Me in the Middle of a Sibling Reunion

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Siblings #5

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It had been over two years ago that we siblings had gotten together in a group.  We were due another reunion before anymore years slipped by and we lost the chance for all four to be in the same place.  My sister and I have a birthday tradition of treating each other to lunch  and catching up on the family news.  My older brother, R, started the ball rolling for a old family photo sharing reunion.  He had been telling us for quite some time that he had some great family-photo stash and we kept urging him to share with his siblings.  The rest of us were lamenting that we had so few photos of our childhood and some of the pics were in pretty bad shape.  So the date was set for the four of us all to travel to our sibling reunion and find out exactly what photos my brother, R, had in his possession all these years.

'So, it's equal.'

‘So, it’s equal.’

Siblings #2

We all got busy  searching through our old family photos of when we were growing up ….. scanning and editing, preparing for the big day that we would see the stash that my brother had held all these years.  We weren’t disappointed!  There were pictures of each of us that we’d never seen before all neatly arranged in a photo album.  We’ll all be getting copies of these fantastic memories of our shared childhood experiences thanks to my youngest brother’s wife, L, who has been gathering family photos and ancestry information for all of us.

Siblings #8

Thinking of our big brother RIP 5/25/2012

After spending the day  with my brothers and sister sharing all these old family photos and just being grateful for each other and life, I read this post on the following morning and it reminded me of us. It was a moment of Grace. We’re strong, good people who have tried to do what’s right and be there for each other.  The post below reminds me of our Journey together.

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What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone

By Heather Plett on Sunday May 8th, 2016

How to be there for the people who need you most

When my Mom was dying, my siblings and I gathered to be with her in her final days. None of us knew anything about supporting someone in her transition out of this life into the next, but we were pretty sure we wanted to keep her at home, so we did.

While we supported Mom, we were, in turn, supported by a gifted palliative care nurse, Ann, who came every few days to care for Mom and to talk to us about what we could expect in the coming days. She taught us how to inject Mom with morphine when she became restless, she offered to do the difficult tasks (like giving Mom a bath), and she gave us only as much information as we needed about what to do with Mom’s body after her spirit had passed.

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The author with her mother

“Take your time,” she said. “You don’t need to call the funeral home until you’re ready. Gather the people who will want to say their final farewells. Sit with your mom as long as you need to. When you’re ready, call and they will come to pick her up.”

Ann gave us an incredible gift in those final days. Though it was an excruciating week, we knew that we were being held by someone who was only a phone call away.

In the two years since then, I’ve often thought about Ann and the important role she played in our lives. She was much more than what can fit in the title of “palliative care nurse”. She was facilitator, coach, and guide. By offering gentle, nonjudgmental support and guidance, she helped us walk one of the most difficult journeys of our lives.

The work that Ann did can be defined by a term that’s become common in some of the circles in which I work. She was holding space for us.

Alt text hereLearning to hold space for others

What does it mean to “hold space” for someone else?

It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

Sometimes we find ourselves holding space for people while they hold space for others. In our situation, for example, Ann was holding space for us while we held space for Mom. Though I know nothing about her support system, I suspect that there are others holding space for Ann as she does this challenging and meaningful work. It’s virtually impossible to be a strong space holder unless we have others who will hold space for us. Even the strongest leaders, coaches, nurses, etc., need to know that there are some people with whom they can be vulnerable and weak without fear of being judged.

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Understanding the essence of holding space for others

In my own roles as teacher, facilitator, coach, mother, wife, and friend, etc., I do my best tohold space for other people in the same way that Ann modeled it for me and my siblings. It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I keep trying because I know that it’s important. At the same time, there are people in my life that I trust to hold space for me.

To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.

Holding space is not something that’s exclusive to facilitators, coaches, or palliative care nurses. It is something that ALL of us can do for each other – for our partners, children, friends, neighbours, and even strangers who strike up conversations as we’re riding the bus to work.

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Every day is an opportunity to hold space for the people around us

8 Tips to Help You Hold Space for Others

Here are the lessons I’ve learned from Ann and others who have held space for me.

1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom. When we were supporting Mom in her final days, we had no experience to rely on, and yet, intuitively, we knew what was needed. We knew how to carry her shrinking body to the washroom, we knew how to sit and sing hymns to her, and we knew how to love her. We even knew when it was time to inject the medication that would help ease her pain. In a very gentle way, Ann let us know that we didn’t need to do things according to some arbitrary health care protocol – we simply needed to trust our intuition and accumulated wisdom from the many years we’d loved Mom.

2. Give people only as much information as they can handle. Ann gave us some simple instructions and left us with a few handouts, but did not overwhelm us with far more than we could process in our tender time of grief. Too much information would have left us feeling incompetent and unworthy.

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Knowing how much information to give people in times of grief

3. Don’t take their power away. When we take decision-making power out of people’s hands, we leave them feeling useless and incompetent. There may be some times when we need to step in and make hard decisions for other people (ie. when they’re dealing with an addiction and an intervention feels like the only thing that will save them), but in almost every other case, people need the autonomy to make their own choices (even our children). Ann knew that we needed to feel empowered in making decisions on our Mom’s behalf, and so she offered support but never tried to direct or control us.

4. Keep your own ego out of it. This is a big one. We all get caught in that trap now and then – when we begin to believe that someone else’s success is dependent on our intervention, or when we think that their failure reflects poorly on us, or when we’re convinced that whatever emotions they choose to unload on us are about us instead of them. It’s a trap I’ve occasionally found myself slipping into when I teach. I can become more concerned about my own success (Do the students like me? Do their marks reflect on my ability to teach? Etc.) than about the success of my students. But that doesn’t serve anyone – not even me. To truly support their growth, I need to keep my ego out of it and create the space where they have the opportunity to grow and learn.

