"We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better."
— J. K. Rowling
The Gift of Community
by Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos
THIS CHRISTMAS WILL BE disheartening for many of us. Our unstable economy, dwindling financial security, home foreclosures, and job losses will not pause for the holiday season. Add health issues to that equation and the result is few, if any, gifts beneath the Christmas Tree. However, there is a bright star in our dark night: community support. We are bigger than the sum of our problems. We belong to the community of mankind. Fellowship and help networks filled with resources and hope are available to everyone. So are sympathetic shoulders to cry on.
In my work as a phone counselor for the R.A. BLOCH CANCER FOUNDATION, I recently received a call from a woman called Lisa, from California. It soon became apparent that this woman, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer recurrence, needed a whole lot more than just my shoulder.
“I can’t start my cancer treatments!” the hysterical voice on the phone cried. “I have to pack all of my belongings because the bank is foreclosing on my home. I’m being thrown out into the street and I have nowhere to go!”
I heard the phone drop to the floor, followed by loud weeping. I felt my heart sink. I wanted to cry with her but that wouldn’t help either of us. So I waited for her to retrieve the phone and resume her tale. Sometimes just listening is the first step in helping.
“I’m the last of my family,” she sobbed, as she explained that her father and brother had died of cancer last year, and her mother had died two years ago. Her dog was her only companion and she was running out of dog food. “If I start my treatments, I won’t have enough energy to pack, and my things are all that I have left of my family. How can you possibly help me?” she demanded.
Good question! How could I assist a woman in such a severe crisis living on the other side of the country? If stress is a killer, why is this poor woman still alive? Is it any wonder she has cancer, again?
“I don’t want to live anymore!” she moaned. “No one can help me.”
I told her to take a deep breath and reassured her that I have resources and contacts that I could call to get her some help. Using The BLOCH FOUNDATION and the ‘PINK’ resource pages from the back of my book, SURVIVING CANCER, I found the toll-free numbers for the director of the Cancer Legal Resource Center in Los Angeles, and the name of an attorney who is also a two-time cancer survivor and co-founder of a legal network for cancer patients. Before giving Lisa these phone numbers, I contacted the organizations to be sure they could meet her needs.
Two days later, I followed up with Lisa and discovered that she had contacted the attorney and Legal Resource Center. A community animal organization had also donated food for her dog. She sounded much better as she prepared for her treatments. We spoke of the statistically increasing chances of surviving cancer recurrence, due to new treatments, with better results and fewer side effects.
“Call me if you need me,” I said. “I’m here for you.”
I was reluctant to let Lisa go, but realized I had to respect her ability and desire to empower herself with these resources.
Unfortunately, Lisa’s story is not the exception during these trying times. Her story, however, has a silver lining, with the uplifting message that community support is crucial during a crisis. As a community, we are our sister’s keepers.
A few days after Lisa’s call, I heard an interesting conversation while standing in a grocery store check-out line. One lady complained about her financial problems to a second woman who responded with, “If you want to change the way your problems appear, change the way you peer at them.” This remark reminded me of the movie Dead Poets Society, in which Robin Williams played an English Professor who encouraged his students to stand on top of their desks to gain a different perspective on life. Another helpful way to achieve this change is by not looking at our problems alone. Like the students in the movie, sometimes we need a guide to help us process challenges differently.
Getting back to holiday basics and remembering the true message of Christmas may also help reduce some of this season’s stresses. Christmas was a message of hope and joy embodied in the form of a new life: a homeless infant on a manger floor for a crib. This child did not receive piles of expensive gifts. He received a roof over his head and one small heartfelt gift from each wise man.
My husband and I have decided not to exchange Christmas gifts this year. Instead, we are going to give them to children in need within our community. This year we will be the Wise Men. I wish to thank WE CAN for the gracious offer to use their facility as a gift-drop-off for anyone who wishes to join us in “Operation Santa.” Please wrap your gift and note its content and the age and sex of the child you wish to receive it. Please keep gifts appropriate.
Cape Cod is rich in local resources for women in crisis. With our extended community of world-wide “womenkind” we have unlimited assets from which to draw. If you know anyone in crisis, please share the list below to help them during the holiday season and beyond. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos was born in Germany to military parents, and raised in Europe. She is a two-time, ten year breast cancer survivor (1998-2008), retired special education teacher, taught psychology at the University of South Florida, and is a Reiki Master. She lives on Cape Cod, with her husband of 25 years, and their cats. Kathy has penned a book, "Surviving Cancer: A Memoir on the Psychic Aspects of Healing," and is currently seeking an agent and publisher for her work. The Pink Pages of her book have been added to the R.A. BLOCH CANCER FOUNDATION reference booklet. For seven years, Kathy has been a phone counselor to women throughout the country and seven foreign countries for the R.A. BLOCH CANCER FOUNDATION www.blockcancer.org or email@example.com She is also a mentor for WE CAN. www.wecancenter.org
You can e-mail responses or questions to Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Go to Resources page for Kathy's list of cancer resources.
