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A letter to Car: Your kids

- by Carolyn Bergen

Dear Carolyn,

They wore red. Each of them. Their shirt or in their tie. It was your favorite color and one of the many ways they honored your memory that day. I remember them walking in to the church and down the aisle to the the front, all slow and somber and dressed up. They cleaned up real nice the day that the church was gathered and packed to remember you .

They are more comfortable in sweats and gym clothes really. And their dad knew that, too--so they went to the gym in the other part of the church building with their friends while the grownups visited after the memorial service. He let them be boys. After dipping deep into the grief, he created a space for them to come up for air. The gym is a space of comfort and familiarity.  In a world that just turned upside down for them, he gave them the gift of being with their friends in the place they feel most familiar. 

His first concern was for them. He was lost himself, for sure, because of all that you were to him as his wife. But the extra kicker was that the parent most able to help them through, was the one they had just lost. He was floundering some, not knowing how best to be there for them after the death of their mom. And that was why he called me. 

Friends call their plumber friend when their pipes spring a leak on the weekend. Folks that are moving call their friends with pickup trucks to help. And friends call their therapist friends when they are in over their head in relationships. And just as plumber friends and truck friends help out, so do therapist friends. Not to be a therapist. Not at all. But to be a friend. I knew from personal experience what it was to walk Junior Tribe Members through the loss of a parent in the household, and to grieve a way of life that was, and now is no more. 

I let him know we could meet and visit and brainstorm as parents who care about their kids. That was how he and I got to talking, Carolyn--out of concern for your children. 

Your children have been very important considerations in our relationship all along, Carolyn.  They got shafted big time when you died…kids need moms.  They weren't finished being mothered by you. You were such a good one, too—and so your loss was doubly felt. Their tender hearts needed to be considered--protected and cared for. I'm sure we've made mistakes, Carolyn--but our mistakes haven't been for lack of effort.

And now, they didn’t get to pick this woman that their dad would marry—thought we did consider them and their thoughts in the timing of it. We asked each of them for their blessing. We asked them about their concerns and their fears. There's so much in this situation that could have them feeling powerless…we have done what we could to include them, and make sure that this is working for them.

Years ago, I read an article where a woman wrote out a list of all the qualities her future husband should have.  She did that as a helpful objective measure for when the time came, to remind her of who she was looking for. I thought that was a good idea and did the same.  On my list was this: I wanted my future husband to: “struggle with how our relationship will affect his kids…and have that impact our relationship”. 

I wanted that future husband of mine to have his kids matter--I wanted him to sometimes tell me it didn't work to see me because his kids needed him that day for a special event, or simply because they needed time with him. That's not so noble as it sounds, Car—there is actually an element of practicality there—if he put his kids as important priorities in a dating relationship, then I knew he would make space for me to do the same with mine.  And that would also have me know that he could have his priorities have him make inconvenient decisions (when you're new in a relationship, it's so tempting to want to spend every minute together, eh?)—which would mean that he would be able to be able to hold me as a priority in his life over the long haul through thick and thin. 

He does that, Carolyn.  There’s times when I want to see him, but we both are hanging out with our kids doing their thing.  That’s one of the many things I love about him. He's a good dad.

So…soon your children and I will be part of the same family…two families working towards the process of becoming one. I get that it's gonna take time, and it's probably often gonna feel like two families who are clumsily trying to do a multi-person waltz for the first time. Toes are gonna get stepped on, I know. It's a vulnerable position to be in. I will be living with them in the same house as we all figure it out. I want it to go well…but I don't wanna try too hard at it either--because kids can smell it a mile away when you force it. Forcing it wouldn't be respectful to them. I just wanna be real with them…and even more, create a space where they can be the real with me.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Quote by Brene Brown. Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

So…here’s the deal, Carolyn:  You are their mom.  Always will be.  Not gonna try to take your place.  That would be disrespectful to you and them…and well, a total pipe dream to try to replace you.  You were and are their mama. I do hope, in time, to be allowed to mother them. To someday be a woman who provides a mothering spirit in their lives—but for now, I’m their dad’s fiancée and we are friendly friends.