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Keep your own ego out of it

5. Make them feel safe enough to fail. When people are learning, growing, or going through grief or transition, they are bound to make some mistakes along the way. When we, as their space holders, withhold judgement and shame, we offer them the opportunity to reach inside themselves to find the courage to take risks and the resilience to keep going even when they fail. When we let them know that failure is simply a part of the journey and not the end of the world, they’ll spend less time beating themselves up for it and more time learning from their mistakes.

6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness. A wise space holder knows when to withhold guidance (ie. when it makes a person feel foolish and inadequate) and when to offer it gently (ie. when a person asks for it or is too lost to know what to ask for). Though Ann did not take our power or autonomy away, she did offer to come and give Mom baths and do some of the more challenging parts of caregiving. This was a relief to us, as we had no practice at it and didn’t want to place Mom in a position that might make her feel shame (ie. having her children see her naked). This is a careful dance that we all must do when we hold space for other people. Recognizing the areas in which they feel most vulnerable and incapable and offering the right kind of help without shaming them takes practice and humility.

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A wise space holder knows when to withhold guidance and when to offer it gently

7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc. When people feel that they are held in a deeper way than they are used to, they feel safe enough to allow complex emotions to surface that might normally remain hidden. Someone who is practiced atholding space knows that this can happen and will be prepared to hold it in a gentle, supportive, and nonjudgmental way. In The Circle Way, we talk about “holding the rim” for people.

The circle becomes the space where people feel safe enough to fall apart without fearing that this will leave them permanently broken or that they will be shamed by others in the room. Someone is always there to offer strength and courage. This is not easy work, and it is work that I continue to learn about as I host increasingly more challenging conversations. We cannot do it if we are overly emotional ourselves, if we haven’t done the hard work of looking into our own shadow, or if we don’t trust the people we are holding space for. In Ann’s case, she did this by showing up with tenderness, compassion, and confidence. If she had shown up in a way that didn’t offer us assurance that she could handle difficult situations or that she was afraid of death, we wouldn’t have been able to trust her as we did.

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The circle becomes the space where people feel safe enough to fall apart

8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would. Holding space is about respecting each person’s differences and recognising that those differences may lead to them making choices that we would not make. Sometimes, for example, they make choices based on cultural norms that we can’t understand from within our own experience. When we hold space, we release control and we honour differences. This showed up, for example, in the way that Ann supported us in making decisions about what to do with Mom’s body after her spirit was no longer housed there. If there had been some ritual that we felt we needed to conduct before releasing her body, we were free to do that in the privacy of Mom’s home.

Holding space is not something that we can master overnight, or that can be adequately addressed in a list of tips like the ones I’ve just offered. It’s a complex practice that evolves as we practice it, and it is unique to each person and each situation.

How do you feel about this article? .
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Rich , Me, Eileen and Steve (2)
 Oldest to Youngest, left to right ~ R, Me, E, S
Big brother, J, passed away in May 2012
If he was with us I would be in the middle of the five of us.

♥  ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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14 thoughts on “Me in the Middle of a Sibling Reunion

  1. I love how you transitioned from your personal story of your siblings and photos into this huge keeper of a post. I felt myself recognizing people in my life who’ve been this for me, and I shared the link as I discovered that.

    I also recognized the lack of these qualities in tenuous relationships I’ve known, and it explains so much. To go opposite of holding space is to occupy space, whether wastefully or forcefully, and neither gives either party room to love or grow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love what you wrote here, Eli! The fact that I read the ‘holding space’ article the next morning after the sibling get together really moved me. We were those siblings, there for our mother. It’s not easy as judgment, wanting to fix things and taking over are human and ‘holding space’ isn’t easy to do. The main thing is those who love each other keep trying. Thanks! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Some wonderful thoughts here Mary Lou – and I love that you’re getting all those photos to keep the memories alive. I also enjoyed the zen to zany quote – I often share her stuff on my facebook page because they’re so poignant and/or funny xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Leanne! I had fun picking out the photos about siblings. We’re always connected by setting sail in the same boat as children no matter where our individual lives take us. ❤

      Like

  3. That was an excellent and helpful article. I’m in that space with my sister and her husband. He’s dying of lung cancer and just last Monday was told he has only months to live now. I wish I’d had this to read months ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing your reunion with us Mary Lou! Its something I have never done with my twin brother … but it would be fun to look through our memories together!
    I love this Holding Space article. I have used it in my Yoga Teacher Mentoring Program as a way for teachers to remember that they hold the space for all the students that come into the studio. Sometimes we don’t know what is going on with people, but we can be open to holding a compassionate and safe space for them.
    ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • That article about holding space deeply moved me, Val. My siblings and I shared the same experience when our mother died at home. Pretty powerful experience. I like the idea of using that process every day in our dealings with others. Thanks for your thoughts on it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have mixed feelings about holding space for someone. If the someone is mentally, spiritually, emotionally intact, then yes, by all means, let them do their thing however they want to. But if you’re dealing with someone who is not all there mentally, spiritually, emotionally and who shows no indication that they want to heal themselves, then holding space for them, that is letting them do what they want, can lead to some sad scenarios. Sometimes you have to step in and get a person on the right path because it is best for everyone involved. Or you just have to walk away from the person, permanently. Not all relationships are meant to be forever, including those with relatives. Just saying. IMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very good point, Ally! There are definitely circumstances where boundaries need to be set,and intervention is needed. Holding space, I guess, can also be reassuring a person that you support them and want their happiness even though unable to do much more. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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