The Chick in the Road
In the fall of 2010, I gave a presentation entitled, Behind the Scenes; A Grief Deconstructed, at a police-based victim services conference in British Columbia. In this particular presentation, I go into detail about the psychological, emotional and spiritual components of my experience grieving the death of my husband, John, a police officer.
After my presentation in BC, an RCMP officer came up and shared his story with me. His teenage daughter had been struck and killed by a car as she was crossing the street at a pedestrian cross-walk. He was devastated. But he went on to explain how a police Chaplain had helped him in the days and weeks following his daughter’s death.
“I felt like a helpless little chick in the middle of Oak Street,” the officer told me. “I was terrified and didn’t know what to do. Then the Chaplain came along and through his kindness, it was almost as if he…gently picked me up and took me to safety at the side of the road.”
And it struck me: this is what people who work with victims do…they support strangers during the most horrific moments of their lives. And even though they can’t even begin to make anything okay again, they can be there for people during their greatest time of need. And this presence can be a tremendous gift.
During my time of greatest need, I didn’t meet any victim services volunteers. Instead, I had an amazing support network of family, friends, police officers and chaplains surrounding me. Heck, I wasn’t just moved off the road; I was picked up and put in a safe little nest with dozens of protective mother hens guarding it!
I was very blessed.
For the purpose of this blog, however, two of my “chick safe-keepers” in particular stand out.
The first was my brother, George. After spending seventeen hours with John in the ICU, the time came for me to say goodbye when an operating room became available for his organ removal surgery. The medical staff wheeled John’s hospital bed from the ICU into the operating room – and I’d followed him through the halls and right into the OR.
After saying my final goodbye, I left the OR and went back into the hallway, where dozens of people were waiting. I started to thank everyone for staying when George shook his head, took my arm and quietly said, “That’s enough for today, Maryanne.”
He was right.
But when we are in times of crisis, we often don’t KNOW when enough is enough. We’ve lost all perspective because suddenly there is no normal. And it is up to the people around us – be that family, friends, colleagues, professionals or strangers – to have the courage and compassion to remove us from a situation we no longer need to be in.
In the weeks that followed, my brother Doug became the chief safe-keeper of the chick. He was the mother hen of all the other mother hens. Doug fed me, watered me, put me to bed, dragged me out of bed, listened to me, answered my questions, fielded the dozens of phone calls, kept me on track meeting all the lousy new obligations my days held…funeral arrangements, choosing a headstone, meeting with lawyers and so on.
Fast forward a decade to my Behind the Scenes presentation at the victim services conference in BC. I knew then that the time would come when I would no longer be giving these presentations. By continually dredging up a painful past for the sole benefit of others, I was inadvertently keeping myself in baby-chick-mode: safe but stuck.
For although it may seem safer to stay in a situation we have outgrown – and is no longer healthy – versus finding the courage to change, the reality is that we are actually at risk of a fate worse than death, in my opinion: perceiving ourselves as a victim.
But the RCMP officer’s ‘chick in the road’ analogy gave me an idea. The next time I gave my Behind the Scenes presentation, I would incorporate his story to demonstrate the incredibly important role that people working in victim services play. I would also have my presentation professionally filmed and put on a DVD for educational use by victim services units.
My intended audience could still hear my presentation – it just wouldn’t be live.
Then I took it a step further and decided to create a Behind the Scenes “info kit” that will have the DVD, a copy of my book, A Widow’s Awakening, and one other item to complete the chick theme.
Back when John and I were in our early twenties and he was writing the different exams required to become a police officer, I gave him a “warm fuzzy” – a fluffy little yellow chick with cardboard feet and googly eyes. And with the chick was this little note I’d written for him:
This warm fuzzy will give you luck in your exam. Whenever you get nervous or worried, just remember he is in your pocket to remind you of our love.
Unbeknownst to me, John had kept that little fuzzy with him all those years. He had it in his duty bag the night he died. It was in the police car. So after his death, the police returned John’s duty bag to me and when I found the strength to go through it, there in the side pocket was the little chick and folded-up note I’d given him a decade earlier.
So the other item that will go in the Behind the Scenes info kit is a yellow chick/warm fuzzy and note of encouragement to victim services workers that the greatest gift they can give people is not their advice; it’s their presence – love at it finest.
As for the rest of us, thankfully muddling through life mostly in times of non-crisis, I think back to what George said to me that night in the hospital hallway. When the time for change has come in our own lives or those around us, perhaps the greatest gift we can offer is advice…as in: “That’s enough.”
I’m giving my Behind the Scenes presentation at another police-based victim services conference this spring. It will likely be my last. But you can bet your warm fuzzy it is being professionally filmed for the info kits
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc. She is the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund and lives onVancouver Island, British Columbia.
Not the vegetable – the sport
A year ago, I returned to the squash court after a twenty-year hiatus (hence the really outdated safety glasses in the photo above!). I love the game. Unfortunately, I had to stop again because my knee was acting up…too many years spent pounding through the bumps on the ski hill finally caught up to me, I suspect.
But last spring, my friend Trisha and I had a ball on the squash court. We took weekly lessons from an instructor by the name of Rick, a retired elementary school teacher – which probably explains his patience.
Rick broke down the game of squash for us. Here is a summary of what I learned…for as you’ll see, learning to play squash well is perhaps rather like learning to live well.
