Sunday, August 22, 2010

How to Comfort Someone Whose Child Has Died

Chettie blowing a kiss. Chester died April 1, 1999, at the age of 21. It could have been yesterday.

by Susan Dunn
Look for my book on the death of a child due to come out next year.

When a friend suffers the loss of a child, we don't know how to comfort them. Our first thought is usually, "I don't know what to say." When a child is lost, we all suffer, and it's particularly hard for other parents to deal with.

"Friends would cross the street to avoid me," one client told me.

What to say and how to help the grieving parents is a challenge.

I had first-hand experience with this when my son died several years ago. Let me share some thoughts from that perspective.

There are some things that aren't helpful:

•Asking the person what you can do to help, or any question, is beyond their capacity. People devastated by grief can't make the simplest decision, and they still have to make burial arrangements, etc. They are only capable of going through the motions. Nothing more. One foot in front of the other.

•Saying most of the things they say in movies --he's in a better place, it was God's will, your memories will comfort you, time will heal. They make no sense at the time. The person is trying to figure out something incomprehensible and doesn't have space to fit in other ideas.

•Assuming the grief-stricken person needs to express their emotions. It's all the person can do to contain the emotions. It's self-protection to shut down, and it's necessary.

•Trying ... trying anything. The grieving person feels the emotional pull when they're already on their last nerve and have nothing to give ... 'this person is trying to make me feel better, make me cry, make me explain something. I'm supposed to do something and I can't.' It's a fragile state.

•Thinking the grieving person needs to do something. To the grieving person, it feels like pressure, it makes absolutely no sense, and often it isn't 'needed' anyway. "You must eat something," elicits "Why?" You can't imagine how you're bouncing pebbles off a distant planet. Words, I'm sorry to say, really aren't of much use.

•References to other deaths. It's just a time not to do that, like sending a book about coping with the death of a child. The person needs not to be a part of a group -- widows who've lost husbands, mothers who've lost sons ... It needs to stand alone.

What, then, can you do?

Burying your own child has been called "a perversion of nature," and is that difficult to get your mind around. What parent has ever considered having to do this? Most of us care more about our children than life itself, and we cannot afford to entertain that thought, so there is no preparation. It's something we sincerely hope will happen to someone else, not us, if it must happen.

We expect our parents to die in our lifetime; it's difficult, but we've been expecting it.

Here are some of the things that helped me through. I can't say they comforted me, as for a time there was no way to comfort me, and I guess that's a point to be made. You don't even want to be comforted. What you want is your child back.

Understand I'm speaking from my personal experience. It's a terrible insult to imagine what someone else is feeling at this time, or what might help.

•My younger sister came to the Memorial Service and just made small talk. When she left, to go back home, she shook her head and said, "Oh Susan." She left a tape by Ian Tyson on my bedside table ... rock with me Jesus help me bear this heavy load, don't let her slip, don't let her slide ... all cowboys cross the Great Divide.

•After the dinner after the Service, folks came back to my house. My niece sat beside me and stroked my hair while she talked with everyone, so I didn't have to.

•A colleague at work met me coming out of the elevator my first day back to work. He looked up, then looked down with tears in his eyes and said, "I don't know what to say," and walked away with his shoulders bent. He had a child the same age as mine. It was thoughtful of him not to stick around and have me feel the need to comfort him.

•My friend who said, "Give me a list of people to call. I'll tell them for you."

•My boss said, when I returned to work, "The only reason I'm letting you be here is that it's maybe slightly better than being home." He gave me little things to do, to occupy my mind, but nothing requiring judgment.

•My twin sister called me every 6 weeks and said she was flying out for a visit. (Didn't ask, said.) She would show up at the house and just putter ... cook, clean, garden ... She didn't disturb me.

•When she answered the phone, I heard her say, "She can't talk now. She's seeking the mercy of sleep."

•My friend, who'd lost her 8 month old son ... when I asked her "How do I live with this?" she said, "I don't know. Yours is different. Mine was [just a baby] but yours was [21] and the longer you have them the worse it is." What a magnanimous statement.

