The Problem With Secrecy…

Secrecy is a vacuum and nothing fills a vacuum like paranoid speculation. Max Brooks, author

One of the tragedies of mother loss is when family members are discouraged from speaking about the details of the person’s death or sharing memories about the loved one. After talking with motherless daughters who grew up in environments ruled by secrecy, I learned that the secrecy itself was as much of a problem as the actual death of their mother.

Healthy families have open discussions about the death of a loved one and frequently share their memories.

Affirmation: I am open and honest about the death of a loved one.

Coaching questions: How have family secrets kept you from becoming your best self? What will you do about it? What difference will it make? Be specific.

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Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

How To Negate Negativity

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for a newer and richer experience. Eleanor Roosevelt

Did you know that your brain is built to be more sensitive to unpleasant news than it is to pleasant? You’ll probably remember the rebuke longer than you’ll remember the praise. Sometimes, the sadness of death will impact a person more than the feelings of joy and warmth they received from their loved one.

This bias for negativity generally causes us to worry more than necessary, fear the worst, and focus on bad narratives for too long. When we allow this to happen, we rob ourselves of experiencing the joys around us.

Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author, writes, “All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.”

Affirmation: I feel the joy.

Coaching questions/requests: Are you experiencing an abundance of anxiety, stress, or worry? What about sadness, bitterness, regret? This week, take time to be aware of your negativity. As you do so, refocus your thoughts by meditating, having an attitude of gratitude, establishing a “worry time” or writing down your negative thoughts to get them out of your head. Some negativity will hang around for a while and that’s ok. What counts is your continued effort to redirect and reprogram. You will see the effects of it over time, just stick with it.

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Photo by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash

Mourning an Old Friend

True friends are the ones who never leave your heart, even if they leave your life for a while. Even after years apart, you pick up with them right where you left off, and even if they die they’re never dead in your heart. Unknown

Last week a dear friend of mine died. She was young, in her early 70’s (I consider anyone who is younger than me young). She had been ill for a long time so perhaps she was ready to “move on.” As friends, we shared experiences of guilt and redemption, laughter and tears. We had a honest, down-to-earth relationship. When we regularly met for lunch during our working-girl years, we always ordered the same thing. We didn’t want to waste our talk-time on looking at the menu. 

As I grieve her death, I’m reminding myself what I’ve written in my book and counseled others. I’m making an effort to focus on Ginger rather than myself. I’m remembering what she meant to me and others who loved her. I’m celebrating her freedom from pain and illness. I’m sad but grateful. Loved you, Ginger!

Affirmation: I celebrate life and friendship.

Coaching questions: How do you grieve the loss of a friend? What helps you honor your sadness while embracing gratitude? 

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Photo by Joseph Pearson on Unsplash

Celebrating Those We Have Lost

When we die, we will turn into songs, and we will hear each other and remember. Rob Sheffield, American journalist

One way I celebrate my Nebraska roots and my dad’s life is by watching University of Nebraska football. In case you don’t know, Nebraska fans are the twelfth man on the field and the loudest, most passionate, best informed fans in college football. When the stadium in Lincoln is filled, as it has been since 1962, it becomes the third largest city in the state. Water pressures drop during half time.

Sometimes maintaining traditions, whether that means making a certain recipe, growing a particular flower, or watching a special sports team, is the best way to celebrate those we have lost. It’s game day. Go Big Red!!

Affirmation: I celebrate.

Coaching question: What tradition do you celebrate in memory of a loved one who has died?

Look For The Helpers

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ Mister Rogers

Mister Rogers’s mother knew that if her son recognized the helpers he would feel calmer about the tragedy, knowing that someone was there to take control and put order to the chaos. Who has helped you in times of tragedy or need? Perhaps it was a teacher or a pastor, a grandmother or a neighbor, a friend or sibling.

As I talk with daughters who have lost their mothers to death, abandonment or Alzheimer’s, the trajectory of their grief recovery is often changed by the helpers who show up. The support and love of older brothers or sisters, grandmothers, neighbors, friends in support groups, hospice workers, or dads, calm the chaos of the moment and become the helpers in their lives.