The Rules of the Game
1. Find the teachers who care enough to teach you, even when they don’t get paid.
2. The best teachers are far more concerned with making you a better player than making you feel better about your game.
3. After the teacher is gone is often when you finally learn the lessons.
4. Take time to learn the basic skills.
5. The goal is to learn to hit the ball well – not just hit it.
6. Practice the basic skills over and over again until you’ve mastered them.
7. Good skills become good habits.
8. If you have developed good habits, when game time comes these will automatically kick in.
9. There is a difference between being taught skills and actually learning them.
10. The more you put your entire self into hitting the ball, the more impactful your efforts will be.
11. Learn skills first; strategy second.
12. Practice the skills on your own before rallying with a partner.
13. Practice one component of the skill over and over again before moving on to the next component.
14. Know the difference between a rally and a game.
a) A rally is when you hit the ball to your partner so that he or she can return it.
b) A game is when you hit the ball to your opponent so that he or she can’t return it.
14. Slow down your rally: the purpose is to develop your skills not score a point.
15. You will NOT win the game if you haven’t mastered the basic skills.
And what is “the game” but a happy, peaceful, purposeful life?
But, just like in a good game of squash, real life speeds up. So if we don’t have good habits firmly in place, which for me are: proper rest; good nutrition, clear priorities; balance; living within my means; exercise; fun; spending time in nature; ability to say no to unreasonable demands on my time; healthy boundaries in place; time with friends, family and pets; downtime on my own; creative time for writing; time for e-mail and business correspondence; time for household chores; and so on, when life does get busy again, I’ve learned the hard way (more than once) I won’t last very long in the game.
But unlike a game of squash, the stakes of losing in life are significantly higher.
It’s called burnout. And I can tell I’m heading towards burnout when:
- I start to feel overwhelmed
- I get really sad for no apparent reason
- I am absolutely exhausted
- I burst into tears easily
- I get really stressed out
- I get sick
- It feels like an elephant is standing on my chest
- I get depressed
- I lose focus
- I want to give up
- I question my purpose
- I stop smiling
- I make poor decisions
- I go deeper into debt
And then, if I still refuse to admit I’m losing the game, my cluster migraines start again and I am effectively yanked from the court – sidelined – for a month or more.
The “game” – what we perceive to be a good life – is different for each of us, of course, as are the costs of losing.
However, regardless of our individual situations, if we don’t take time to learn the necessary life skills that will get us from where we are to where we want to go – in as healthy and happy ways as possible – and then practice those skills on our own, then hone them in rallies with the people around us, then we won’t develop the good habits that will become automatic for when game time comes.
And game time always comes; if we’re still breathing, we’re technically still in the game.
But just as the game of squash is broken down into the necessary skills that, when practiced enough in non-game conditions become good habits, so it is with life…for how we spend our days is how we spend our lives
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Dreams. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc. and the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. Maryanne lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
When Our Body Says No
We’d Be Wise to Listen
I’ve heard it said our soul speaks to us in soft whispers. And my mind certainly has no problem communicating to me through that nagging little voice that says, “You probably shouldn’t do that…”
Now I’m learning to listen to what my body is trying to tell me.
Last October, I went back to Calgary for Thanksgiving – and to give a workplace safety presentation at a company.
The presentation itself went fine. I’ve done an awful lot of them now.
But I do remember thinking, “Hmmm…I wonder how healthy this is for me, telling people over and over again about the circumstances that led to John’s (my husband) death?”
The next day I had my answer, delivered to me through my body. I was sick as a dog with the flu.
The presentation itself didn’t make me sick. The actual flu bug came courtesy of the female passenger hacking up a lung next to me on the plane to Calgary. But I bet it was my body’s weakened immune system that let the bug go to town, once the stress of the presentation was over.
I did a lot of thinking that lousy Thanksgiving weekend, spent entirely on my mom’s couch. And what did I suspect my body was telling me?
ENOUGH! STOP GIVING PRESENTATIONS ABOUT JOHN’S DEATH – IT IS MAKING YOU SICK!
The soft whispers and nagging little voice hadn’t done the trick. But sickness sure did.
And so, I promised myself that weekend to ease up on giving presentations. I would commit to giving one or two a year. In fact, I’m presenting at a Victim Services Conference in April. But that presentation is a personal one about the emotional and psychological effects of grief, so it is best delivered by me.
The workplace safety presentation, on the other hand, does not have to be delivered by me.
But the presentations themselves do still need to be delivered…because they work. People in the audience are impacted by the story of Johns’ death – and get the message loud and clear: make your workplace safe for everyone, including emergency responders who may have to attend.
Other members of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF) also give these workplace safety presentations – but they can only give so many, due to their work schedules.
So…we did some brainstorming and came up with the idea of hiring a professional speaker to deliver the safety presentations. Then we pitched the idea, of setting up a professional speaker program, to a potential funding source and voila! Within a week, we got our first round of funding to hire our main speaker.
And we found a perfect gal for the job…someone whose passion is, strangely enough, public speaking! She is chomping at the bit to do her first presentation on March 7th. She’s even married to a police officer.
So what I’ve learned is this: it’s almost as if the universe was just waiting for me to a) say the word (NO!) and then b) take the next step of asking for help.
For it was only when I got out of the way and stopped doing something I didn’t enjoy doing, wasn’t particularly good at, and took a tremendous amount of time and energy away from the things I do enjoy doing (and am better at, such as writing) that the right person – and the funds – could fall into place.
And here’s the best part: the professional speaker program means the JPMF will now be able to deliver hundreds of powerful workplace safety presentations in communities throughout Alberta – versus the handful we were doing before.
Is there anything you are doing in your life that is no longer healthy for you? If so, what would happen if you stopped doing it…and let someone else give it a try?
We can’t do it all. We’re not supposed to.
And as I’ve learned, sometimes it is only when we finally admit we are not necessarily the best person for the task or job that the right person gets a chance to step up and get it done – with passion, purpose…and a profound appreciation for the opportunity
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. The Fund is currently seeking corporate & industry sponsors for the professional speaker program. Please contact Ian Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org - and help us get the number of preventable workplace injuries and fatalities down.