Monday, July 23, 2012

Aurora Rising: Phoenix Grievers Emerge from the Ashes of Tragedy

“The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite, revive from ashes and rise.”  ~ Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spanish writer, author of the masterwork El quijote (1547-1616).

Al Siebert coined the term “phoenix grievers” in his book The Resiliency Advantage, and the term describes so many people I have met who find ways through their unimaginable pain with grace and growth. Siebert opens one chapter by saying, “Survivors of extreme trauma are never the same again. Their lives have two parts: ‘before’ and ‘after.’ How their new life turns out for them depends on their resiliency.” (p. 171)

Photo by thevsky

65 hours after the Aurora shooting I found myself flying home from Indianapolis after a speaking engagement on resilience. Tears streamed down my face the entire flight as I watched the non-stop coverage of the Aurora memorial service on CNN. Images and words from last night will stay with me for a long time as they showed such promise of the resilient spirit of all those affected:

· White roses and candles everywhere.
· Parents hugging their children and holding hands tightly in prayer.
· A large banner with hand-written words: “Angels walk with those who grieve.”
· Scores of service members in uniform. Offering formal salutes at the makeshift memorial. One by one.
· Governor Hickenlooper asking the audience to recite “We will remember” after he listed the deceased one by one.
· Mayor Steve Hogan surrounded by other Colorado leaders emphasizing, “This community is not defined by this tragedy.”
· “We shall wipe away every tear from their eyes,” said President Obama and then told the inspiring story of two teens in the front of the theater. When one was shot in the neck, the other put pressure on the wound with one hand while calling 911 with the other. “They represent what is best in us,” he said. “They represent that out of this darkness a brighter day will come.”
· Countless stories of strangers carrying strangers from the fray; of police officers transporting dozens of the wounded to hospitals.
· Pastor Debbie Stafford in her prayer lifted up this plea, “We honor the lives of these incredible people. May the comforter of your holy spirit wrap your arms around each one who suffers in their body and mind. May they know your love we thank you for your protection over each of them.”
· Reverend Ron Frierson remembering first responders to swells of cheering, “You are first on the call and the last ones people think of that went through something. You were chosen to answer the call, and we are grateful that you did.”
· Twelve balloons tied together soaring to the heavens.
· The melody of “Amazing Grace” lifting above the crowd as families of the victims started to leave in bandages, slings, crutches and wheelchairs.
The names of those who lost their lives were stated several times, but the suspect’s name was not mentioned once.

“I refuse to say his name,” said Governor Hickenlooper. “In my house, we will just call him ‘suspect A.”

When people suffer the loss of a loved one, they often feel guilty about leading full lives. The thought process goes, “If my loved one didn’t get to live out her days with joy and fulfillment, who am I to do so?” In addition, there may be a desire to do penance: “I do not deserve happiness, because my loved one has died.” Dr. Viktor Frankl, a famous Holocaust survivor who helped many others find their way through the grief of losing a loved one,  raised these questions to those impacted by a tragic loss: “If you were the one who died and your loved one was still alive, what would you wish they would be doing? What kind of life would you hope your loved one would lead if you were the one who had died?” 

Phoenix grievers like those in Aurora dive into these questions, and rise from the ashes transformed.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Guest Blog: Unemployed, Depressed and Searching for Hope Part II

Moving On After Professional Disaster Hits
Editor’s note:  This is the first of a two part series.

