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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Spoiled-milk

I am learning from personal experience and exposure, that sympathy has a time limit from those who see me or share it with me. For some, it is a week, with others 30 days seemed to be the cutoff. There was a real and definite change in the effort expended or attention granted. The tone of voice changed or merely there were newer things happening under the sun, understandably, busy with other parts of the lives that moved on.

The act of writing and sending sympathy cards and flowers stops shortly after the funeral, but the empathy and feelings of condolence, hopefully, last much longer. When it is someone who is an acquaintance, we will not know the date of the passing or the months of illness prior, but we can relate to the loss of a loved one.

This is a club that we would rather not belong to, a knowledge where we would prefer to be ignorant. There is a weary look to those who still mourn regardless of the time passed. Perhaps because our extra energy goes to hold back the outpouring of sadness, and emotion, like the Dutch Boy with his finger carefully levered to hold back the flow. The cracks in the heart do not fully heal, the lump is merely covered over.

The people we care about, those in our inner circle, share happy and sad times with us. On special occasions, we recognize the moment of loss reflected in their eyes. There is a quiet acceptance that our loved one is absent, and if cognizant, and empathetic, you can see it in someone else’s facial cues and body language. Loss does not have a use-by date; it is always with us. I can finally look at photos of my grandmother without crying but it took almost seven years. Although, she passed fourteen years ago, tomorrow, she is still part of my memories and those with my children.

Sometimes the small act of empathy– a nod, acknowledgment, shy smile or a hand on an arm, are gentle signals that we understand the feeling of absence. We love those whom we have lost and we love those who carry on. We help to carry the weight while celebrating the survivors — our friends, family, and neighbors. We support them in the immediate fog of loss, but also in the long term swirl of memories in the life that is long and the feelings that are deeply personal.

Love does not expire or end. We can express empathy, as long as able, and those who need it most are grateful to accept it.

red broken heart

“How are you?”

I have been asked that question seemingly hundreds of times in the last month. Part of me wants to reply “ok, except my mother is dead.” That is alarming and disrespectful, to the one asking and especially to my mother. For that, I apologize. Consider this the full reply that time and manners, whether flip or insecure, do not allow me to say.

My reactions are not the same as everyone else around me or in the world. So, I will only speak about my feelings. If you understand them, or share them, let me know and we can be our own support group. If you don’t understand, or just like to read the posts for clues about my nature, this is simply a shard.

broken-glass

Only a little piece of me, sharp glass edges, gets to mourn when I am alone. There is a fragility and hypersensitivity. Each piece of music, reminder of something I bought when Mom was ill, or photographs of her, looking beautiful and happy, as she truly was, bring tears.

She was truly full of faith and belief of the good in her life, both here and to come. I do envy that ability to completely trust, to remove the burden of questions from your soul, leave the baggage behind, and simply prepare for the journey. Mom was ready to go and not afraid. She was hopefully not in pain. Rationally, I understand all the clichés and limited words we have for someone who has passed. But, emotionally, all I know is that she is not here. My Mom is gone and I still cannot fully process the enormity of it. I saw the dirt and the pine box, but Mom was too big to contain in such small measured spaces.

Each discordant sound or aggressive remark feels like a deep scratch against the shards of glass that remains. Pieces of me move through my daily life, but I cannot make them all whole right now. I do what I have to do, but I don’t have the energy to do more. I certainly don’t have the energy to pretend that I am all done grieving. The strength everyone offers is to keep going, getting up each day and fulfilling my roles at work and the outside of my life. I do that, but some days, or only some moments, better than others.

Inside, sounds burst louder, smells overpower delicate senses, sights and colors are brighter or harsher to the eyes full of tears. Like after a surgery, a piece has been cut away and the healing needs to begin because everything is raw inside.

It has been exactly 30 days. It feels like my mother has been gone so long and then I realize that it is still new, part of the new reality. I cannot call it “the new normal” as others have said, because while these feelings are normal, I hope my normal will get better and stronger. I hope that my new normal will allow me to laugh and smile and be a better person like she raised me. It is, just like Heaven, not necessarily on my timetable.

Why write this here? Because I have to express it somewhere and cannot repeat it often, or if ever. This is my legacy in words, as Mom taught us, and aspired to always.

