Tuesday, February 28, 2012

communication and active listening - more on the "C" word

It is truly wonderful when relatives live together in peace. It is as beautiful as olive oil poured on Aaron's head and running down his beard and the collar of his robe. It is like the dew from Mount Hermon, falling on Zion's mountains, where the LORD has promised to bless his people with life forevermore. - Psalm 133

Derek and Geoff, circa 1957
As I left my brother Geoff's house, Monday afternoon, the conversation went something like this:
  • Geoff: "I want you to continue writing about this. But maybe this time, instead of "one more post about the guy with cancer," you could reflect about how the process impacts relationships?"
  • Me: "I'm way ahead of you; it's already been working its way around in my head. Now I've got to figure out how to say it."
Interestingly, this part of the conversation turns out to be an extension of Monday's post about relationships being defined by love. Because love is the only context in which to properly live in community, and to begin to understand and practice the idea of this "Life-Charged Life" that's always at the back of my mind.
Hospice Family Meeting: Part of the way hospice takes care of patients is to take care of the family. Consequently, while not required, a family meeting with the hospice social worker is an important element of the process.
So yesterday, at my brother's little house in Bradenton, four of us gathered to talk with Mary-K. Geoff, Hannah (his only child), our mum (Grace), and me.

The most important item on the agenda was to put all the cards on the table. We needed to move forward from this moment with everyone in possession of the same information, aware of the same facts, on the same page when it comes to how we interpret those facts, and going home with the same set of documents (Living Will, DNR, Medical surrogacy etc).

Transparency is also a must. My brother did a good job of making sure that everyone knows about his hopes, his fears, his concerns, his plans, his desires, his decisions. After that we all needed to express how we felt about what he said. Then each one of us needed to make sure that we understood one another's feelings about all this.

Good family conversation last November: Geoff, Hannah, Naomi, Andrew, David, Grace
Active listening: I can't stress enough how important it is to posses and to practice active-listening skills. As much as we love one-another, and as committed we all are to Geoff's comfort and well-being, what we hear is still filtered through our own personal wants, understandings, needs, fears, theologies, issues, preconceived ideas and the individual agendas we tote into the room with us.

Consequently, it took a while for Geoff and Hannah to actually hear to the heart of what the other was saying. But, and this is the important thing, they did manage to burrow through the assumptions and the presumptions and the misunderstandings until they were able to look - with clarity - into one another's hearts and see that they were, after all, talking about the same thing.

PROCESS: But this is a process. Relationships are - by definition - a constant work in progress. If we love one-another enough to want to occupy one another's hearts, then we must be willing to listen and always be open to the possibility that we are wrong (and we very often are)... because good communication is inevitably a series of approximations that lead closer and closer to the heart.

I'm talking, as you can guess, about more than hospice family meetings where we know we're dealing with limited time. I'm talking about marriages, families, churches, friendships and more.

We're all "on the clock" (from the Internet)
ON THE CLOCK: We're all dealing with the possibility of limited time.

Life is a "chronos" experience, faith lives in the realm of "kairos," and there's a lot of overlap. But we have the opportunity to know one-another with greater clarity and on a deeper level now, in the chronos that we have. Husbands. Wives. Children. Friends. Church members. Brothers and sisters. Neighbors.

Honesty is key to real relationship. But - and this is HUGE - if we close someone down because we just know we have them all figured out; if we insist we understand a friend or a lover's motives (or other Christians... or people we disagree with politically... or ___...) and refuse to be willing to be wrong; if we judge rather than listen, presume rather than learn, and limit access to the truth about our hopes and dreams... then we have effectively closed the door on the possibility of genuine love.

According to Mary K, our hospice social worker, many families simply can't engage this kind of conversation about death - and that's largely because they also fail to have any real conversations about life. That's sad on many levels.

me, Geoff, my dad - a couple of years ago...
INVEST: Here's the "take-away" from today's conversation (if you have stayed with the post this far in): We're all "on the clock" in one way or another. Relationships are the key to "The Life-Charged Life," and if we fail to invest in those relationships, we will both live and die in the most complete - and unnecessary - poverty.


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