Mother’s Death Leaves Her Brother Adrift

Dear Vicki: Our dear, sweet, loving mother passed away last year and it has been a tough road for our family. She was the glue that held us all together, but for my brother Arnold she was also a lifeline to reality. Arnold is in his early twenties, still lives at home, and never went to college. He is a quiet, sensitive guy who worked in a convenience store and loves photography and drawing comics. He could easily get lost in his art or watching superhero movies, often forgetting to eat or even get to work on time unless Mom reminded him. Since she’s been gone, Dad stays at his law office late and Arnold has lost his job. I have my own family now so can’t really move back home to help out. I think dad will be okay, but I’m really worried about Arnold. How can I help him? Signed: Sad Sister

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Dear Sad Sister: My condolences on your loss. It’s never easy to lose a loved one, but it’s especially hard to lose a mom. Most mothers have a lot of Earth energy in their personalities – family and home sit in the Earth element – and they often are exactly what holds everyone together. Earth people love focusing on home and family, and making sure everyone’s needs are met. No doubt you all miss her love and affection, but Arnold is also missing more than that. He is missing the structure and boundaries that she would have provided for him because of the way they related on the Five Elements model.

It’s very likely that your brother is a Water personality.  Everything you said about him, and some things you didn’t, describe Waters perfectly. They are quiet and sensitive people, usually passionate about art or some other solitary endeavor, and not very interested in the type of learning that requires a structured environment like college or even a tech school. They do love to learn, but in their own way, on their own time. As you can tell, structure isn’t something Waters have an abundance of, or necessarily appreciate. In nature, if the two most structured elements attempt to structure water, it rarely goes well. Water will rust metal and rot wood. In nature, only sweet gentle earth can successfully provide structure for water in the form of riverbeds and shorelines. And it’s the same way with people and relationships.

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Fire and Grief: Like a Cloud Over the Sun

Dear Vicki: My teenage daughter Stacy’s best friend Rachel was killed in a car accident last winter. Stacy and Rachel were very close and it has been a horrible time for Stacy. I’ve been as supportive with her process as possible, but there’s been no laughing, giggling, or joy in the house since the accident. A cloud has covered the sun of our family life and I think it’s time for things to get back to normal. Our family has a big vacation planned for the end of summer, something that’s been in the works for over a year, but Stacy still isn’t herself. She’s functional, but doesn’t laugh, isn’t very interested in the trip, stays in her room a lot, and is still withdrawn from the family. This is such a change from how she used to be: She was funny, outgoing, loved parties, and laughed all the time. I know she’s a Fire, but there’s no Fire in her now. I understand the need to grieve, but I’m losing patience. As her mother, is it appropriate for me to step in more firmly and demand that she snap out of it? This is affecting our whole family. Signed: Running Out of Patience

Dear Running: It’s always hard when someone we love passes over. The joy goes out of life. We feel empty, alone, and shaken. Grief takes up residence in our hearts and appears to settle in for a permanent stay. How long this lasts will vary greatly. You don’t mention if Stacy has ever experienced the loss of someone close to her, but if this is the first time, it’s important to support her and allow her the time she needs to process the loss. It’s also important to answer any and all questions she may have and offer wisdom from whatever religious or philosophic traditions your family embraces. And I believe there are ways that the Five Elements can help with the process, too.

The element that holds grief and letting go is Metal and no matter what our primary element is, we all usually become temporary members of the Metal Club when dealing with loss. The goal, of course, is that we use the solitude and synthesizing aspects of Metal as a safe haven while we process the grief, then return to our normal, balanced self. However, sometimes we can get stuck in that Metal place. With too much Metal energy, we find it hard to let go of the past and move forward.

When this happens, we need Fire energy because Fire melts Metal (Fire relates to Metal on the Controlling Cycle). The good news for you and Stacy is that as a primary Fire element, it will be easier for Stacy to tap into Fire energy and when it’s time, move out of Metal back to Fire. But the timing matters. It’s unwise to rush grief; it needs to be fully processed for the healing to be complete. And on this topic, I want to offer you a word of caution.

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Wood, Metal, Protocol, Death

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 in July and our small family held a simple, private funeral for him. My partner of several years, Shelley, attended with me, and all was well. Recently, my father’s brother (who lives out of state) has decided to stage an extended family memorial service for my father in October. He is a very conservative person and my mother has asked that Shelley not attend this ceremony because she’s concerned about appearances and flack from the family. Apparently my parents have never mentioned to Dad’s family that I am gay. How should I handle this? I’m really angry that Shelley is being snubbed. She says she understands and is willing to skip the ceremony for family harmony, but it isn’t fair. How can I convince my mother that Shelley should be allowed to attend? This is really bothering me! Signed: Angry Daughter

Dear Angry Daughter: First, I am sorry for the loss of your father. Losing a parent is always difficult. Second, losing a spouse can be even more difficult, so your mother is probably in a pretty stressed place right now. Third, you don’t include your elemental types, but I think we can pretty much guess at those. Let’s try, okay?

Because you are angry and upset at the unfairness of Shelley not attending the service, I suspect you are a Wood. Fairness is key to Woods, and anger is where they go when things are unfair. Shelley’s willingness to skip the service to keep the peace suggests she’s an Earth. Family harmony is big for Earths. And your mother’s insistence on Shelley not attending because of appearances and flack suggest she is probably Metal. And even if she isn’t a primary Metal, with the recent death of her husband she is probably in a Metal place.

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Her Mother, An Earth, Sinks Away

Dear Five Faces: For 50 years, my parents had a happy marriage. They seemed the perfect couple to me, and I’m guessing that’s because she was an Earth (she loved being a stay at home mother) and he was a Wood (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 took it really hard. Since then, she hasn’t been able to find any joy in life and seems to have pulled away completely. In many ways it feel like we lost both of them when Dad died, and 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 had a long and happy marriage, it isn’t uncommon for the surviving spouse to have a hard time adjusting to life alone. It can be especially hard for an Earth because long-term connections drive Earths and give meaning to their lives. The flip side of this, however, is that sometimes it can be easiest to bring Earths back from the despair of loss if there are relationships remaining in their lives that are deep and meaningful. It sounds like this is the case for your mother.

Grief counselors are quick to point out that there is no “correct” amount of time to spend grieving the loss of someone dear. Different people, and elements, will need different time and space to grieve. However, a year is usually long enough to respect the grief and start taking action to bring the person back into the flow and connections of life. If done gently and without insistence, here are several ways you can encourage your Earth Mother to rejoin her family.

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