rec·i·proc·i·ty (noun) : the quality or state of being reciprocal : mutual dependence, action, or influence
Sometimes days have such a profound impact on you that you know that the lessons they teach you will be carried with you for life. Hopefully (but I accept, not always) these are positively profound.
Today was one of those days.
There is a word that is used a lot in my ongoing training as an End of Life Doula. and that is “RECIPROCITY”
Its a word that encompasses such deep emotional experiences. I have come to appreciate and give gratitude to it more and more on my journey through life, particularly in the roles of celebrant and doula…
… And it ties very nicely into my journey to be as authentically me as I possibly can be. With the realisation of the deep joy that is the power of openness and authenticity.
Today I was in a session as part of Module 2 of the training with Living Well Dying Well. It focussed on reminiscence and the use of ALL our senses to stimulate memory and reflection, not just in ourselves but for our clients who are at very different places in terms of health and ability to communicate.
In both these roles in my life I have the profound privilege of witnessing and sharing in the most intimate human journeys. I get to share in couples love stories and witness the reactions of their nearest and dearest as they share in their happiness. I get told the most beautiful stories and get to create beautiful unique ceremonies and rituals that reflect the journeys that have lead couples to where they are.
The same is true with loss. As a funeral celebrant I get to witness families in all their grief, I get to help them share their memories, remember their loved ones, be honest about the multitude of complex emotions they are feeling and create farewells that are poignant and honest, respectful and meaningful. Ceremonies that help families and friends take that first step onto the uneven and unexplored road through any specific loss. No two grief journeys are the same. Being able to signpost, reassure, hear, reflect and be totally non-judgemental to somebody’s loss is an honour. But it’s more than that. It’s a gift.
There is a huge amount of reciprocity in being gifted these insights into other peoples lives.
I truly believe that the more honest I am about myself, to myself; and the more of my own vulnerability I am prepared to leave open to be seen; the more I an able to receive back.
When we are asking families to let us into their story they will be more open and honest with us if we are ourselves authentic and true to ourselves. That does not mean that when they are giving to us we have to reciprocate in return; or show our understanding by sharing a story of our own (listening does not need vocal response, testing understanding does not need the sharing by comparison). We simply need to know our own story.
I realised today that there are better ways to ask someone how they are feeling or what they remember. I was reminded of the powerful impact of creativity in reminiscences. I was reminded of the emotional impact of objects, music, prose, touch, smell and taste, in the recollection of minutia detail and how stimulating other senses helps the flow of a story.
When working with individuals and their families during their last weeks of life, words are often not enough. The dying may have lost much of their ability to communicate. Children witnessing the loss of a parent may not have the language to express themselves. Direct speech may simply be too raw and scary to say out loud. But maybe bringing in objects and talking about them and why they matter may be a work around.
But even outside of working with deeply emotional situations, using all our senses for communication can be a great way of confronting minor conflicts and communication shortfalls in relationships. And sometimes doing it is just a fun way to deepen ones connection with your friends and loved ones.
Here’s something you could do with groups of friends as conversation starters at dinner parties or in groups. Ask everyone to bring one song, ask them to introduce it, then play it and then talk to you all about why it is significant. Take turns. Not only will you learn so much more about what makes that person who they are, you’ll probably have a great new play list or at least some new music to go away and explore.