Thank you to those who keep asking and checking in with me, your kindness really means a lot to me, more than it may seem.

If you want to comfort, then I thank you in advance. If this is too real to read, then please don’t do something that you are unable to do. If you would hold these feelings against me, or manipulate me, at this time, then I think the One true judge will have to decide how to respond to you. I have to give certain tasks to Him. This is still too much to all take in.

My mother is not lost to me. She was not misplaced or cannot find her way home. She is Home, with her loved ones, and I hope she can find us and that I am not misplaced in her affections. She knows just where she is. My mother is strong, compassionate, opinionated, and loves her children and grandchildren unconditionally. She still is; I am the one who has to work on it.

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my quirky sense of humor is not gone, it is just temporarily in hiding
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elephant

When sad and unfortunate things happen to people, others are afraid of what to say and avoid it. Many years ago, when my husband was unemployed, people avoided speaking to us. Some crossed the street so that they would not have to speak to us directly or look us in the eye. I was aware of the change in attitude and it was not a comfort that the topic was avoided. In fact, it made me feel more alone and isolated in a situation that already separated me from a life that was before…… The line that divides before and after can be very long and quite painful. There is always a before and after in any life-altering and changing event, including job loss, bankruptcy, divorce, illness, or death. People struggle through hardships and battles every day whether or not we acknowledge it.

So, I am taking it upon myself to share the intimate secrets of the big elephant in the room with you.

The first thing that you have to realize is that our misfortune is not contagious. Secondly, we know that a really lousy thing happened to us, so your avoidance of it does not change it in any way. Thirdly, a kind word, even if you feel insecure, makes such a big difference. You might not even remember the couple of words that you said, but I will remember them and it will affect my mood, my feelings and even how I feel about you.

With the loss of my mother, the way and how people spoke to me and my family meant a great deal. Regardless of the words, the intent to comfort and pure caring struck so deeply into my broken heart and fogged brain. Although thinking or speaking clearly was so hard the week after her passing, those who visited, spoke, called and listened made a huge impression on me and I still think of their heartfelt and generous words.

Somebody said to me recently that he had heard every terrible thing imaginable said about him and the cruel things that were said were inconceivable. He was a changed person; he had to live through the crisis and the effect on his family life. Yet, people felt that they had to let him know how awful he was. Do you think that he did not know the tragic errors that led to his downfall? Of course he did, but he still suffered in the intervening years. He was so grateful for the few kindnesses extended to him when everyone else turned away. It meant more to him than anyone would or could ever fully know.

When a couple separates or divorces, people pick sides. Sometimes, in the effort to console, you will be told that it was a good thing because your ex was a miserable person. But that ex is someone that you once loved deeply and believed would always be a magical part of your life. Don’t pretend that it did not happen or that it did not hurt.

I would much rather hear the truth than a phony answer because you think it would make me more comfortable. Honesty is always more healing than falsehood and support is always more welcome than betrayal. Just remember that a kind word of compassion, no matter how small but sincere, helps the healing process.

Empathy does not mean that you have to know all the right words to say or even be able to fix the situation. There are no rules or guidelines for dealing with someone else’s pain. Empathy means trying to say something anyway. Empathy cannot fix or undo the passages, but can merely help make a situation tolerable even if only for a few minutes.

The kindness you do today may be forgotten by you, but remembered by the recipient always. No act of kindness is so small that it does not make a big difference to someone else.

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What act of kindness do you remember?
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brain-mri

I love when business recognizes the value of empathy and emotional intelligence in the workplace and the value of the social sciences in all walks of life. It is so often misunderstood, that people lose their humanity in pursuit of purely analytical thinking, control, dominance and manipulating weaknesses. In fact, the concept of these black and white traits have been identified as least likely admired or identified in those characteristics desired in others.

Some of the earlier ideas about what constitutes intelligence were studied by numerous researchers and psychologists and determined that cognition was not the only factor to the variety of ways in which people are smart. Several researchers and contributors to this field are well known in bringing awareness and understanding of the multiple ways in which people learn, grow and develop.

