December is one of the busiest months, jam-packed with celebrations and lights and opportunities for connection. December is also the darkest month, with the shortest days and the longest nights—nature’s invitation to tend to our pains and losses. In no month is the human struggle between light and dark, life and death, hope and despair more alive. And for many of us, this start contrast between celebration and mourning can feel uncomfortable, unacknowledged, and incredibly draining. What we need most to weather this month’s beautiful but challenging complexities is empathy. [Read more…]
Six years ago, my grandmother died a week and a half before Christmas. While she was ninety-one and physically incapacitated by ill health, her death was a huge visceral shock to my system. She’d helped raise me from the time I was four, and while our relationship had not been without its pain and complications, she’d been the woman who’d sat with me at the kitchen table for thousands of hours, playing games, eating meals, being my life’s most constant companion. She was very much my parent, and after losing her, I immediately released all my usual approaches to the holidays, fully expecting that the inevitable result would be a time of bleakness and unrelenting grief. [Read more…]
Why do we do one thing when we’re trying to accomplish another? Our predominant cultural message is that procrastination is personal weakness, lack of willpower, or some other personality flaw that must be overcome—an assessment that more often leads to self-recrimination than any satisfying resolution of the problem. That’s because procrastination isn’t a flaw, it’s actually an important signal that you have an inner conflict in need of attention. [Read more…]
Imagine having a soft place to land, no matter what life brings: An oasis where you can rest and restore, receiving comfort and reassurance. A place where all of your beautiful needs are held with great care, and where you can safely celebrate needs met and mourn needs unmet.
In this warm, nurturing place, you’ll never hear, “I told you so,” or “Why didn’t you see that coming?” after something disappointing happens. Likewise, you’ll be free of self-judgments like, “What’s wrong with me?” or “I’ll never have that,” or “Clearly I just don’t matter!” Instead, the question is always a warm, tender, curious, “Sweetheart, how are you feeling, what do you need?” [Read more…]
Heather Sellers experienced so much pain in her relationship with her father that she disconnected from him for decades. Then, in the last year of his life, when he was placed in a nursing home after a debilitating stroke, she began having weekly Skype calls with him: “Those conversations don’t cancel out the years of trauma and neglect. But neither does the bad cancel out those final moments of grace. Both are true. I hold both in my heart, and I am grateful. In the year before he died, I got to love my father—some.”
Heather’s poignant story, recounted in a recent New York Times Modern Love column, reminded me of a family I’ve been working with for the past year, helping them articulate and soothe deep pains that were formed over forty years ago and have been restimulated countless times since. The restorative process—which has involved individual, pair, and family empathy sessions—has been vulnerable for each of them. At the end of many family sessions, they say how hard this process is, and yet how “worth it” the experience has been. They’ve developed new understanding of each other’s feelings, needs, and perspectives, and a much greater capacity to speak and listen from their hearts. Whereas in our early sessions, the word “hate” was bandied about, now various family members will often interrupt a heated moment to say, loudly, desperately, “I love you!” Like Heather, they are getting to love each other—some. What could be more important in this life? [Read more…]