Her Sister Won’t Discuss Family Death

Dear Vicki: Fran, a dear friend of the family, passed away almost three months ago. She was like an elderly aunt to me and my older sister Ruthie, and it has been hard for me to lose her. I’ve reached out to Ruthie to talk about it, but she apparently doesn’t want to. In hindsight, I can see that Ruthie never really wanted to talk about her feelings. We had a difficult relationship growing up and were very competitive as children. As we grew, I figured out that the easiest way to get along with Ruthie was to do things for her. I baked her favorite cookies, did some of her homework, and even knit her a scarf once. In short, I learned to hide it when I had strong opinions about something or really wanted to do something Ruthie didn’t. Now, I want to talk about Fran, but Ruthie will have none of it. I’m really frustrated about this because I think it’s time for me to be more of my real self around Ruthie. Why am I the one who has to change to get along? And how do I get Ruthie to talk to me about Fran? Signed: Disconnected Sister

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Dear Disconnected: I wish I could offer you a magic wand to make Ruthie more willing to talk about her feelings, but honestly, I’m not sure that’s possible. Based on your description of her, I suspect that Ruthie is a primary Wood personality. And given that the two of you were really competitive as children, I think you may be, too. But you also appear to have Earth as a very strong secondary part of your personality. Given this, the interactions between you and Ruthie become somewhat predictable and definitely understandable. Let me explain.

The Wood personality deeply values accomplishment and personal achievement. When two Wood people get together, if they aren’t careful, they can lapse into competitive behavior, possibly even bringing out the worst in each other. I suspect that any conflict between you and Ruthie was very difficult for your secondary Earth personality to take because family harmony is really important to the Earth personality. To avoid conflict and create harmony, it sounds like you stepped into that Earth part of your personality more and more around Ruthie. And one way to demonstrate that would be to do nice things for her.

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Her Female Partner Not Included in Family Plans

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

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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.

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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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