Some have expressed concern it will be hard for them to call me “mom”.  That’s not an issue.  They aren’t planning on it…that’s simple.  I’m "Carolyn" to them.  That’s the way I want it.  Because that's the way they want it.

They may not consider me as their mom, but I do consider them my sons. It's a little odd getting a sudden pack of new Junior Tribe Members. They are growing on me, fast though, these boys of yours. Remarkable sons you birthed, these ones. Kinda funny how quickly my heart has been captivated. Last weekend, one of them limped off the court after a particularly rough play, and it bugged me to see that one of the opposing team had hurt "my boy". I didn't even notice that feeling as unusual right away--it felt so natural at the time.

I think that's how step mothering works best--to come to love them like your own, and yet allow them to see you in whatever way they find works for them.

I've started a book, which I keep at their house--things to remember about each one so that I remember the quirks and uniqueness of them. One doesn't like mushrooms or olives. Another one doesn't like tomato chunks in the tomato sauce. One likes Lord of the Rings--and now I am watching the movies, and will yet read the books. The older ones are fiercely protective of the younger one. I write in the book things I want to remember about them.

We are having fun. We went tobogganing this winter…and laughed as we went down the hill in various combinations on the sleds. We've gone out for dinner, played games, and watched March madness on TV. And I get to watch them play in the gym--watching from the bleachers is one of my favourite things ever. They're fun boys, Carolyn--and I know how you didn't want to miss their growing up. We laugh and joke. Sometimes I ache, thinking of how I get to enjoy these moments in ways you longed to, and would sooo loved to have been a part of. These moments then become doubly precious to me.

I think one of the most important roles I have in relating to them is to make sure that they know I honour and respect you, and I want to be the champion of your memory in the household. You raised them to be honest, to care for others, to have fun, to look for ways to help others, to be brave and try new things, and to work hard at things they are tackling in life. I am looking to support that legacy you left them. 

We will have some family pictures up on the walls of you with them, and pictures of you together with this one or that one around the house. I want to make sure you come up in conversation as we tell stories around the supper table--of how your feet were always hot even in the middle of winter on the cold floor, and how you liked the colour red, and of the birthday cakes you made for them.

The other day it was the youngest's turn to help with supper and so when I had some things for him to do, I called him downstairs to the kitchen.  I asked him to wash and quarter some strawberries for the salad.  He pulled out a dishtowel and put it on the counter.  I wasn’t sure why he pulled out a dishtowel to cut up strawberries but I let him do his thing. After he washed the berries, he put them on the dishtowel and then cut them up. As he did so, he let me know that, “This is how my mom does it.” Almost right after, he corrected himself to say, “This is how my mom did it.”  It’s heartbreaking to hear a young boy have to change the verb tense when he’s talking about his mother.  Afterwards, he apologized for the red stains on the dishtowel that the strawberries had made.  I didn’t care about the stains. Please know that I'm fine if the dishtowels in our home get stained if that’s gonna be a way he remembers you. Every. Single. One. can get dirty. I want that.

So…like I said, these boys are more at home in a gym with a T shirt and shorts than fancied up in dress duds. We want our wedding to be comfortable for JTM's…and so instead of a dance, we are having basketball and volleyball in the gym. They are each inviting some friends to enjoy the wedding and the gym with them. Whomever wants to can play on the court, and the rest of us will sit and visit and watch the fun. I first knew your sons from the sidelines many years ago…and it will be a blast for all of us to be in the gym on the wedding day. 

I have the cutest sneakers to put on with my wedding dress for the gym part of the evening. Hot pink with white laces.

Doesn

Pink sneakers. Very pink--very cute. Not red. 

Red was your colour…and I will make sure your sons will always remember that.


