Death, Guilt, and Healing: Helping a Wood Rebuild

Dear Vicki: I’m hoping you can help my brother, Brad, who was in a terrible car accident three years ago. It was winter and the road conditions weren’t great here in Maine, but he and his best friend were determined to go skiing. We tried to talk them out of it, but they laughed at us and went ahead. Brad was driving when another car, going way too fast, lost control and skidded into them. Brad survived, but his best friend was killed. Brad did rehab for months and healed pretty well, but he is a changed person. He used to be a loud, assertive, wheeler dealer who turned around a chain of failing sporting goods stores, but now his heart doesn’t seem to be in anything. He’s closed one of his stores and the other two aren’t doing so well. It’s not like he’s super depressed anymore, it’s just that he’s not his normal outgoing self. Is there some way the Five Elements can help him get back to who he was before the accident? I think he was a Wood, so should I make him wear green? Signed: Sad Sister in Maine 

Dear Sad Sister: My heart goes out to your brother. The loss of someone close to us is always difficult, but the idea that we had something to do with it can be especially hard to bear. I think you are correct – Brad does sound like a Wood. Woods are adventuresome and rarely back down from a challenge. Weather probably wouldn’t stop a Wood determined to push through. That’s the MO of Wood: Just do it! It’s true that Woods are risk takers, but they usually aren’t reckless enough to take more of a risk than they think they can handle. Brad correctly assumed that he could manage the road conditions. The problem was that someone else apparently couldn’t.

There are several factors at play when a Wood goes though what Brad has experienced. First, remember that Woods need to keep moving toward a goal; the worst thing that can happen to a Wood is for something to stop their forward movement. For Brad, the accident not only stopped the movement of his car, it ended the trajectory his life had been taking. No longer was life about being a successful businessman. Instead, he was faced with months of trying to reclaim his health and body functioning. And even more significantly, he had to come to terms with the loss of his best friend. This last aspect was certainly made harder for Brad given that he was driving when the accident occurred. The guilt he feels must be profound. I’m assuming you’ve encouraged Brad to seek professional help. Hopefully he is seeing a counselor on a regular basis, which will help. But there are ways the Five Elements can help, too, so let’s take a look.

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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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