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The Value of Emotional Generosity

There is a lot of chatter about people being emotionally unavailable to fulfill certain roles, participate in a discussion or provide support. At times, it seems the phrase is used as part of an exit strategy to end a conversation or relationship. When one is seeking a way out of any type of commitment they offer this phrase, “I’m emotionally unavailable. All the best.” Of course, what this really means is that the person has no vested interest in pursuing any long term communication. Few want to be disturbed with having to follow up on another phone call or email. This is also a convenient phrase because in a world that honors the over-scheduled and hurried, being unavailable sounds logical and fits neatly into any dialogue.

However, I wonder how many of the emotionally unavailable obtain genuine support from others. After all, receiving support means to some extent that one is open, and this also infers that one is willing to give. To be clear, emotional generosity is not referring to a co-dependent, financial or abusive relationship. Instead, emotional generosity is being available for another, offering support, providing honest communication, and giving without an agenda.

Emotional generosity is critical for developing authentic relationships. It offers presence, trust, and comfort in world that can be overwhelming and lonely. Things happen over a lifespan, relationships fall away, but friendships where this generosity is practiced are deeper and wholeheartedly richer.

In doing research for my upcoming book, A Widow’s Guide To Healing, I interviewed widows of all ages about how they coped with their loss and what they found to assuage their grief. An overwhelming number of the widows reported that a close friendship, either with a family member or friend, was a critical factor. Now, I am not suggesting that one can only benefit from emotional generosity if a death occurs. What I am suggesting is that there are great benefits in having this deep social support.

Young children are often the best models for practicing emotional generosity. They are apt to tell you exactly what is on their mind, and find joy in giving. Years before my late husband was diagnosed with cancer he was visiting his close friend’s son, Charlie (not his real name), who had terminal cancer. Charlie knew he was dying and was prepared to say goodbye. Before my husband left their home, Charlie gave him a Transformer toy car. Charlie said, “This is for you because I’m being transformed.”

The day after I found out that my husband had advanced cancer, I noticed that the Transformer was on our fireplace mantle. It was Charlie’s mother who spoke at my husband’s funeral. Then without judgment she went on to teach me about emotional generosity. Now, the Transformer is on my bookshelf. It is the kind of thing that always stays with you as do dear friends.

Article published in HuffPost Healthy Living, 2/4/15

A Walk For Widows

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The Route Mr. Parsons Will Take Across India.”A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.””A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” 

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu

No one is going to be better able to speak to this Lao Tzu quote than Mr. Chris Parsons. On January 10, 2015, the 53- year-old British attorney will be walking across India to benefit The Loomba Foundation. For the past several months he has adhered to a rigorous training schedule to prepare for this monumental journey.

In 2011, Mr. Parsons was attending an event in London, and happened to be seated next to Lord Loomba, CBE. It was at this event that Lord Loomba talked to Mr. Parsons about the impetus for the Loomba Foundation. When Lord Loomba, was a young child, his mother was widowed with seven children. As a result of this tragedy, Lord Loomba created the foundation to provide economic, educational and social empowerment to widows and their children.

Before meeting Lord Loomba, Mr. Parsons had already decided that he wanted to bicycle 2000 km from London to Gibraltar to benefit a charity to mark his 50th birthday. After talking with Lord Loomba, about his foundation, Mr. Parsons chose to support the Loomba Foundation through his cycling expedition.

The Loomba Foundation

Mr. Chris Parsons with Lord Loomba, CBE. Photograph belongs to The Loomba Foundation and is used with their permission.

 

This time Mr. Parsons will be walking from Mumbai to Bangalore. The 1260 km distance divided into thirty days means that Mr. Parsons is walking the equivalent of a marathon (42 KM) a day. The course isn’t flat, and the high temperatures add additional challenges. Each day, he will walk anywhere from eight to twelve hours. “The reality is that I fully appreciate how tough it will be,” he notes. He is counting on locals to walk beside him, which will provide the critical emotional support often needed for such a challenging task.

“I’m stepping into the unknown,” Mr. Parsons adds. However, he will not be embarking on this alone. He has a support team in a follow car, complete with a physiotherapist who will have a full medical kit to aid with any walking related ailments. His sponsors include Apollo Hospitals, Gatorade/Pepsi, TCS and the Bombay Stock Exchange.

It is not a coincidence that Mr. Parsons decided to pursue this walk within thirty days. He chose the number thirty to honor his own 30 year work anniversary with Herbert Smith Freehills, an international law firm. As part of his work, Mr. Parsons travels to India from London each month. When in India, he advises on foreign law (mainly English and United States), and teaches English law at a number of the Indian law school, often in conjunction with Oxford University.

In addition, Mr. Parsons has visited a number of children of the Indian widows who are directly benefiting from the charity of the Loomba Foundation. Further, he has developed many personal connections here as well. He adds, “Some of my best friends live in India. It is my second home. I wanted to do this walk to focus on Indian widows and their children.”

