Dear Five Faces: My mother recently made an extremely unreasonable request and I am writing for help on how best to deal with it. After a long illness, my father passed away this summer and our small family held a simple, private funeral for him. My fiance, Shelley, attended with me and all was well. Recently, my father’s brother (who lives out of state) has decided to stage an extensive memorial service for my father in January. My uncle is a very conservative person and Mom has asked that Shelley not attend; she’s concerned about flak from his family. Apparently, my parents never mentioned to Dad’s family that I’m gay. How should I handle this? Shelley says she understands and is willing to skip the ceremony for family harmony, but it just isn’t fair. How can I convince my mother that Shelley should be allowed to attend? I’m really angry that Shelley is being snubbed! Signed: Angry Daughter
Dear Angry Daughter: First, I offer my condolences on the loss of your father. Losing a parent is always difficult. And losing a spouse can be just as difficult, sometimes more so, which means that your mother is probably in a pretty stressed place these days. She may still be reeling from all that needs to be managed when someone passes, so let’s figure out your elemental personalities and see if we can find a way to help you and your family with this issue.
Because you are angry and upset at the unfairness of Shelley not attending the service, I suspect you are a primary Wood personality. Fairness is key to Wood people and anger is where they go when things seem unfair. Shelley’s willingness to skip the service to keep the peace suggests she’s a primary Earth personality. Family harmony is very important to Earth people. Finally, your mother’s insistence on Shelley not attending because of appearances suggest she is probably a primary Metal personality. Appearances matter to them. And even if your mother isn’t normally a primary Metal, with the recent death of her husband she is probably in a Metal place these days. Grief, loss, and letting go all sit in the Metal element of the Five Elements model.
The main elemental dynamic at play here is that you and your mother (as she is now) relate on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model, with her Metal energy controlling your Wood energy. Wood people do not like to be controlled, so it’s understandable that you are having serious trouble with your mother’s request. Something else Wood people hate is when things seem out of control, which touches on another dynamic involved in your situation that is probably bothering you, as well.
Dear Vicki: My brother Joe is in his early forties and works as a cook, which is just his “day job.” His passion is music and playing guitar. When we were younger, Joe wanted to write songs for a rock band or be an elementary teacher. Neither ever happened. But about a year ago, Joe met a woman who runs a nursing home. Carol is close to his age, kind and caring, but also very exacting in how she approaches things. She’s always punctual, too. Since Joe moved in with Carol, he has changed in very positive ways. He’s less scattered, more organized, and even thinking about going back to college for a degree in early education. Our whole family is thrilled, and I’m wondering if there is anything we can do to help Joe in his relationship with Carol. She is so good for him. Signed: Caring Sister
Dear Caring Sister: It’s wonderful news about Joe, and no surprise that your family is so happy. In the Five Elements model, family sits in the Earth element. That means we’re all a little Earthy around our families. Deep, lasting relationships matter to Earth people. They also really want the people they care about to be happy. In fact, there appears to be a great deal of Earth energy in your family. Not only because you all want to help Joe and Carol stay together, but because I suspect both Joe and Carol have Earth as key parts of their elemental personalities. So, let’s take a look at them individually, then move on to their relationship.
Joe’s passion for music and songwriting suggests he has a primary Water personality. But his current job as a cook, as well as his desire to be in elementary education, suggests that he has a strong secondary Earth personality. I suspect Carol has a strong secondary Earth personality, too. Earth people make wonderful nurses. But to run a nursing home means that Carol has a more structured element as her primary personality: either Wood or Metal. And given her tendencies to be exacting and punctual, I suspect she has a primary Metal personality.
