I am Helen.
Losing a parent isn’t supposed to be easy. If they’ve loved you well, or if you’ve done your work about how they didn’t, the loss can feel unbearable. When we’re in pain we often default to our most toxic behaviors. When our mom died recently that was definitely an option. As I grieve my mother’s death, I also sit in awe of my siblings, sisters-in-love, and that rising generation of my children, niece, nephews, and their loves. We could have put all of our tools in the closet and forgotten what we know. We could have set aside what we teach and preach and become lesser versions of ourselves. It’s always an option. We are creatures of habit ~ and choice ~ after all.
We could have. And we didn’t.
Instead, we experienced the beauty and power of what we teach profoundly.
I could outline every bit of each of CTI‘s models – The Co-Active Coaching Model, The Co-Active Leadership Model, and the Co-Active Leadership Map – and give you point by point examples of how we lived from them in the weeks leading up to and following Mom’s death. Since that would be overkill (!) I’ll point to those that keep whispering to me in these days since everyone’s left the cocoon and entered back into ordinary time.
Dance in This Moment: We thought she had longer. Every time we came up with a plan, the circumstances changed. Staying fluid, flexible, and willing to both have a plan and throw it out the window at any given moment proved to be vitally important. People die at their own pace. We can’t slow it down or speed it up. It just is what it is. We must be willing and able to dance in each moment and choose again and again what to do and how to be.
Ask for what you need: Because things change, and there are things that are vitally important in our lives that we mustn’t miss, it’s so crucial to not fall victim to our life’s demands. We asked for help, we urged each other to act, we got replacements, we let go of short-term needs, we waited a little longer or came a little sooner. We moved things, cancelled things, and let our Naturally, Creative, Resourceful and Whole world be okay while we moved through this vital time in our lives. Because we also fail at this, we are forgiving ourselves and each other for where we didn’t do this enough or where the impact was not a good one!
Design a Stake ~ Align Around It: In Leadership we say every experience or event you lead needs a stake. Imagine a wooden stake pounded into the ground holding the Big Top securely to handle anything the crowds or winds throw at it. A Stake is a core concept or idea – a belief or imperative – that the leaders are tethered to. It’s that idea that, no matter how wrong things sometimes feel like they’re going, remembering it helps you find your way back to center. Our family designed a stake for how we’d be together in the days after Mom’s passing as we planned the Memorial Service and sorted her estate. Together, we came up with “When we let go and let God, Magic and Integrity happen.” This was co-created and co-held. Again and again we found our way back to our center and to each other by remembering our stake. I believe most of us are still holding it even as we’re finding our way back to life in a post-Mom world.
Listen from the Heart: This was key throughout the process. We turned up the volume on it each morning after she died by passing a talking stick in her living room. A Talking Stick Ceremony is used in many indigenous traditions as a way of having every voice be heard, grounding our words in community, and putting our hearts in a place of receiving and being received. Each morning we gathered and passed the stick sunwise (clockwise). One by one, we each stated our name, spoke from our hearts whatever was present in that moment, and the rest of us listened fully from our hearts. When the words of each person were complete, they said “I have spoken” or “These are my words”. It’s common for the group to respond with “Ho”, which means essentially “My heart has heard your heart”. Sometimes, in honor of Mom, we threw in a “Thankka God!” for good measure! These daily ceremonies grounded us, made way for heartbreak and humor, were a place to share the wild dreams we were having, and could be thought-filled, teary, blah, frustrated, or whatever. There was room for all of it with no judgement or care-taking. This was my children’s first go at a talking stick ceremony, and I must say they added considerably to the experience. These were some of my most sacred memories from our time together.
Create from Self, Other, Nothing, and Everything: Yes. All of it. Do this.
Honor your Truth ~ Be true to who you are: In Leadership, we have a powerful typing system called “I AM” Typing. The purpose is to find that most authentic, impactful, engaging, innate leader within each of us. Though not quite EVERY member of my family has done CTI’s Leadership Program (though 5 of us actually LEAD it!), I experienced every member of my family being fully who they are and being honored and appreciated for that. I think every type was represented. Family roles were respected and honored, but not defaulted to. Needs didn’t trump wants nor the other way around. Egos were in check. Honesty and Love both had room.
Co AND Active – Be AND Do: There’s so much to feel when a great one dies. There’s also so much to do! It’s easy to get lost in one or the other. Really easy. It’s rare to be in such an intense experience and have so much room for BOTH to be fully honored, respected, and have space made for them. The daily talking stick got the CO side of things, or Being side of things, firmly established up front. By taking time for this, when it was complete each day we could all feel the urgency and desire to get ACTIVE or get Doing. There was MUCH to DO… and without the Being having full permission, the doing never would have been so manageable.
STAY… and Stay some more: The Co-Active Leadership Map has “Stay” on it twice because it’s so important! It says “Stay”… then “Level 3″… then “Stay” again. There were so many times when I wanted to GO… to run… to not feel… to eat or drink or disappear into numbness. It continues as the days and weeks go by. And yet, STAY we must! I must stay with this process, stay with my stake, stay with myself, my family, and with the empty hole left behind by my mother… I must listen into the “level 3” aka the environment, the energy, the calling of Mother Life… and I must stay some more. The next URGE is on the horizon. What I need and what the world needs will be calling soon… if I don’t STAY, I’ll never hear it. So stay we did, stay we must, and stay I will.
There are many stories of family discord, disaster, and resentment driven separation in the wake of loss. My hope is that if even one part of this process was meaningful to you, that you’ll carry it into your next time of intensity. Lead from whichever part of the experience you’re called to lead from, and make it different from what Life’s default settings would ask it to become. Let’s plant the seeds of change in whatever system we’re called to lead in ~ family or otherwise ~ shall we?
These are my words.