Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘counselor’

Opera’s Lessons

After hosting her TV show (The Oprah Winfrey Show) for 25 years, Oprah’s final show and words were as golden and true as they have been all along. If you took the words and teachings of Dr. Maya Angelou, Rev. Debra Johnson and President Barack Obama and rolled them into one, it would sound similar to Oprah.

The reason Oprah connects so well with people she meets (on her show and otherwise) and her TV audience, is because she continues to practice and live by a number of tenets that hold true for us all. These include: honesty/authenticity, acknowledgment, compassion, listening, self-worth/self-acceptance, reflection/meditation, understanding, gratitude, forgiveness and validation. All the necessary qualities for being a good counselor, good friend, parent, lover, teacher… or simply a good human being.

She talked about these lessons and insights on her last “farewell” show (love letter) and held us all close to her heart. Her new network, OWN, will be a continued extension of putting these qualities on television and looking at our inner and outer adventures and journeys, in order to learn and grow.

Oprah has, is and will continue to be a treasured and valued teacher for us all.

Feral by Deena Metzger

Feral a novel by Deena Metzger. (2011, Hand to Hand Publishing). Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A story that takes you into and out of your self is a good story. This is such a story. One of the best I’ve read in years. “The girl postulated an entire universe by her mere existence.” Is an apt description of Feral. Within seconds of the opening, it becomes apparent that one has stepped into a familiar, yet alternate landscape. There is no preamble, pretense or long description of the journey upon which you are embarking. It has an immediacy and aliveness that take hold upon first sight.

Deena Metzger’s story about the connection between a woman, who is later called Owl Woman and a girl, who is at times known as Azul, blurs distinctions between who is saving who and looks intimately at the way we define and see our selves. In one moment of clarity, the woman realizes, “She was wrapped completely in the shimmer of her own mind.” It is these illusions and myths of what is real that Ms. Metzger explores and plays with so exquisitely that readers immediately lose themselves within the story. The woman wonders, “Was there anything in her mind that belonged to her? Or was everything in her mind something she had gathered or been given by others?” The girl can sense the woman’s mind chatter and says, “It’s such a burden, all your knowing. It makes me tired.”

The author uses words, timing and nuance like none other. An example of this brilliance is seen in the following. “Feral was the word she used to explain the girl and what the girl was doing to her. Feral. It was efficient. Feral. Again. Good.” Language is a thing. It has power, meaning and weight. It appears that there is not a word in this novel that is written without mindful intention. “She recognized that she had always sought out those who would challenge her and open the door to new ways of living.” That is what this story does for readers. It challenges us to re-consider what we tell ourselves about the life we live and what living authentically demands of our attention and time.

Everything in Feral is alive and asks us to be real. It is a beautifully told story, which blurs the lines between nonfiction and fiction. The girl tells the woman, who has been trying to counsel or “help” her that, “I don’t want to know your secrets. And I certainly don’t think I can fix anything. I just want you to be real.”

Could it be that there is no distinction between species and the differences we create within our tribes of being to describe another are illusions we have constructed to give us a sense of control and righteousness? Is it possible that we are all teachers and students in symbiotic relationships with one another, such as the characters referred to as “woman” and “girl” are in Feral?

One of the themes that runs through the story like an underground river, which can be heard, but not always seen, are questions about our shared responsibility to one another and the planet. The woman realizes that the girl has experienced and is aware of a great amount of suffering and tells her that she doesn’t have to hold on to it, but the girl says, “Someone has to carry it?” Does she? Does some “one”? Does anyone have to carry “it” or do we all carry it? Could it be that carrying suffering creates more suffering? Are there times when we’ve convinced ourselves that suffering is the only way we can stay connected with the past (people and events) and use it as a means to avoid the present and take responsibility for what exists now in front of our face? Do we have the courage and animal instincts to open our eyes and not turn away from what is real or painful?

Reading Feral wakes you up. It provides a sense of being more alive, aware and connected than you were before you embarked. With the inner strength of a well-grounded counselor, writer, naturalist and human who includes all life in her being, it is told with integrity, grit and wisdom.

Our Children’s Lives and Losses

Adults can be just as scared of death as children and are often unsure what to do or say when they and/or their children are touched by death’s presence.

Children in preschool often want to know the nitty-gritty details about death. Questions such as, “Where did they go? What happens to them under the ground?” or “When will they come back?” are common.

We can answer without needing to give details and if unsure of the answer our selves say so. Replies such as, “They went to heaven,” if that is what you believe or “They went back to the earth.” will work, but be prepared to describe what going to heaven or back to the earth means, because some kids want to know. It is also perfectly reasonable to say, “I don’t know where they went; what do you think?”