Dear Vicki: I have been an elementary school principal for decades and love my work. My goal is always to keep the school running in an appropriate manner and support the students, who I care about deeply. Last year, I started at a new school and one of the teachers there, we’ll call her Jane, was a real challenge to manage. I’m dreading working with her again this year. She is outgoing and often very flighty. She agrees to attend meetings, then doesn’t show up. Or if she does show, she’s kidding around so much we can’t get down to business. The students all love her and think she’s fun, but they don’t have to manage her. Honestly, I do like her and want to do right by her, but I’m having a hard time keeping her in line. Any hints on how to make this year more successful than last? Signed, Burned in Bellevue
Dear Burned: This is an understandably difficult situation. Based on your description, I suspect that Jane is a primary Fire personality, which means she will be a lot of fun, very popular, and also difficult to contain. You sound like you care about doing a good job and have very specific ideas of how you want things run. But Fire people have very little structure, so usually aren’t great at coloring inside the lines, so to speak. And yet, there are definitely ways you can engage with Jane to help bring her onboard.
Based on your deep caring for your students and your goal to keep the school running in an appropriate manner, it is likely that you are a primary Earth personality with a strong secondary Metal personality. Earth people usually care deeply about children and Metal people care deeply about doing what is right or appropriate. The good news is that the Earth part of your personality should get on well with Jane. In the Five Elements model, Earth and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle with Fire feeding Earth. This implies that, if you were honest with yourself, you probably enjoy Jane as much as the students do. The challenge for you rests in the relationship between your strong secondary Metal personality and Jane’s Fire personality.
Dear Vicki: For 48 years, my parents had a happy marriage. They seemed the perfect couple to me: she loved being a stay at home mother and he loved being the proverbial breadwinner for the family (he ran his own consulting firm). They raised three happy children, loved their grandchildren, but always took time for themselves, too. Sadly, my father passed away a year ago and not unexpectedly, my mother has taken it really hard. Since then, she hasn’t been able to find joy in life and seems to have pulled away completely. In many ways it feels like we lost both of them when Dad died. I’m wondering if there is any way to bring my mom back; we all miss her terribly. Thanks for any advice you can offer. Signed: Orphaned in Oregon
Dear Orphaned: When a couple has enjoyed a long and happy marriage, it isn’t uncommon for the surviving spouse to have a difficult time adjusting to life alone. It can be especially hard for people with primary Earth personalities because long-term connections give meaning to their lives. And I think that’s basically what’s going on for your mother; as a stay at home mother of three there is no doubt in my mind that she is a primary Earth personality. And while the loss of a 48-year relationship will be hard for any of us, it can be especially devastating for an Earth person.
However, the flip side of the situation is that sometimes it can be easiest to bring Earth people back from the despair of loss if there are other deep and meaningful relationships still in their lives. These relationships can help them create a new version of how things were before their loss. Fortunately for your mother, it sounds like this is the case for her. She has loving children and grandchildren who clearly want her back in their lives on a regular basis, and that will help you a great deal.
Dear Vicki: I read your blog regularly and have enjoyed learning about the elemental personalities. Based on what you’ve written, I think I may be a primary Fire personality because, before I had children, I loved going to parties, I was very spontaneous, and would often say yes to something before I thought it through. My problem is that my best friend in the world moved away six months ago for an exciting opportunity as a corporate planner with a large firm. Maisy loves the job, but I really miss her. For several months I’ve been telling her how much I miss her and she always asks when we’re going to get together. I have three young children, so can’t easily travel, and Maisy doesn’t have much vacation time yet, so we haven’t been together since she moved. Last night, while talking on the phone, I told her again how much I miss her and she exploded, asking me why I keep telling her that if I’m not going to do anything about it. What is going on? Signed, Missing Maisy
Dear Missing Maisy: This is an interesting problem, and one that really makes sense when you consider the elemental personalities involved. It does sound like you are a primary Fire personality for all the reasons you shared in your letter. As a Fire, you do want connections and will miss them when they are gone. The other elemental personality that really values connections, especially long-term ones, is the Earth personality. And since you have three small children and clearly must love being a mom, I suspect you probably have Earth as your secondary elemental personality.
Being a Fire/Earth personality combination will make connections all the more important to you. It will also make letting go of long-term relationships of any kind that much harder. With both Fire and Earth energy as the dominant force in your personality, it will be very natural – and truly a compliment from your soul – to tell Maisy how much you miss her whenever you can. But it’s clear that Maisy doesn’t get your meaning, which likely has to do with her elemental personality.