Forgiveness and Acceptance of Our Parents

September 13, 2012
Parents and children often find it difficult to forgive one another because they both feel the other has not given them what they have a right to have.

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A ”Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags. Enjoy.

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Forgiveness and Acceptance of Our Parents

BY JOYCE AND BARRY VISSELL
From the “Accepting Our Parents” article on their website, reprinted with permission.

spring flowerMy dear father died ten days ago quite suddenly of a heart attack. He was in the little apartment he shared with my mother above our garage. As Barry and I were out of town, Rami and Mira, our daughters, rushed right over. Mira, age seventeen, administered CPR while Rami directed the 911 call and encouraged my mother to say good-bye to him. He died smiling peacefully in the arms of his beautiful granddaughters, with the loving words of his wife.

Nothing could have prepared me for the grief I felt upon returning home several hours later from a five week work and vacation trip. The grief is still very deep ten days later and yet I am comforted by the relationship I had with my dad.

As all parents, my father was not a perfect parent. I am not a perfect parent. No one is. In my twenties I wanted to change my father, to make him the person I thought I wanted as a father. At some point I stopped trying to change him, and just accepted him as he was. The more I grew to accept him, the more I realized just how perfect a dad he was for me.

I had lived three thousand miles apart from my parents since I was eighteen. Seven years ago, my parents moved right next door. My dad was eighty-one years old then and still quite energetic. Several years later he lost his hearing altogether. Because my father was deaf and communication was minimal, I vowed to show him my love every time I saw him. Because he couldn’t hear, he would unknowingly interrupt some very personal conversations. I might be deeply in conversation with one of my daughters and we’d hear his loud steps enter our home. We’d stop whatever we were doing and give him our total love. We’d hug him and fuss over him and he’d leave around ten minutes later, quite satisfied. It was not unusual for him to burst into a counseling session in the living room or a meeting in the office. On those occasions we’d quickly escort him out, but always with love. Our counseling clients grew to expect these friendly interruptions.

And now in my grief it is those moments of giving him my total love and acceptance that bring me the most peace. I can truly say that, as much as my heart is capable of loving, that is how much I loved my father. Our children followed that example and treated their grandpa with the greatest respect and love. And my father in turn delighted in every gesture of love offered him and returned it a thousand fold.

For those of you whose parents are still alive, reach out to them with your love. Realize that there is no such thing as a perfect parent and try to accept your parent the way they are. The reaching out, the gestures of love, will bring you so much comfort when they no longer walk this earth. And those of you whose parents have passed on, reach out to them in their new home. The bond between parent and child is everlasting. As you reach out to them with your love, you will feel it returned over and over again.

© Copyright, September 1999, The Shared Heart Foundation, Reprinted with permission.

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A Nest That Provided Peace and Protection

July 13, 2011
Learn how safety and peace are not always found where we think they will be.

Joyce and Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They have given me permission to reprint an article from their July 3, 2011, Shared Heart Foundation newsletter called “A Nest of Peace.”

I have chosen to share it because it beautifully expresses the way in which we can all create peace and serenity in places where they are most needed.

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Finding peace in your lives and relationships, especially if you feel stressed with financial, health, or relationship challenges, can sometimes seem almost impossible. And yet finding that peace is essential.

There is a story of a king who offered a prize to the artist who could paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried, and the king finally chose two of the best. From these two, he had to choose one to receive the prize. The first picture was of a perfectly calm lake, with majestic mountains around it. The sky was pure blue with soft fluffy clouds. All who saw that picture thought that surely it would win the prize. It appeared to be the essence of peace.

The second picture was very different. It also held a lake, but the wind was creating high waves. The mountains around the lake were bare and rugged. Above was a turbulent sky with rain and lightning. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a raging waterfall. This painting did not look peaceful at all.

But when the king looked closer, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water and noise, sat the mother bird on her nest….in perfect peace.

Which picture won the prize? The king chose the second picture. “Because,” explained the king, “peace does not mean the absence of noise, trouble or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.”

When we do couples retreats, we always challenge the couples to create in their lives 10 minutes to connect in a peaceful, spiritual and loving way with one another. There are many different ways to do this. Barry and I say a prayer of gratitude and trust each morning while we hold hands. Saying this prayer together allows us to connect in our hearts and feel our spiritual connection with each other. We create our own nest of peace and safety to which we can return again and again when life challenges us.

Nineteen years ago, we were experiencing a great financial challenge. We had lived the first twenty-three years of our married life without financial stress. We lived in very inexpensive rental homes, drove old cars, and bought our clothes and our children’s clothes from second-hand stores. We kept cash on hand and only bought something if we had the cash for it. We didn’t have a credit card and had never been in debt. All that changed in 1989 when the earthquake destroyed our small rental home. We had been paying only $270/month rent and suddenly were forced out into the real world of high rents.