The third in a series of letters to Carolyn. The first two:

Letter to Car: You

Letter to Car: Him


comments 

A letter to Car: Your husband

- by Carolyn Bergen

Dear Carolyn,

I remember coming back to the office in the afternoon after I attended your funeral and told Melanie, "It was beautiful how he loved her. He spoke so well of her. He spoke to his sons about who she was in a remarkable way that taught us all a little about what makes for loving relationships and a lasting legacy." It was beautiful what he said about you to his kids while the rest of us 1000 or so people listened in. He really loved you.

The minister at the funeral told us about a conversation he had with you three days before you died. You were dying, and tired and in pain, and you spoke at length about your husband and your marriage, and the life you created together. I find that powerful…of all the things you could have chosen to say to the pastor, you used the energy and the time that day to speak of your love. What a presence of mind he had to turn on the recorder on his phone so that he could quote you directly at the funeral. He said that you told him that you had won the lottery in marrying J. 

The minister said that you loved being married to him, and valued him, and loved him for more than just his accomplishments. J. told me later he didn't even know what you were referring to when you talked about his accomplishments. We all do that, don't we--don't see the good we do the way others who love us see it?

He loved being married to you too. In fact, he often says that one of the reasons he can love again is that he knows love so well from loving and being loved by you.

His world was awash in grey for months after you died.

He used to wake at 4:00 am, dreading the day ahead, because you wouldn't be in it. He couldn't sleep though. Grief does that to people.

He told me about the physical ache, almost a dull pressure, that was in his chest. It pressed on him all the time, and he felt like he couldn't get a deep breath. 

His workers told him that when he showed up at the job site in the morning, he would take a huge deep breath with a heavy sigh as let it out. They thought it meant he was frustrated with what they had done before he got there and felt judged and discouraged. They misunderstood completely. What he was really doing was mustering up energy he wasn't sure he had to soldier through that day without you.

We all do that too, don't we? We see what others do as a reflection of how they feel about us…and so often what others do has everything to do with what is going on inside.

Even though he couldn't even quite see straight during those days through the haze of desperate loneliness, I remember him telling me that there was a part of him that knew that it was gonna get better--that he would get through it, and that one day he would smile again. That might sound callous to some, but only if they didn't know that this wasn't his first rodeo. You both learned about the rawness of hardcore grief when heart of your little daughter stopped at only three and a half weeks of life many years ago. Though it seemed impossible then, you and he learned years ago that smiles and laughter would come again. 

He knew his heart would heal eventually, because it had before…but he just didn't know how or when.

He told me a lot of stories about you…and wished others would ask you so he could tell more stories about you to more people. He wanted to talk about you, to share his memories of you…and he would long for folks to say, "Tell me something about Car". He was itching to have you be a part of conversations.

A long time after I got to know him, he told me about one of the conversations he had with you. It happened the day before you died. You told him that it was OK for him to find somebody else after you were gone. Tell me, Car…how is it that you had the presence of mind in the midst of the pain and the suffering to release him to the potential of a new relationship after your death? 

Who does that? The answer: You.  You did that.

That was awesomely thoughtful of you, at a time anybody would have forgiven you for being completely self centred.

He thought that was "crazy talk" at that time, and he didn't want to hear it. Couldn't hear it at the time. But now, much later, it is an incredible gift to him for which he is grateful. I marvel at your thoughtfulness of him even in the midst of dying.

Your thoughtfulness…well, he says it has helped him become more thoughtful. Often, when I tell him something that I appreciate him, he'll say something like, "Car was like that…I learned it from her," or, "I admired Car for that, and I guess some of that rubbed off on me."

We went shopping the other day at Costco. I lifted the sodas from the bottom of the cart to the conveyor belt by the cashier…and he lunged at me--trying to grab them out of my hands. He tries to save me from lifting the mixer from the bottom drawer, or shovelling snow. He forgets that I have two good arms, that there is no cancer in my bones--he is so used to being protective and caring. He has told me how very much he loved taking care of you. How cancer had taken away so much from you both, but it had given him the opportunity to love on his wife in a way that had him feel valuable and useful. 