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The Season of Giving
by Johanne Keiffer
“It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.”
— Kahlil Gibran
A GIFT CARD fell out of the envelope. Through eyes blurred with tears I realized that there were two of them, both from my local market. Our Christmas of 2006 was like no other. My children and I were truly blessed with the spirit of giving. Only eleven months had passed since my life had crumbled around me, when my husband had announced that he was leaving our marriage, without explanation, without delay.
He left me with two children to feed, bills to pay, no job and no child support. My son’s autism severely limited my job options. I was in shock. He had adopted my children as his very own, just eight months before he left us. What was he thinking? Had he gone mad? How would we survive?
I scrambled to get food stamps and stood in line for government food. There was no room for pride. After two months, child support was finally enforced, but with that came attorney fees and more bills. I felt like I was drowning in legal documents and overdue statements. I was launched into full survival mode. I was frantic, constantly moving, thinking, doing, keeping all the dishes spinning in the air, afraid to stop, afraid one might fall and break, afraid that I might break. I couldn’t afford to even think about it. I just kept moving.
Our divorce was final by summer. That autumn, I learned through legal documents that my ex-husband had remarried immediately after our divorce. He had moved on to a new wife, a new life, and he had left us in the dust. I was no longer in shock, but still digging out from the wreckage he had left behind ,and Christmas was upon us. How was I going to conjure up a holiday for my children when we were barely making it through each day?
My son’s therapist arrived for his usual session one afternoon and explained that his church chose a needy family to donate to each Christmas. He had been providing him occupational therapy for years, had not only become a good friend, but was lovingly considered extended family. He very kindly insisted “you are in need” and said he would ask them to select my family this year. He continued to explain that they not only provided gifts, but also a holiday turkey dinner, with all the trimmings. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of this heartfelt gesture as a feeling of gratitude surged through my body.
Instantaneously, I struggled with pangs of guilt, the ultimate acknowledgement that we were, in fact, a truly needy family. If we were to receive this gift, would it declare that I had failed as a provider for my children? We could certainly use the food. I was always trying to get to the next step, through the next day, the next week. I thought of the children. Once more, there was no room for pride. So I accepted his offer with gratitude beyond my expressive abilities. He asked me what toys the children might like, what their sizes were and what they needed.
I managed to get a tree that year, and buy a few small gifts for my children. The week before Christmas, the therapist called to say he wanted to drop off the gifts and the turkey dinner. When he arrived, the large box he carried was brimming with food, including a homemade pie ready to bake in the oven! He returned to his car to gather up the finely wrapped bags and boxes, all tied in ribbons and bows. It was all so humbling. I reached out to him with a grateful hug. After he left, my daughter and I stood amongst the bundles we had received. We were surrounded by an abundance of gifts, of food, of love. We were bathed in love for community, for humanity, for each other.
That Christmas would not have been possible without the kindness of my son’s therapist and his church. The life lesson of giving, without conditions, would not have been experienced and witnessed by my daughter. This year, I look back at what I’ve been through, and I see where I stand today. I can now give the two gift cards from the market to the next special family who are selected by the church this holiday season. I hope they experience the love and compassion that I felt that Christmas when the gifts were given to me. I understand now that in giving, I have truly received, and for that I am forever grateful.
Johanne Kieffer holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. She is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Reiki Master practicing in Eastham. She is also a freelance writer and resides with her two children on Cape Cod.
By Sheryll Reichwein
"There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child."
— Erma Bombeck
from "I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression"
IN 1990, SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE I began my hypno-therapy training, my friend Kristen asked if I would help her use John Bradshaw’s book “Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child.” The idea, as suggested by Bradshaw, was for one of us to read a guided visualization from the book while the other went on an inner journey to visit a stage of childhood. Kristen, who knew she had painful childhood memories, thought I would be good choice for a partner because I had a positive relationship with my parents and a seemingly happy childhood.
“Sure,” I said. “Sounds like fun.”
The first visualization was to infancy. We agreed that I would go first. Kristen read from the book, word by word, and led me back to the crib.
Amazingly, I soon felt very small. And all alone. In the dark. And, no one was coming. Ever.