•My friend who wrote, "From now on, for me, every tree will be missing a leaf."

•My son's friend who told me, when she heard about it, "That's really [expletive]."

•Between visits, my sister sent me homemade chocolate chip cookies, something very symbolic between the two of us. Mother ... home ... happier times. They arrived in shoe boxes, wrapped in plain brown paper. It's a time to be basic.

•The people who talked about how wonderful my son was, only at a distance ... by email, or letters.

•The friend who gave me a gift certificate for 10 massages.

•People who would, and still do, speak his name.

•Friends who remember the anniversary of his death. For most of us, it will never recede in time. It could be yesterday. It could even be today.

In the acute state of grief, the person can't think, and there's no emotional space. What isn't occupied by grief, is occupied by anger, which the person is trying not to vent against an innocent person. Just be around them, lovingly. Words aren't absorbed. There's authenticity in saying "I don't know what to say," when you don't.

Avoid trying to pull their emotions out, or to put yours on them. (Some people do express them.) Don't make any cognitive or emotional demands. If you can, remove cognitive tasks, i.e., tell them you're picking them up for dinner at Chili's, Tuesday at 6, and to wear jeans.

A gentle touch means a lot. Accept how they're being at the time. Understand that for them to respond is asking them to produce energy they don't have. Even the most gracious of us are hard-put to be gracious at such a time.

Avoid any references to "time." Time may heal this, time may not. You don't know, and the person isn't sure at all.

Chances are good "with time" your efforts will be appreciated and remembered, even if they didn't appear to hit the mark at the time. I'm not sure there is "a mark" to hit. Do the best you can, from your heart. Sincere, heartfelt intentions speak much louder than actual words.

(c) 2010 Susan Dunn, All rights reserved.

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Toby Keith - A Little Too Much Amygdala

We've had opera on here,R&B, now a little more C&W.

Here is Toby Keith's "A Little Too Late." A story of the amgdala hidden in here. Some "intermittent explosive disorder"?

At the end, he does a "j.k." but -- and not to belabor what is 'just a song,' too much of this in a relationship will wear the other person out.

How do you learn to manager your anger? To live with an over-active amygdala? If females had written the shrink-terminology, THIS would be "hysteria" and "drama." Yes, guys do it too. And anger has beenc called "the all-purpose male emotion."

Take THE EQ COURSE and find out more. Email met at .

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ol' Man River andThings

We sweat and straing...body all achin' and racked with pain ...

This painting is not of workers on the Mississipi. It is of workers on the Volga, but one of my favorite paintings and it gets the point across.

I play the piano most nights in the lobby of a building here in D.C. Chevy Chase, to be exact. I have many books, one of which is called, THE BEST SONGS EVER. I love to play from it,and the people love to hear all their old favorites. For instance, I played Mona Lisa tonight and a woman clapped and said it was one of her favorites. I've been surprised and delighted to find out who wrote the lyrics and music to the old favorites ...more on that later.

Tonight I came across OL' MAN RIVER (Kern and Hammerstein). I hadn't heard it in years. I don't always read the lyrics as I play, but in this case I did,and I was so touched. Maybe because it's Friday night -- end of a work week -- and I heard a lot of stories this week of pain, suffering, and questioning.

What I hear a lot in my business is "Why." Why me? Why did it have to happen? Why doesn't God stop them? That sort of thing. It may be attached to God, or Allah, or Buddha ... but it is often there when times get tough.

Frank sings it for us -- "He don't say nothin' ... but he must know something." The expressions on Frank's face are incredible. Nothing shows emotion like blue eyes and he was, after all ... Watching this made me wonder what Frank Sinatra might have been through that we know nothing about. He don't say nothin', but he must know something -- Frank -- to put that much emotion into this song. Watch himstarting at 1.25. And at the end.

Here's Ole Blue Eyes ...

EMAIL ME FOR COACHING - . Long-distance or at my office - Chevy Chase, Md. and Manassas, Va.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

I love this video because I'm a coach - Toby Keith's HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW.

