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
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.
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.
Dear Vicki: My partner Jillie and I have been together for eight years and have lived together for the past five years. This summer, our house was damaged beyond repair in a storm, so we have moved into an apartment with the small amount of our household goods that were salvageable. The holidays are coming and I know it’s going to be a very different year, but my usual optimism is failing me. I used to love decorating and hosting family and friends, but this year I just want to ignore the whole season. Jillie is a Metal/Earth and has been clear she’d like to have some kind of festivities. I’m a Wood/Earth, so should want that, too, but I’m just not feeling it. All I feel is exhausted, not particularly supported by Jillie, and a complete lack of enthusiasm for the whole season. What can I do? Signed: Sad in the South
Dear Sad: I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. It’s always difficult to move forward after a tragedy, and the holidays can be an especially challenging time to do this. The memories of what has been lost can haunt us like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past, making current holidays hard to imagine. This will be especially hard for you and Jillie because you both have a good amount of Earth, which is where home and family sit. What Jillie has going for is her Metal energy which makes it possible for her to detach from expectations regarding the holidays. Sadly, it isn’t going to be as easy for you. Expectations sit smack dab in Wood and I think it’s your Wood that’s a major factor in how you feel.
You and Jillie have faced a significant loss together and even though you both have a lot of Earth, how you process that loss and move forward will be very different. Jillie’s Earth is a secondary to her Metal and relates to it on the Nurturing Cycle. So even though she was probably just as devastated as you were by the loss, her Earth fed her Metal and made it easier for her to let go of things. This heightened Metal would also long for a traditional acknowledgement of the holiday season since traditions matter to Metals. You, on the other hand, also have Earth as your secondary, but your primary element is Wood. These two elements relate on the Controlling Cycle. In the face of the loss, your Wood probably rose up to manage the chaos and in the process took down some of your Earth energy. Less Earth energy for you means less connection to Earthy things like holidays.
Dear Five Faces: My close friend and business partner, Abby, has been acting very strange lately. We have a small public relations firm and she’s the organization and power behind it; I’m the enthusiasm and presentation side. I’m pretty sure I’m a Fire and she’s a Wood, and it’s worked out well. The problem is that our business is stalling because Abby hasn’t been very organized or powerful lately. She’s been low-key, reserved, and sort of stuck in the past. When I ask her what’s going on, she just shrugs. I know her only daughter recently moved out of state, but Abby made it through a tough divorce a few years ago, so I can’t imagine the move would be affecting her this way. What can I do? Signed, Losing Steam
Dear Losing Steam: I think what’s happening to Abby is that she’s experiencing a temporary visit to the realm of Metal. When you describe Abby’s behavior as low-key, reserved, and stuck in the past, you are describing characteristics of an out of balance Metal. It’s completely possible that the grief Abby is feeling at losing her daughter’s presence on a day-to-day basis could easily put her into a Metal place. A divorce, especially if contentious, would bring out her Wood if she felt the need to fight for what was fair. But losing a daughter, even just to an out-of-state move, could well bring on grief.