The pain was excruciating. I started to cry. Wail was more like it. Kristen tried to snap me out of it, but I was inconsolable, doing that snorting sobbing thing that children do. I tried, but couldn’t stop. Thus, we ended our first, and last, shared visualization session.
And I officially met my inner child.
Later, I asked my mother what had happened. She recalled that when I was about nine months old I had a bad bout of bronchitis and started sleeping in her, and my father’s, bed. Apparently, when I got over the bronchitis I still wanted to sleep in their bed and would cry every time she put me in my crib. I was their first child and my father was not happy about sharing his marriage bed with a third person.
“It broke my heart,” my mother said, “to hear you cry like that night after night. But, everyone told me if I just let you cry it out you would get over it.
“And, by the third night you did. Suddenly, you were quiet. I went into your room and there you were sleeping, standing up, holding onto the rail of your crib. You just gave up.”
No one’s coming. Ever!
This dramatic introduction to my inner child taught me some important lessons. First, the inner child is real. Second, inner children do not require abusive parents to create wounds. Any event, no matter how innocuous, when interpreted through the filter of the child’s mind can create a wound. And third, since no one has perfect parents and since life does not always go as we would wish, we all have a wounded inner child.
Later, through my hypnotherapy training and experience, I would learn that it is possible to heal these wounds. As the saying goes, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”
Or, put another way, it’s never too late to stop having a miserable one!
At no other time of year is the inner child more apparent than during the Holiday Season. Whether you’re with your family of origin, a new family, or a group of friends—wherever you are, your inner child is there with you. As is the inner child of everyone you are with. And sometimes those inner children show up in the same person at multiple ages—say 3, 9, and 14. Whining, fighting, and rebelling—all within a span of a day.
As Bradshaw says, “When an adult with a wounded inner child experiences a current situation which is similar to a prototype painful event, the original response is triggered as well.”
In other words, simply seeing a Christmas Tree can be enough to set off a crying jag or a drunken binge. No wonder the Holiday Season can be so stressful.
So, when confronting irrational holiday behavior in yourself and others, have compassion. Remember that the original trigger event can be trivial by adult standards. Did you not receive the toy you longed for? Did your big brother break your favorite toy? Did Dad yell at you for breaking your little sister’s toy? Did you, in your child’s mind, decide that life isn’t fair, no one listens to you, you don’t matter, no one loves you?
Perhaps your original trigger is more significant. Are the holidays forever linked with a life shattering event—a divorce, illness, death? If so, you are painfully familiar with the power of early inner child trauma. All wounds can be healed, but early trauma requires ongoing attention—especially when faced with confronting the trigger event in present time. How do you find joy when the Holiday Season is an anniversary of pain and loss?
Everyone’s healing path is unique. But I can say with surety that everyone does having a healing path. And with courage and loving support, the path to joy can be found.
Perhaps you have the opposite problem with childhood memories so joyful that all else pales in comparison. If you remember your childhood holidays as perfect, how can today’s holiday measure up? What do you do when present time is always a disappointment? Are you, like Erma Bombeck, sad to wake up on Christmas morning and find you are no longer a child? If so, reliving Christmas past may be preventing you from creating something special in the present. Like the memory of a first love, nothing else is ever good enough. To enjoy today, you need to mourn and let go of yesterday. Ironically, to experience childlike joy now, you need to accept that your childhood belongs in the past.
Whatever your personal story, be on the lookout this Holiday Season for your inner child. Intense feelings and repetitive thoughts that seem out of proportion to the current trigger event probably belong to a childhood memory. When you notice yourself having this type of reaction, take a deep breath and welcome your inner child. Listen to her thoughts and feelings. Allow impressions to bubble forward. She wants to share her story. Healing begins when you listen—without judgment.
What she needed then—and what she still needs now—is love. Unconditional love. No matter what your religious or cultural tradition, the Holiday Season provides an excellent opportunity to express love—through ceremony, gatherings and gifts. This year, start a new tradition. Invite your inner child to the festivities. What gift would delight her? Consider adding her favorite things to your holiday list.
This Holiday Season, when you witness the wounded child in yourself and others, offer compassion. Embrace them with loving actions. And demonstrate the healing power of love.
May you and your loved ones experience many Holiday Blessings!
A native Cape Codder, Sheryll Hirschberger Reichwein is an innkeeper, owning The Beach Rose Inn in West Falmouth with her husband Douglas. Prior to that, Sheryll was an Adjunct Professor of Communications at Cape Cod Community College. She is a certified Feng Shui consultant and a widely published writer whose work was often featured in Cape Women magazine.