By Dr. Christina McCale, author, “Waiting for Change

In the subsequent months after the publication of my book, “Waiting for Change” I have had innumerable people contact me: some thanking me for the book. Others commenting how they could relate to my situation. Others describing their own stories of job loss and the terror that ensues after that catastrophe has been set upon them.
But invariably, as I talk with, thank and continue to share with these incredible human beings, the question comes up: So how do you move on?
I wish I had a good answer. But in this posting, I’ll provide a bit of “framework” for thinking about the grieving process after your loved one has lost their professional identity.
Most times, when I’m asked this question, I compare the experience of the last two years to the grieving process Kubler-Ross describes: you’re going to go through different phases. There really isn’t a logical “pattern” for getting from point A (the day you lose your job) to point B (the day you realize you’ve gotten past the pain).  Not everyone is going to go through all the same phases in the same way or in the same order – because grief is a personal thing.
As I was told by a kind soul, so long ago, upon the death of my own family members:  “I promise you there will come a day – a whole 24 hour time period – when you will forget that they’re gone; that the pain has slipped away. But it may take a whole year of birthdays and holidays and missed vacations to get through all the ‘what might have beens’ before you can move on.”
While I know intellectually that there has been some comment and criticism of the Kubler-Ross model (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), and I am hardly an expert therapist or knowledgeable about psychology, to me, it does at least seem to provide somewhat of a framework to begin to make some sense of what has just occurred – and perhaps a perspective that can help the loved ones who will now be called on to buoy the unemployed person through the next phase of their life.
A Complicating Factor
What might complicate matters, though, is that as a society we don’t see job loss as a “death” per se – although many have described work as an innate part of our identities and in many cases a cornerstone of one’s social life.  The notion of unemployment – or rather the inability to move on and find a new job – carries a stigma with it that dates back to our colonial America.
The Puritan work ethic, a belief that our dedication to doing a job well is a way of honoring God, is a part of our very social fabric. Our very language is peppered with the language that reinforces the importance of getting the job done and doing it well:
“Make hay while the sun shines.”
“Go the extra mile.”
“Your work should speak for itself.”
“Actions speak louder than words.”
“Don’t waste time.”
“Idleness is the devil’s handmaiden.”
“Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.”
“Don’t just stand there … DO something.”
Some of our most fundamental attitudes come from that colonial society which emphasized the importance of work: where the community had to prioritize and safeguard its resources. Therefore, the poor then fell into two categories: the deserving poor and the non-deserving poor – those who through some character flaw or lacking in their effort to contribute their work. Later these attitudes morphed – that the poor were acculturated to be poor – that they didn’t know how to behave any differently and that their own actions perpetuated their lot in life.
So not only are we as a society taught to believe that work is an important part of our lives, to the degree that we identify ourselves through our work, but we are also then lead to the fallacy that if we are not working there must be something wrong with us.
Or if we were fired, laid off, etc., then we must have done something wrong…  been inadequate in some way.
We failed.
And let’s face it – failure is not something our society talks about willingly, let alone accept and forgive readily.
So understanding that there is a whole host of acculturation, societal expectations and psychological identity elements – not to mention the greater issues of macro-economics, social justice, and equity that I won’t even begin to touch here – how do you get through those stages of grief and attempt to get your life back in some fashion?
Not easily.
When my own identity had been ripped from me, destroying a decade’s worth of effort and dedication to complete my doctorate – something that had cost me dearly in so many other ways –to say that I had been laid low would be too cliché, too much of an understatement for the reality that would ensue. I could barely get off the couch for weeks.  I didn’t sleep more than a few hours a night. I could barely eat. The most mundane tasks of getting kids to school and dinner on the table (which turned into a lot of nights with Domino’s) became insurmountable peaks to climb.
Much like what some may feel when they lose the one they love – a spouse, a parent, a child.  You are now experiencing the unthinkable. The unimaginable is now real. After all,  our profession is a part of our identity. So it follows that we grieve at the loss of a job because we are not only losing a part of ourselves, but experiencing a social death as well.
Editor’s note: Next week Dr. McCale will discuss suggestions for navigating the emotional landscape after layoff, termination or downsizing.

About Waiting for Change:
Part memoir and part social commentary, the book Waiting for Change profiles the very personal realities of job loss during the Great Recession and the domino effect to one’s housing, sustenance, employment, children, and social support systems.  The book takes the reader on a guided tour “behind the story” of all the statistics on the evening news to explore the new and evolving landscape of poverty in the richest country on Earth.  Waiting for Change provides a mental “travelogue” that illuminates not just the immediate impacts of poverty, but the downstream repercussions, all in very personal, relatable and easy to read ways.

About the Author:
Prior to getting her doctorate in Marketing, Christina McCale worked for 17+ years in some of corporate America's biggest companies. For the last 10 years she has taught marketing and management instructional duties at the university level for the last 10 years, she has also been one of the key and has conducted research on how to best prepare our undergraduates for career entry. Today, she lives in Olympia, Washington with her son, daughter, and their two beloved greyhounds.