In 1983, Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence introduced the idea of multiple intelligences. This work began to impact modalities in education and the acknowledgment that learners were not strictly visual or auditory in their capabilities. In understanding the various ways in which people are smart, as well as developing methods to appeal to those whose strengths and ability to learn are driven by as many as nine personal strengths, teachers, psychologists, managers, colleagues, and parents discovered the many ways of processing information in others and had another utensil in their toolbox of skills . Two of those competencies include interpersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people) and intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations).

Daniel Goleman began writing about Emotional Intelligence in 1995. Emotional intelligence competencies are learned abilities like the drive to achieve and emotional self-control, both of which build on underlying EI components like self-management. The four domains of emotional intelligence expand understanding through the inside and outside of one’s thinking and behavioral development. The domains are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

His work has been utilized in the personal and professional arenas. His article “What Makes a Leader” has been called one of the Harvard Business Review’s top ten “must read” articles. He wrote about three abilities that distinguish the best leaders from average: self-awareness, which both lets you know your strengths and limits, and strengthens your inner ethical radar; self-management, which lets you lead yourself effectively; and empathy, which lets you read other people accurately. You put all those together in every act of leadership.

In a recent interview, Daniel Goleman stressed the crucial importance of psychology in understanding the needs of people. His use of Emotional Intelligence in leadership studies emphasizes the human element necessary in those skills needed to drive customers or employees because it is all based on people’s emotions.

For employees, how a leader makes them feel plays a large role in their level of motivation, commitment, and even drives their brain in (or out of) the best zone for marshaling whatever cognitive abilities and skills they bring to the job. For customers and clients, how they feel about their interactions with the people in an organization determines how they feel about the company as a whole.

Developing your best self by defining your passion, or the ubiquitous follow your bliss, is at its root the use of your emotional intelligence. This is part of finding your drive, presenting your spark and gaining a following and understanding of yourself and others. The use of multiple and emotional intelligences is critical to successful relationships in a wide range of arenas including between teachers and students, as well as, parents and children.

Sales may involve widgets, tangibles, and intangibles, but ultimately, the client is also buying the person selling those items. Products are available online, in brick and mortar establishments and through more and more flash and auction sites. The difference is how the transaction makes one feel about the person selling and providing the product and service. Daniel Pink echoes these thoughts in his most recent book To Sell is Human. Daniel Pink, a best-selling author, highlights the use of social science to create attunement and buoyancy whether in sales, cajoling kids, or acknowledging how we present ourselves to each other in our daily communications and interactions.

Another new book, The Athena Doctrine, written by John Gerzema, identifies the research and results of using more “female” natural abilities, sometimes identified as soft skills in the workplace. In his testing, he asked 64,000 women and men in 13 countries to classify 125 human traits–half of the sample by gender and the other half by which are most important to leadership, success, morality, and happiness today.

They consistently picked what they considered “feminine traits” or values–such as selflessness, empathy, collaboration, flexibility, and patience–as the most important. Legitimately, behavior does not have to be seen as feminine, or unmanly, as social science and other forms of non-classical intelligence quotient prove success among all genders, locations, ages, and belief systems.

Empathy is such a critical value that it benefits the workplace and personal lives as it is fundamental to success, morality and happiness.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal wrote about the neurology and mental wellness associated with traits like empathy and social awareness. Critical brain pathways and networks are involved in our appraisals and understanding of social and emotional situations. The very delicate balance and neural connections contribute to our personal emotions, behaviors, and personality. Research studies have shown that one of the early indicators of health problems is the loss of the ability to empathize. Empathy helps us to correctly read and figure out meaningful emotional and environmental stimuli. Healthy brain function triggers messages to us to understand appropriate responses. Another social deficit in early illness is the inability to recognize insincerity and sarcasm. This becomes important in identifying social functioning in autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Dementia and other disorders and spectrums that affect the brain.

Empathy is one of the most complex social skills and behaviors as it utilizes so many executive brain functions. The ability to read people, see the interactions, discriminate between sincere and insincere comments and actions, process information, and respond appropriately within social contexts and to another’s personal needs is a multi-layered healthy brain perception and emotional process.

Extending empathy, kindness, charity, openness, honesty, clarity, and awareness of others and their needs, creates healthier people and environments. Empathy is not a weakness but rather a strength to be admired, desired, and shared.

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