Almost An Open Book

A friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you anyway.

Children innately protect themselves from being different. Although I was a fairly confident kid, the years following my mother’s death (about ages 9-12), I would make an excuse to leave a group if the conversation turned to family. I didn’t want to say, “I don’t have a mother.” Being different felt scary. In those days, I didn’t even know anyone with divorced parents much less anyone who had a parent that was missing or dead.

Now I’m mostly an open book…but not completely. I haven’t totally bought into the truth of the quote above. I’ve learned that sharing all the skeletons in the closet isn’t necessary to maintain and expand a relationship. Some things are better left where they are.  

Affirmation: I’m, almost, an open book.

Coaching questions: Are you an open book? What’s too scary or unnecessary to reveal…even to your best friend? 

Preparing for THE Anniversary

It happened in New York, April 10th, nineteen years ago. Even my hand balks at the date. I had to push to write it down, just to keep the pen moving on the paper. It used to be a perfectly ordinary day, but now it sticks up on the calendar like a rusty nail. Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch

There is a year nearly every daughter who has lost her mother describes as “very significant.” This is the year when she becomes the age of her mother when she died.

If you have not yet reached this anniversary year when your mother died or was swept away by dementia, take care to not be blindsided by its significance. Be ready, not with a mind filled with anxiety, but with facts and the assurance that you can survive and thrive past this auspicious date or season in time.

Affirmation: I understand the significance of this anniversary.

Coaching question/request: What will help you prepare? If you’re past the age, reflect on how the anniversary was significant and what you learned. 

What I’ve Learned Lately

We should never stop learning, because life never stops teaching. Bahram Akradi, CEO of Life Time

I’ve had the opportunity to do on-line interviews lately and some interviewers have asked, “So what did you learn from writing a self-help book about mother loss?”

Here are the top ten things that come to mind:

  1. I needed to be brave enough to dig deep into my emotions and share what I found including finding a way to express the dark side of my mother loss journey. 
  2. Time doesn’t heal. It’s what you do with the time. Healing is possible when we choose responsibility, when we choose to take risks, and, finally, when we choose to release the wound, to let go of the past or the grief.
  3. Accepting the hand you’re dealt and moving forward in spite of loss is the way to freedom.
  4. To ask why is to stay in the past, to keep company with guilt and regret. 
  5. Knowing you have Alzheimer’s and having Alzheimer’s are two diseases. When a loved one has Alzheimer’s, you lose them twice. 
  6. How to create a blog and write posts for years, how to develop a web site, how to create a Powerpoint Zoom program.
  7. How to feel the fear of putting myself and my creative work “out there” and doing it anyway. 
  8. The importance of a great developmental editor.
  9. Expressing our grief through creativity is healing.
  10. Writing, publishing, promoting a book is really hard work but very rewarding. 

Affirmation: I want to learn something new everyday.

Coaching questions: What have you learned lately? What difference did it make in your life? 

Do You Need a Realignment?

It’s important to accept the we will keep falling out of balance and will have to keep re-finding our equilibrium. But that’s good. That’s living. Diane Barth, LCS, author of I Know How You Feel

A balanced life is an ongoing process. Rick Hanson, Ph.D. explains. “We’re very dynamic. We’re never on exactly the right course; we’re adapting.” He compares the process to riding a bike. You shift your weight as you turn a corner, or you make adjustments to avoid an obstacle. 

If your goal is to live a perfectly balanced life, you’ll be disappointed. Although balance gives us a sense of stability and security, it’s something we have to constantly redefine and refine. Pay attention to signs like anxiety, depression, irritability, dissatisfaction and unhappiness. All can be signs of a life in need of realignment. 

Affirmation: I strive everyday to realign my life and keep it in balance.

Coaching questions: What is your clue that your life is listing to one side or the other—it’s out of balance? What helps you regain your equilibrium? 

Photo by Scott Evans on Unsplash 

The Significance of Last Words

‘Roni, don’t ever forget that I love you.’ Because of these beautiful last words, I never felt angry at her for dying. Instead, I was strengthened, knowing that I had something to hang on to for the rest of my life. Veronica (Roni) Buckley, quoted in Mom’s Gone, Now What? 

If you’ve received the gift of last words from a dying loved one, you understand the power they have had in Buckley’s life. My mother’s last words were life-changing for me as well. 

Jerome Bruner, psychologist wrote, “The eagerness to tell one’s story signals a desire to live.” As we share precious last words as part of our mother loss story, we affirm, not only our desire to live, but to thrive.