Combine this -- "How Do You Like Me Now" with the Forbes video ( where Toby Keith talks about his rise to fame.


He attributes his success to hard work
He mentions a teacher who identified his talent (that's what we coaches do!)
The importance of finding out what you do well -- and each of us does something well

If you're struggling with rejection, can't seem to find work that you're good at/enjoy, are stuck, just got dumped in an email by the man of your dreams who led you on, feel like everyone's ship is coming in except yours, ..let me coach you.


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Monday, August 16, 2010

How to Handle a PR Disaster with EQ

Emotional Intelligence involves, and/or IS, a lot of PR (public relations0>

From an article in ENTREPRENEUR about how to handle getting 'slammed' when you are a small business. Ronn Torossian reminds us that you can move faster as a small business -- or an individual -- and this is an asset -- if you know what you are doing.

1. Can't bury your head in a business crisis
2. Come up with a message about what went wrong and how to address it
4. Communicate that message to everyone who's been affected, in person, one-by-one if possible
5. Do NOT pass things on through a lawyer or spokesperson. Delegating this usually means more disaster
6. Work on your delivery -- what you say in public can be more inportant that what you are actually saying. [HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU THIS??]
7. Compare Tiger Woods' apoplogy with Clinton's.
8. Do everything you can to make yourself and your audience more comfortable9. "Speak compassionately and honestly, and don't pretend to be on a higher level than your sudience. It's the best way to put people at ease."
9. Be resigned to some fallout.

What you are doing here is damage control, and this is a serious emotional intelligence to master.

Got caught staring at another woman when you didn't think your fiance was looking?
Forget to pick up your neighbor's kids at school?
Late with a report at work?

There are so many occasions where we need finesse. Let me coach you on these skills. It's always good to have a Plan B, but it is BETTER to KNOW that you MUST HAVE a Plan B. Nobody's perfect.

P.S. Notice how BP has handled the BP oil spill. One radio ad that I think is particularly effective is the guy WITH THE APPROPRIATE ACCENT who says he's from the Gulf, cares about it, is in charge, and will do what needs doing.

Study other! Get coaching! It pays off.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

What kind of manager/boss gets the most out of his/her employees?

Latest offering - EQ for the Disruptive Physician

Studies revealthe same traits over and over, and yet it is so hard for people to grasp.

Here it is again, so listen up!

When people are asked what traits and qualities they admire in their mentors and leaders, the typical responses are that they are caring, engaging, authentic, positive thinkers, creative, patient, empathetic, charismatic and thoughtful.

These are also competencies, traits or qualities that can be learned. For instance, if you are a parent, you are fully aware that you learned PATIENCE when you became a parent. Can "charisma" be taught? Yes. These are all emotional intelligence competencies, and I have worked with many people in these areas. You can only make it so far in a career field, or in relationships, if you do not have these qualities.

Let me help you with the EQ course, coaching,mentoring, or a seminar in the D. C. area. Email me at for more information. I have coached people all over the world in these important emotional intelligence competencies.


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Monday, August 09, 2010

Is a Disruptive Doctor making your Work Environment Hell?

I hate to say it, but ...

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No, the person I was talking to today did! She's a counselor, and when I told her "5 minutes of anger suppresses your immune system for up to 8 hours", she said she'd never heard that.

That's the "thing" I use to convince the people who get off on being angry, and are such a source of stress to other people. They're ruining their own health too, of course, but they aren't aware of that.

My EQ program is full of empirical (researched) data that is impossible to refute, and will convince the most cynical person. Um, I have worked with disruptive doctors, annoying lawyers, meddlesome daughters-in-law ... teachers who think they know it all. These people who can't manage their anger and really don't want to, can make life hell for the rest of us.

I also offer the highly-acclaimed DIFFICULT PEOPLE course. It might be just the thing for you.

Email me for more information.
I work internationally by phone and email, and my core courses are on the Internet. I also have offices in Manassas, VA and Chevy Chase MD for your convenience.