Affirmation: I’ve been blessed with having helpers in my life.

Coaching questions: Who have been the helpers in your life? How have they made a difference? How have you shown up as a helper in the life of another? What difference did you make?

IMG_2071.jpgEven the famous Julia Child needed helpers…lots of helpers!

Birthdays

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? Satchel Paige, legendary baseball pitcher

On July 11th, 1945, less than two months before the end of WWII, in a small, questionably clean hospital delivery room in Ardmore, Oklahoma, I was born. The doctor was out fishing at the time, but managed to appear shortly before my 10:10 am birth. My dad was a Captain in the US Air Force and had asked his commander to postpone his immediate transfer to McDill Air Force Base in Florida in order to be nearby for at least the first several days after by birth. 

My parents, Leon and Winnie, had enjoyed some years of alone-couple-time prior to my arrival so the timing was right but who would have guessed that a little less than nine years later, our family would have shrunk to just my dad and me with a 34-year-old wife and mother dead before her time. No one knows what life will bring. I learned very early that death is real and our time on this earth can be cut short at any minute. That knowledge has caused me to strive to live life to the fullest and appreciate every moment.

Affirmation: I am joyfully and fully alive.

Coaching questions: What have you learned from the traumas of your life? What difference has that understanding made?

Ending Well

While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die. Leonardo da Vinci, Italian polymath (a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning)

Yesterday I interviewed Jean, a daughter who lost her mother to Alzheimer’s and her step-father to vascular dementia just five days later. He didn’t know his wife had died…in fact he was in a different care facility miles away (she in memory care, he in skilled care). Just before slipping into a final coma, her mother said, “Thank you for everything.” Jean, a CNA, had been her caregiver so her mother would not have to make another move.

I’ve been told several similar stories. Vicki, whose mother had not said a word for two years suddenly looked her daughter in the eye and said, “I love you, Vicki”. These final gifts are precious and give daughters something to cherish as they grieve their loss and beyond.

Affirmation: I accept endings.

Coaching requests and questions: If you have an ending story, recall it now and take comfort in the message. What have you learned about death during your life? How is this informing how you live?

The Joys of Family

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. George Burns, American comedian (1896-1996)

One thing about living at least a thousand miles from my extended family is I really appreciate seeing them. In less than two weeks we have enjoyed many kids, grands and great grands including most of two whole groups at a family wedding. Last night I had dinner followed by a tea party and outing to the park with three grands…this morning, breakfast before church with my son and his family including two little blonde girls. Bliss!

The most heart wrenching event in my life was divorce…yes, even worse than individual death because it was the death of a family. However, 27 years later we are all still intact, just in a different unit. Life is forever changing….sometimes by choice, often by chance. Learning how to be resilient is the key.

Affirmation: I can weather the storms of life.

Coaching questions: What does family mean to you? How do they make a difference in your life? What tools do you have to weather the storms?

Harmful Secrets

Hiding, secrets, and not being able to be yourself is one of the worst things ever for a person. It gives you low self-esteem. You never get to reach that peak in your life. You should always be able to be yourself and be proud of yourself. Grace Jones, singer songwriter, supermodel, record producer, actress

Secrecy is very common in families where there has been a tragedy. The C-word is never mentioned, death is not discussed, the unspoken agreement is “don’t ask, don’t tell” where everyone is expected to act as if nothing happened. After talking with motherless daughters who grew up in this environment, I’ve come to believe that the secrecy was as much of a problem as the actual death of their mother. Silence increased their feelings of shame, especially if their mother died when they were young and they didn’t have an opportunity to process their experience by openly acknowledging their mother’s existence and their profound loss.

Families that have open discussions, answering any and all questions, who talk about the deceased mother and her cause of death, create a healthy environment for the motherless daughter where she can flourish and feel worthy rather than less-than.

Affirmation: I create an open and honest environment for my family.

Coaching questions: How have family secrets kept you from becoming your best self? What will you do about it? What difference will it make? Be specific.