We've hosted 13 guests over 22 nights this summer, and we've loved it. Thanks to visiting friends and family, our home has been filled with joy, laughter, stories, adventure, discovery, new and deepened relationships...not to mention amazing food and fun. (As a side note, our guests are so gracious--they sleep on a hide-a-bed and share our only full bath. I like to think that what we lack in luxury, we make up for in love.)
In addition, as we're human, and we've been living our very human lives both during and between the bright spots of our company, we've also experienced plenty of emotional guests as well: anxiety, concern, relief, sadness, excitement, disappointment, gratitude, pride, fear, confusion, embarrassment, anticipation, frustration, grief, and expectation, to name a few. It's all been, to quote a former colleague of mine, "very life-like."
What feelings have been visiting you lately, and why? How do you welcome them? Do you greet your "easy" emotions more readily, like you do your "easy" friends and family, or do you try to extend to each of your guests at least some sense of genuine hospitality? When the harder emotions come to town, do you try stuffing them into a suitcase and then add to your luggage pile a tote bag of shame or guilt?
If grief (or anger, or sadness, or...you fill in the blank) has been your primary visitor, what kind of welcome are you offering it? Do you open the door wide and let it inhabit you now, deeply and fully, so that it doesn't feel the need to hide out in your attic or basement, only to surface later in even more challenging ways? Grief visits us all at one time or another, paying no attention to what timing is "best" for its hosts, and unattended, it can become the "guest who wouldn't leave." I am convinced, from experience both personal and professional, that unless we swing the door open to grief when it comes, unless we open our arms and embrace it, unless we let it stay as long as it needs to (perhaps the hardest part), it can readily come back and knock down not just our door but our whole house.
Welcoming challenging houseguests isn't easy, but when it comes to the emotional ones, it is such important practice. In the end, if you're able to say "yes" to these often unexpected, unwanted arrivals, the house that is your life, your wellness, your sanity, will be better shored up and able to host future visitors of all kinds.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
"Brave" is one of my favorite Sara Bareilles tunes. With a chorus like this, how can a coach not love it?
"Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave..."
Nearly every week, clients tell me things they wish they'd said or done differently when someone they loved was dying:
My advice for making full use of these "one chance", end-of-life opportunities is two-fold. On the one hand, let the person you love lead. They may be eager to talk about what's on their mind and heart or they may choose to hold their cards close; to go more internal. Remember there is no right or wrong here. Often the closer people get to death, the more "real" they become and the less tolerance they have for small talk or b.s. Let them guide you regarding what they want to talk about...and what they don't. Honor them; meet them; don't push.
On the other hand, if there's something you feel called to ask, share, or explore with them, I encourage you to gently do so; to be brave enough to go there. You may open up a conversation they've been eager to have but didn't know how to, perhaps because they feared burdening or upsetting you. You may offer them words of affirmation, gratitude, memory, love, or reconciliation that make ALL of the difference in their dying experience.
One last thought on a similar note: Don't hold off on making phone calls or sending notes of remembrance, thanksgiving, or "just thinking of you" to those in your life who are facing illness and/or death. You can say a lot or a little...this isn't about your way with words or your handwriting or grammar. The important thing is that you follow Bareilles' advice to "let your words fall out honestly"; that you convey that you care. Trust me when I say the person on the receiving end will appreciate how big your brave is.
"Brave" music video: www.directlyrics.com/sara-bareilles-brave-news.html
Long ago I was an English major. Though some may say my degree has been under-utilized, my love for the written word remains, and sometimes my words turn out okay.