We decided to follow our dream and were able to purchase 16 acres right next to the rental home at a very good price. We were very naïve about mortgages and decided at the same time to build the house of our dreams, a home in which we could raise our three children and, at the same time, hold some of our workshops. Then we got the first mortgage bill and realized how very high it was. How could we ever come up with so much money each month? Our children were happy to have a home once again, after camping for six months in order to save money. We did not want to leave our new home, but the mortgage was so high that we wondered if we might go into foreclosure before we even had a chance to really live there. We were scared and started taking it out on each other. The picture of the turbulent sky and waves on the lake might describe our situation. Each day got harder and harder for us.

Finally we realized we must create a place of peace for this challenge and it was at that point that we began saying a prayer every single day. We sat for ten minutes each day and asked for help and guidance from a loving power greater than our own minds. Our financial situation did not immediately change, but these ten minutes of peace every day brought a trust into our lives that calmed the turbulence. Every month we somehow made that payment, sometimes by just a few dollars. When we would pray together it felt as if we were sitting in that nest of peace behind the rushing waterfall. We still return to that nest day after day as other challenges and situations come into our lives.

I feel very grateful for this “nest” and the peace that comes from sitting in it each day. For the people who have taken us up on our “ten minute challenge,” their lives change in a special way. We will forever encourage couples and singles to create this nest of peace.

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NOTE: The Vissell’s most recent book, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family, is a heart warming story that should be read by anyone who fears dying.

Are There Really Irreconcilable Differences?

June 6, 2011

SPECIAL NOTE: If you haven’t yet checked out the Love Your Life Summit, there is still time. Every day until June 20 you will be able to watch an interview with Marci Shimoff and two people who give excellent advice on bringing joy and love into your life.

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How can you move beyond what seem to be insurmountable differences of opinion and outlook?

Barry and Joyce VissellBarry and Joyce Vissell are two of my favorite counselors on marriage and partnerships. They bring a wealth of experience from 37 years of working with couples and from their experience as a doctor and a nurse. They’ve given me permission to reprint articles from their SharedHeart Newsletter.

Their latest newsletter arrived last week with the following commentary about differences. It expresses one reason why my husband and I have been married for more than 50 years: we’ve not let our differences, of which there are many, interfere with our commitment to love and honor one another.

Celebrate your similarities, and you will learn to celebrate your differences. – Barry and Joyce Vissell

In a court of law, if both partners of a married couple claim they have irreconcilable differences, the court will grant them a legal divorce – without even asking what the differences are!

Joyce and I, on the other hand, having worked with thousands of couples over the last 37 years, challenge that there is no such thing as irreconcilable differences. We have seen that ANY difference can be not only tolerated, but even appreciated. But that takes real understanding and a commitment to love.

So what constitutes grounds for separation or divorce? It’s not the differences themselves. You will end up separating or divorcing if you choose not to try to understand them. Your relationship will end if you choose not to look inside to better understand yourself, as well as your partner.

Differences are not the problem. Secrecy, cruelty, active addictions and infidelity are hurtful and can be grounds for divorce if either partner refuses to get help.

During the romantic, early stages of relationship, most couples experience little difficulty with differences, even big ones. Their wide open hearts find enough room to embrace their differences. We once saw a liberal democratic woman in love with a conservative republican man. Their explanation? “We love each other enough to agree to disagree!”

When you’re in love, you easily understand how opposites attract. The differences in your lover don’t bother you. Their messiness or neatness, their introversion or extraversion, their love of the outdoors or their love of the indoors, their raw food vegan or steak and potatoes diet, these don’t seem to detract from the love you experience together. They may even be “cute” to you.

It is only later, after the honeymoon glow has faded, and each of your egos and personalities have powerfully come on the scene, that differences get magnified and can grate on you.

The question then is: How do you solve the problem of differences? One thing is for sure. It will never work to try to change your partner! Sure, you may correct bad habits. Early in our marriage, Joyce took a firm stand against my messiness. Just because I never used a vacuum cleaner in the first 22 years of my life, it simply wasn’t acceptable to her at the time that I didn’t help her clean the apartment. Did I change? Yes. Sometimes she laughs at how fastidious I can now be.

On a more serious note, I have had difficulty with Joyce’s sensitivity. Sometimes I’ll give her what seems to me a small correction, and she’ll feel criticized and hurt. I remember one time, long ago, when I complained about her sensitivity. She said to me, “Barry, you could have married a man who is just like you.” Her point was well taken. Now I am deeply grateful for her sensitivity. Perhaps more than anything else, her sensitivity has caused me to develop my own sensitivity.

Our religious difference – me being raised Jewish and Joyce Protestant – nearly destroyed our relationship in our early years. We tried to change one another. We had many arguments about religion. After two years, we deliberately transferred to different colleges to get away from each other. We tried dating persons of our same religion. It just wasn’t working. All the differences were only in our minds. In our hearts, there was a love big enough to embrace all our differences.

