It’s Not About You

I recently had a call from a client about a friend of hers who is struggling with a serious chronic illness, and she didn’t know what to say or how to be with her.
Have you ever felt like my client?
If so, just remember IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU and your comfort level. It’s about the friend who is struggling and his/her comfort level, and she needs you.

Here are a few tips:

– Listen to her. You don’t need to comfort her with words. The comfort comes from your listening, not what you say or don’t say.
– Don’t try to fix her or tell her you understand, because you don’t.
– Don’t always just offer to do things. Show up instead. Call to say I’m coming by to get you for lunch. I’m coming by to clean your house. I’m coming by with a milkshake. I’m coming by to give you a hug. If she doesn’t feel like it, that’s fine, because at least she will know that you tried. Try again in a day or two.
– Send cards. Send emails. Send Facebook messages. Make her a video. Use the telephone and call her! Try Facetime or Skype. Let her hear your voice and see your face.

– Don’t be afraid of canes, walkers, wheelchairs, i.v. lines, oxygen tanks, bandages, etc. They won’t bite. Let your friend who uses them tell you about them and how to manage them. Most of the equipment will fit in your car.
– Take her for a ride. Go to the park, go to your backyard, go to a drive-thru and just sit in the car and have coffee.

Whatever you do, don’t avoid her. The goal is just to be there. Hold space with her. Hold time. Hold her pain. Hold her frustration. Hold her tears. Hold her grief. Hold her friendship​. Hold her love.

Be you. Be love. BE THERE!

Thoughts on MLK Day

Monday, January 21, is a holiday, and many people in the country will have the day off. However, it’s not simply a day off, as holidays so often are approached, just as July 4 and Memorial Day aren’t simply days off. There is much more to these holidays and so often the reason for the days are overlooked.

On Monday, as we memorialize The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,  Jr., I encourage you to go online and read some of  his speeches. They are beautifully written and thought out. His brilliance and model of change through peaceful protests are incredible. He had great hope for equal rights for all people. He lived and breathed acceptance of all people. He fought with his mind and with his words – not with loud, insulting words, but with peaceful, assertive words. He believed with all his heart in basic human rights  for all people, and for that, sadly, he was killed. 

What a shame that his dream of equal rights for all has still not come to total fruition. 

If you read just one of his speeches, read his “I Have a Dream Speech” Monday. It just might inspire you to read more of them. There is much wisdom in his words.

What’s in a label, anyway?

Zoe, relaxing on my daybed, about three months before she died.

Late this afternoon, I took my almost 13 year-old Maltipoo to be put down. As she lay on the table at the vet clinic, I began thinking of all the labels she has had over the years. “Young geriatric” is a label she was given at two years old, because she was always like an old dog instead of a puppy. She’s allergic, she’s autistic, she has attachment disorder, she has anxiety, she’s a chewer (of her own paws), she possibly has Addison’s disease, she’s a cardiac patient, she’s an overeater, etc.

Labels are often a good thing. Mailing labels, for example, that identify where the postman needs to leave your mail. People labels are another thing altogether. A disease gets a label and that’s good so the doctors know what to treat, but when a person BECOMES a label to others it can be a problem. What do you see when you think of someone who has a label (i.e., black, white, Jewish, autistic, overweight, homeless, etc)? Can you drop the label and see the person?

Yet as she lay dying, I was so aware that she was no longer a label and in fact has never really BEEN any of her labels to me. She was just Zoe, a dog who struggled through life just like we all do. A dog who did her best to be a dog, to be my pet, to be with me when I was sick. True, she was indeed a strange dog, probably from a puppy mill, and she never wanted to be held. Yet I loved her for who she was, and not for any of her labels. I overlooked them for over twelve years, and accepted her as she was. How many of us do that with people? It is the greatest gift we can give to anyone, to leave labels behind and love them as the people they are. We are all going to be the same as we lay dying. Just people (or dogs) doing the best we can do while on this earth. No more labels.

Grief at the holidays

My dad always played Santa on Christmas morning. He didn’t dress up, but he loved to hand out gifts to each of us. The year he died, I had been coaching for a while, and I knew that we’d all be thinking of him on Christmas morning. I pondered ways to get through the day without everyone wondering whether or not to bring up his absence, or how to talk about his it without everyone being uncomfortable. I finally settled on a solution and bought a stuffed 3-foot Santa! On Christmas morning I took him to my mom’s house where we were gathering, and without saying a word to anyone, I put the stuffed Santa in “dad’s chair.” When everyone came to open gifts, they were tickled to see the Santa representing my dad. No one had to struggle with how to handle the subject of his absence. The Santa also sat in my dad’s chair at the Christmas dinner table.

If you or someone you love is struggling with grief this year, grief of any kind, you may think of doing something similar for your family or friends. Maybe it’s just a candle as a reminder of a lost job, a lost home, a lost friend, but I think the representation is important and may offer some relief to your friends who are wondering whether or not to bring up the painful subject.

It’s a way of taking charge of the situation before it takes charge of you.