Mr. Parsons will be keeping a blog about his journey, and you can read it here theloombafoundation.org/category/chris-parsons/

To learn about the Loomba Foundation, please check here theloombafoundation.org/.

Article published in Huffington Post Impact, 1/5/15

When Things Aren’t Merry or Bright

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Photograph taken at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

There is a big push this time of year for image management. Nearly anywhere you look there are guides on preparing the right meal, the perfect card, the amazing party, and an inspired holiday letter. There is pressure, real or imagined, to appear that you are pulled together and enjoying every minute of this season.

However, there are many who are experiencing untold suffering, and this time of year is filled with angst and sorrow. If you have experienced any sort of loss (job, divorce, death, friendship) then you can somewhat relate to these sentiments. Sometimes things aren’t spectacular, and you haven’t had a banner year filled with abundance. There are moments when someone asks how you are doing, you nod, clench your jaw, bite your tongue, and reply with the happy answer because it is far easier than explaining your despair.

Whenever you tell others that everything is “fine,” I wonder if you are really trying to convince yourself that your heart isn’t breaking? Instead, why not practice brutal honesty? This may counter your spirited holiday logic, but being honest with yourself is one way to fierce contentment. Fierce because at this time of year it isn’t natural to express sadness; and yet, contentment often follows when you can give yourself a dose of honesty. For those who have suffered a significant loss, whenever it occurred, the void that the person left is often more palpable during the holidays. It isn’t unnatural to see a certain item at a store and think about your beloved. Sending out cards without your child’s name on it is beyond difficult, and this sadness won’t easily dissolve. Walking to the grave from your car are the longest steps you will take. These are moments you never thought you would encounter.

However, being completely present with your grief and rawness is difficult. Many spend years avoiding these moments. Some feel pressure to act as though they feel special spiritual healing and experience guilt for not experiencing faith as they once understood it. Practicing this sort of raw and brutal honesty, rather it is through meditation, journal writing, or prayer won’t bring back your beloved, but it will allow you to be present with your sorrow. This is the bare bones of loss. You are emotionally naked and completely vulnerable and this is why it takes an incredible amount of bravery to even enter into this space. It actually takes practice becoming this open. Some call it the road untraveled; others refer to it as holy time. Whatever you call it, healing is taking place, even though it may be in small increments.

The path to contentment isn’t found in the aisle at your local department store. For many it is discovered in the small tender moments while there’s a lump in your throat when a piece of music is played or you when you find a photograph of your loved one. The most beautiful things come to us when the light is silent and darkness is bright.

Published in Huffingtion Post Healthy Living on 12/16/2014

Unbounded Gratitude

Last month I went to Nairobi, Kenya with a small group of widows. We were connected with a charity organization that services widows and their children. We were given the opportunity to meet with the widows and visit their homes. I had the absolute joy of meeting Peninnah, a mother of three young children. Peninnah is one of those women who you would expect to be depressed and pessimistic, and frankly who could blame her? She lives in a slum, called Kibera, the largest slum many believe to be in Africa. At times it is estimated that nearly 1 million people live here. Peninnah doesn’t have running water, electricity, a bank account, or even access to even a bicycle. She spent part of her afternoon with me telling me about her daily life: how she waters down the food to get two meals out of it, cares for her infant, and how she makes necklaces (photographed below) to earn cash.

Peninnah explains the process necessary to make these necklaces. She uses discarded paper, measures and cuts it, then dyes it. Once the paper is dry, she rolls each strip of paper with a toothpick and then puts it together, like you would stringing beads on a necklace. I ask her how long it takes to make one necklace. She responds by telling me that she can make five a day, and has even taught other women in the group how to make the necklaces so that they too can earn a living.

This all seems rather hopeless to me. I think she’s living in a disaster zone, and I can’t believe that she is smiling and loving on her baby while telling me this. When I ask about how she accesses health care, she calmly explains that she has to save up money to obtain transportation to get to the NGO hospital whenever one of her children needs medical attention. She is a warm and even asks about my late husband. Our conversation comes to an end when she realizes the women are getting together to participate in a group activity. I tell Peninnah that I can hold her baby so that she can participate with the other women.

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Photograph is property of Kristin Meekhof

The next morning our group met the women, and I immediately saw Peninnah holding her baby. Upon sitting next to Peninnah, she opened her purse and gave me a bracelet. I am speechless. She was so grateful for my time in taking care of her baby that she’s giving me this bracelet as a token of gratitude. Full of love she said, “This is for you because you held my baby (so) I could be with the group.”

This mother who supports her family on less than a dollar a day, has found her way to gratitude. And once she has found it, she then decided to give with an open hand. Most humbling is knowing that the bracelet she gave me could have sold to earn a few shillings.

An open heart fosters gratitude, which in turn as Peninnah knows, produces joy. Gratitude despite any circumstances isn’t easy. And so every time I look at the bracelet Peninnah gave me I think of what this gift revealed: gratitude that knows no bounds leads to openheartedness and openhandedness.

Published in Huffingtion Post Healthy Living on 11/17/2014