Finally we decided to get married. My childhood Rabbi was extremely discouraging. Joyce’s minister, Reverend Davis, agreed to marry us on one condition. He said, “I will only marry you if you promise never to try to change each other. It is the differences between you that will help you to most grow.” In a way, he was our first spiritual teacher, giving advice that has helped us to this day.

Our early marriage was still not easy. Although we understood about not changing each other, religion was still a difference we were trying to tolerate. What really helped was a deeply soulful search for a spirituality that we could share. We started with Transcendental Meditation, Hatha Yoga, Sufi Dancing, and Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, traveled the world in search of spiritual teachers, and studied a wide variety of spiritual paths, including the roots and origins of Judaism and Christianity. We searched for, and found, spiritual similarities that we shared, practices we could do together. Our favorite at the moment is very simple: we touch our foreheads together and take turns speaking a prayer from the heart – an expression of gratitude, asking for ways to be of service on this planet, as well as asking for help with current challenges.

Yes, Joyce and I have our own spirituality, our own practices. Is one method better than the other? Absolutely not. If it brings inner joy, peace, and respect for all life, it doesn’t matter what the practice.

Yet as a couple, we make it a priority to share sacred moments, whether it is the praying together, sitting side by side meditating in silence, appreciating one another, practicing sacred sexuality, or celebrating the beauty of nature.

It really doesn’t matter how different two people are if: one, those differences are respected and two, the similarities are found and celebrated. Over the years we have observed that couples must have or create a common link, a unifying quality, something that is deeply shared. If the deeper focus is on what you have in common, your differences become background, and thus are more easily embraced and loved. If you focus on your unity, your diversity will challenge you to grow. Celebrate your similarities, and you will learn to celebrate your differences.

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How to Support Your Partner When Disappointment Strikes

April 5, 2010
Rather than having to figure out how your partner wants to be comforted when he or she must face a big disappointment, lay the groundwork for ways that will make life better when that happens, as it surely will at some time.

holding hands

I am miserable! The cold my husband brought into the house a couple weeks ago has finally found its way into my head. He won’t take responsibility for his actions, and claims I got my cold somewhere else. But my symptoms mirror his to such a high degree that I blame him. We like sleeping together, after 50 years it gets to be a habit, but for now we’ve got separate bedrooms. We’re trying to see if that can stop the germs from migrating from one to another and back again.

In the meantime, as you will know if you read my blog last Wednesday titled Choosing a Practice to Build the Will, I want to see whether I can write in the blog five days a week. I may decide to do something else on a regular basis, but for now I want to see if I can do it even when I feel miserable. Like today. So here I am with a big box of Kleenex, two glasses of water, and not two brain cells to rub together.

Before I got out of bed, I groggily contemplated what I could say that wouldn’t require much effort and remembered the DVD I saw yesterday. “Seabiscuit” is a dramatic story of a horse who was too small, a jockey who was too tall, and a homeless trainer who worked for Charles Howard, the owner of the largest Buick dealer in California. It was a story of the triumphant little guy that raised the spirits of many people in the Great Depression.

The part of the movie I want to mention is the death of Charles’ son, about 10 years old, who was killed in an automobile accident. The Howards weren’t able to stay connected with one another and his wife left.

There weren’t more details than that and, in introducing the article I want to share, I started to write that the divorce rate of parents who lose a child is much higher than average. I remembered hearing it was more than 50% and wanted to be sure I had the correct statistics. However, the first article in a Google search brought me to an article on Bereaved Parents and Divorce in the Healing Hearts for Bereaved Parents website. It reported on a study that refuted the estimate that “75%” of parents get a divorce following the death of a child or children. The finding that only 9% of parents get divored was heartening.

In any case, the divorce of the Howards made me think about the newsletter I received last week from Joyce and Barry Vissell, marriage and couple counselors who have given me permission to use their material whenever I feel it would be helpful. This is one of those times. I can quote them and don’t have to think for myself.

In their newsletter, Shared Heart Column, was an article titled When Disappointment Strikes: How to Comfort a Loved One that I reprinted on Support4Change with their permission. Yes, I know, the death of a child is far more serious than the disappointment of once more receiving a publisher’s rejection (which was the situation with which the Vissells were dealing), but I believe their advice lays the foundation for dealing with really big disappointments down the road and certainly with grief. What struck me about the article was the suggestion to tell your partner what would help when life gives you lemons, and then squirts them in your eye.

I suggest you read the article to see how their advice could apply to you.

I think my husband and I have figured out by this time what works for us, but I believe we could have saved ourselves a lot of heartache, and supported one another better, if we had known what was needed for those times when disappointment strikes.