Affirmation: I will share my story.

Coaching questions: Did you have a last words moment? What has it meant in your life? With whom can you safety share this memory?

Veronica Buckley’s mother, Gladys Marie Savarese

Are Your Groups/Teams Practicing Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is the belief that you can speak up, take risks, and put forward ideas, questions or challenges, without facing ridicule or retaliation. William Kahn, psychologist

I have led and created small groups for many years. I’m a believer in the power of a safe place where people can gather to learn and share ideas. When I bring a group or team together, I establish “rules” such as: Assurance of confidentiality, don’t interrupt, don’t give advice unless asked, be an active listener.

Only recently did I come across the above quote about psychological safety which puts in more technical terms what I’ve instinctively considered important. This is how the concept applies to groups: “In psychologically safe teams/groups, team members express mutual respect, trust and interest in each other as people. Team members do not attack each others’ knowledge, competence, motivation, personality or character. Opinions and arguments are decoupled from the personality of the person expressing them.” 

In our family, work, social, and faith groups, I challenge us all to act with these measures in mind. 

Affirmation: I practice psychological safety.

Coaching questions: What has your group/team experience been like over the years? How will you practice psychological safety in the future? How will you help others do the same?

Photo by adrianna geo on Unsplash 

Lines, Lines, and More Lines

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Today, more than 2.62 million people have died from COVID.

For me, the symbol for the pandemic is lines. 

Lines for testing

Lines for food

Lines for the unemployed

Lines for vaccine reservations

Lines for shots

Sadly, there are also lines of tears streaming down the cheeks of those who lost loved ones, who are missing family, who are lonely.

My hope is that there will soon be lines in front of theaters, sporting events, museums. I hope to see tears of joy lining the faces of many as they reunite with loved ones and resume the normalcy of their lives. 

Affirmation: This pandemic taught me patience and empathy for those who have lost so much.

Coaching questions: What symbol will you use for the pandemic? What has this year meant to you and yours?

Photo by Keenan Constance on Unsplash 

Show Yourself Some Compassion

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

Often we speak of compassion as something we have for others—as in the quote by the Dalai Lama. I agree. We were meant to live in love and community. 

I also believe that compassion needs to be about the grace we extend to ourselves. When we treat ourselves with the same compassion we show to others, we can be more resilient and more capable of loving. Some days, we may fall short of the expectations we have for ourselves but that’s okay, we too are flawed human beings in need of love and compassion.  

Affirmation: I have compassion for myself and others.

Coaching questions: How do you treat yourself when you fall short of your expectations? What does the voice inside your head say to you? What will you do to modify that voice to speak more compassionately?

Photo by jurien huggins on Unsplash

Tame Your Monkey Mind

The thoughts swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit, and howl. Elizabeth Gilbert, author

I’m sick of cooking dinner. My daughter hasn’t called me lately—I wonder if she’s mad. What’s that beeping noise? I wish I hadn’t posted that last remark. 

For centuries, Buddhist scholars have called this type of worthless mind-chatter “monkey mind.” If you’re having this experience, here are a few suggestions from signs posted on the monkey cage at the zoo:

Watch but don’t stare. 

Don’t fixate on one thought but let it flow through and out of your mind. This is how meditation works.

Don’t take pictures. 

Holding on to negative thoughts gives them power. Endlessly focusing on a thought is called ruminating, a set up for a negative mood or worse.  

Don’t feed the monkeys. 

What we pay attention to grows. Feeding the darker side of monkey mind leads to more. Stop paying attention to these thoughts and they will diminish.

Affirmation: I can tame my monkey mind.

Coaching question: What will you do to tame your monkey mind?

Weathering Life’s Storms

March roars in like a lion
So fierce, The wind so cold,
It seems to pierce.

The month rolls on
And Spring draws near, And March goes out
Like a lamb so dear. 
Poem by Lorie Hill 

The New York City Public Library has two lions flanking the grand stairs. Their names are Patience and Fortitude. They were given their monikers during the Great Depression by the mayor of the city, Fiorello La Guardia, who believed these two qualities were essential to overcome challenging times. Nearly 100 years later we still need reminding that patience and fortitude will get us through difficult times. 

March may or may not come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. However, no matter what’s happening outdoors or inside our heads, we need these qualities to weather the storms of our lives. 

Affirmation: I have patience and fortitude.

Coaching questions: What storms are you weathering through right now? If March is coming in like a lion for you, what can you do to help it go out like a lamb? 

Photo by Francesco De Tommaso on Unsplash