He is endearingly protective from years of being there for you--and it kills him to know that even with all that protecting he did, it wasn't enough. He couldn't protect you from the cancer. Sometimes it feels like he is a little desperate to protect me, to shield me from hard stuff in ways he couldn't for you.

He learned a lot about what a good marriage looks like by being married to you. He told me that you and he decided to tackle cancer together so that it would be a battle that would unite you rather than drive a wedge between you. It wasn't always easy, and you both had to make difficult choices to vote for the relationship. 

His relationship with you was far from perfect--you know that too. Anytime you get two humans spending that much time together, there are going to be rubbing points. Duh. He was candid to tell me how he failed you and what he wished he had done differently. And one of the things that struck me early on in our friendship was how he could speak honestly about what he saw as the broken parts of you that ended up cutting him at times--and yet still long for you incredibly. The two of you had times when you really had to work at it--but you guys did--and that mattered.

He often says, "I can love you because I have been loved well, and I learned how to love by being married to Car." I love that. 

Anne Lamott: You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp

It's hard to watch him miss you even still. He grieves. He still aches for you. So many years together…it's hard to watch the man I love hurt. And I see how he hurts for you and its hard to watch someone I care so deeply for to hurt so much.

He limps. The loss of you changes him. But it makes his laughter sweeter, his kindness richer, and his thoughtfulness more stunning. Your death creates cracks that are slowly healing--the light that shines through the cracks is exquisite. Your life created strength and beauty that will last forever, and changes even how he grieves for you. Your love prepared him for your death.

You are often a part of our conversation. I ask him regularly, "When did you ache for Car today?" He will tell me about a memory from when you were young and healthy and laugh about the great time. He will tell me about a night when you were so sick and he was so scared. So often you come up as a part of our day to day conversation--you will not be forgotten--you can't be forgotten because you were such a huge part of the lives of so many I care about.

Thank you for your input into my life. I will always be grateful. I will always be sad that he didn't get to grow old with you, even as I marvel at the incredible man I am now in love with, and look forward to spending decades with. 

I know now that we never get over great losses. We absorb them and they carve us into different often kinder creatures Gail Caldwell quote. Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnpeg

He is indeed a kinder, gentler creature. And you are a big part of that. Thanx, Car.

Part of a series:  Letter to Carolyn: You




A letter to Car: You

- by Carolyn Bergen

Grief, after all, is the price we pay for love. Quote by David Malham Poster by Bergen and Assocaites Counselling in WinnipegQuote by David Malham: Grief, after all, is the price we pay for love

Dear Carolyn,

It's odd isn't it? The name, "Carolyn" isn't very common, particularly with our spelling. And yet we share it, just as we now share the same man as our love. What is even odder was that we shared the same profession. There's not many of us Carolyn's that are Occupational Therapists. I avoided him those first months after your death, you know. I sent a card but didn't talk to him at the funeral or for months after. I thought it might be hard for him to see this Carolyn--who was an OT, alive, when his Carolyn--the OT was not. I didn't want to possibly increase his pain because it was very clear how very much he hurt for you.

You and I didn't meet for coffee or play on a team together, but I enjoyed chatting with you when we had occasion to meet when our sons might be playing against each other, or when we bumped into each other on a walk in the neighbourhood. Gosh, you had this way of gentle friendliness that people really gravitated towards. It took me in, too.

I remember when we watched our 5 and 6 year olds play basketball years ago. Wow...we were proud of them, weren't we? And you had the youngest one, in the cutest overalls, generally along…and you would follow him around as he cruised along the bleachers, handing him snacks when he asked, even while we sat and watched our little kindergarten-athletes. 

I remember being tired from parenting and desperately looking forward the 45 minutes of sitting in one spot watching a child without having to actively parent--rather like a child looks forward to an ice cream cone on a hot day. I needed a break!! And I would watch you continue to patiently be with your toddler with no break…and marvelling at your patience and gentleness with your little one. That little one who will now be one of my own. I hope to have but even a shadow of your goodness to him.