I recall a girl who was seven years old when her mother died suddenly. Her father tried to comfort her by saying, “God took Mommy to heaven to be with Him and Grandpa.” The girl became terrified that her father would be taken too and said, “If God can take Mom, what about you? Who will take care of me when God takes you?” Her father tried to assure her that it wasn’t “his time” and that he would “always be there,” but only time and her father’s consistent presence began to provide any assurance.

There was a friend of my teenage son whose father died after a long illness. I heard him telling my son that some of his relatives told him, “It’s for the best. Your father was so sick.” He said his grandfather told him he had to, “Be strong for your mother.” My son’s friend didn’t understand how losing his father could “be for the best”, and he didn’t feel “strong”, he felt helpless, overwhelmed and alone. He needed his mother and other adults to be strong for him, not the other way around.

Euphemisms and cliches about death provide little comfort and can create confusion, frustration and feelings of not being heard or taken seriously.

As a parent, relative, teacher or friend of a child who’s facing death, here’s what you can do to help.

Provide honest, pertinent information appropriate to your child’s developmental age.

Though there are exceptions, children under five generally do not comprehend that death is permanent. They can, however, feel the emotional atmosphere in there surroundings and respond to the reactions of significant others. Children from age five to nine have more comprehension about the finality of death. They may see death as “real”, but not something which applies to them. Young adults, ten and older, can usually recognize the finality of death, including the probability of their own. The understanding can affect their sense of safety and security.

When asked what death means or where someone who died has gone, be true to yourself and your beliefs, but pay attention to the words you use and how they may be construed. Instead of saying “Grandpa went to sleep or is on a long trip.” I’ve heard parents say, “Grandpa died. He will not be coming back. We’ll always remember him and he’ll always love you.”

Reassure your child that their feelings are normal and provide outlets for them through physical activity, art, music, writing, daily check-ins, remembrance projects (baking, gardening, making a collage or memory book).

Find support and comfort for yourself in healthy ways – talk to someone you trust, join a grief group, get enough sleep, stay physically active, write in a journal.

Let children know you are willing to share what you know and be honest about what you don’t.

LISTEN to grieving children without trying to make it better or offering advice. They, like adults, don’t always need to be “fixed” or “rescued”. What they often want most and seldom receive, is someone who will be present to whatever they are experiencing without telling them what to do or how to be.

Notify the school and teacher of a death in the family and inform them of any concerns or changes that are or will be taking place in your child’s life as a result of the loss.

What are often referred to as “secondary losses” even though they can be just as primary as having someone die, also need to be acknowledged and addressed. Some of these can include a change in caregivers, school or living environment and having to adjust to life in a different location, living with an unknown relative and/or making new friends and leaving others.

If you feel your child is exhibiting unusual behavior for an exceptionally long period of time and/or aren’t sure what is considered “unusual”, seek help from a qualified professional, such as a therapist, counselor or hospice grief/bereavement program.

There is no magic formula for grieving and healing from loss. Do the best you can. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself and those around you. Everyone grieves in their own way and their own time . . . including the children we love.

Is There A Secret Formula?

Through my work as an educator, chaplain, social worker and bereavement counselor (and in the personal sphere), there is one issue that keeps grabbing me by the throat and will not let go. I have met people who are grappling with impending loss or transition and others trying to cope with the aftermath of homicide, suicide, accidents, domestic abuse, child abuse, rape, drug addiction and overdose, deaths from “natural causes” and countless other catastrophes or traumas. What I continue to find both amazing and hopeful, is the resilience, healing, understanding and constructive transitions that can become the product of such intense changes and assaults upon the human spirit.

Events that could and often do, crush us psychologically (and/or physically) can also be used for personal transformation and change. There are some individuals that find hope and opportunity in the midst of adversity. Many a day I recall listening to someone describe a childhood of horror and loss that would have shattered me, yet they have been able to find some meaning in their experience and a means to use their trauma instead of letting it use them. Conversely, there are individuals who appear to never recover or constructively adapt to the changes in their lives and let the traumatic event or death control their every thought, word or deed.

There are some obvious environmental or familial histories that provide some credence and supporting evidence to certain responses, yet to rely on such background alone to predict normal or complicated mourning can be misleading and erroneous. Some people who have come from the most secure, loving homes on the planet can still react maladaptively to grief and conversely, those who have never had much love or support in their lives can respond to the same losses with life-affirming choices and behaviors.

If we can find some common threads among those who’ve learned how to constructively use their response to adversity (specifically loss from death of a loved one), we could perhaps find which characteristics, attributes, environments and support systems should be encouraged, strengthened, implemented and utilized for others experiencing similar loss and bereavement.

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