief.
The reality is that death affects us all. As a grief counsellor and a person who has experienced personal, traumatic loss, I would like to provide some tips on how to encourage and support someone who has recently experienced the death of a loved one.
First, let me begin with the phrases you should avoid…
Comments such as, “our prayers and thoughts are with you,” are generally not well received at this time; particularly if the person who is receiving this comment knows that you don’t pray (or think, for that matter) it will come across as superficial.
The well-meaning, but conflicting, “How are you doing?”
This may seem like an appropriate and caring way to greet someone, however a person who is grieving will think and want to respond with, “I just buried my son, how the #%@* do you think I am doing?!” Most people will refrain and chose a more polite response, but we can almost guarantee they weren’t thinking it.
And finally, “Well, you know… his spirit is with you.”
This comment is said with intent to comfort, but if you have ever lost someone, these words tend to bring a maddening frustration rather than comfort. A person overwhelmed in grief is only wishing their loved one was present in the physical, not the spiritual.
Alternatively, here are some suggestions that over the years I have learned are well received and appreciated.
Don’t talk, do.
Actions speak louder than words at any given time; in a period of grief, this is truer than ever. Ask a specific question, such as, “Can I take your funeral clothes to the drycleaner?” or, “Can I cook you dinner this Thursday?” Unfortunately, the entire world does not stop turning just because theirs did, any assistance that helps them survive through the first few weeks and months will not go unappreciated.
Talk about the weather.
It sounds cliché, but give it a try; for example, “Hi Peter, it is great to see you! It is a warm and sunny day.” It is awkward but it works. Using a person’s name in conversation is a powerful tool; it subconsciously reassures them that they are important to you. Also, for just a second, you have distracted them by talking about the weather, which is a positive and welcome break for their mind.
It is okay for you to say how much you miss the person who is now gone. How I longed for someone to say, “I miss him too.” Because that was where I was at; lost, shattered and heart wrenchingly missing him… And I needed people who were courageous enough to reach into that dark hole where I was stuck.
When we find ourselves on a grief journey it is completely overwhelming and difficult to navigate without a guide. Grief counselling can be that guide, and it is so valuable. Go for it, take that next step and call.