Your cancer journey was one that so many concerned from near and far. You had children our children's age, you liked Pampered Chef and walked to work and made cookies and did ordinary things like the rest of us…and your diagnosis could have been our diagnosis. It could have happened to any one of us moms--the moms who had children in your class, on children on your children's team, or just knew you because you were friends with so many--but it happened to you. We could pictures ourselves in your situation, and that picture sucked. And it was your reality. So many cared so much.

I knew your sister better than I knew you, and I would check in occasionally with her about how you and your family were doing. It sounded really rough. Major surgery. Chemo. Radiation. The cloud of a dismal diagnosis overshadowing your life. Ongoing meds with unpleasant side effects. The return of the cancer. More treatments of increased brutalness. All the while raising those children and seeking to provide them with as normal a life as possible. I admired you--your pluckiness, your fight, your determination. I prayed for you and your family, often. I hoped your body would respond to the treatments and you'd get a new lease on life.

I remember the whispers at a tournament in the fall one year. It was said that you had gotten even more terrible news from the doctor in the previous days--but partnered with that was the idea that you were at the gym to watch your son play, and didn't want to focus on the cancer at the gym. You said friendly hellos to folks that weekend, but were pretty careful to keep moving so as not to invite conversation. You knew people cared and wanted to check in, but your actions told us to us keep it about the volleyball. You came to the volleyball tournament that weekend to be about living with your kids, not be about dying from the cancer

You always had chutzpah that way.

I read in a letter you sent to folks when it became clear that your cancer was terminal…that you were dreading "leaving the party early". Such a poignant way of saying you didn't want to die before you had a chance to raise your children to adulthood, and enjoy friends and family, and even all the hassles of life the way the rest of us took for granted as we went about our days today.

Your funeral was beautiful and painful and exquisite and hard. I cried--for you, for your children left behind, for your husband who was bereft without you. I had never been to a funeral before where the deceased preached at her own funeral via video.  Pretty darn powerful, y'know, to see and hear what was important to you. How you grew and developed through the hell that cancer is. 

You turned cancer on its head by turning it into an experience of growth and that created a new and more vibrant way of life in you. 

I love that.

You were special and valued and loved and missed. You are not forgotten. You live on in your husband, your children, your family and your friends. 

I will soon be your husband's new wife. 

But I am not replacing you in his life or in anyone else's.

You were the Carolyn that was you. I am the Carolyn that is me.

I couldn't even try to replace the you that was you. So I'm not trying. But I am doing something else.

I consider it now one of my life tasks to make sure that you are remembered and valued, and that your legacy lives on. 

Part of becoming a new family with your husband and your children and my children is helping them remember you regularly and well--to value your life even as I live my own. 

To celebrate your fingerprints in the lives of those around me when I see them and to know my life is richer because you were there first. To remember that you are still missed and loved, and tho you may be gone, the pain of your loss is not gone. 

You were loved deeply…and so you are grieved…deeply.

And those that loved you are the ones I now love. In loving them, I have come to grieve you even more, as I see them without you, and hear more of how much you meant to them. In loving them, I grieve you with them.

I read an article on the internet today that said that at its best, resilience in grieving is:

the awareness that people normally find healthy ways to adapt and live with loss. That’s not to say it’s a quick and easy task. It’s not that grieving suddenly ends and the person forgets and moves on. No, what happens is that a weight that initially feels unbearable becomes, in time, manageable. The grief becomes compact enough, with the hard edges removed, to be gently placed in one’s heart.

I want to be a part of that, Carolyn, in the lives of the people who loved you--to be able to help the edges to soften and to make the weight of losing you manageable.

Life is precious, Carolyn. You had an awareness of that…and now I, not living in the shadow of your death , but rather living in the shadow of your life. That shadow of life often reminds me how life is fleeting and priceless and not-to-be-taken-for-granted. 

The article continues:

We want to be (lightly, only lightly) aware of death not because our story will end, but because the stories of those we hold dear will end, perhaps before ours. The awareness of premature or unexpected endings can motivate us to routinely demonstrate our love to those important to us. Let’s not save our affection, as if a rare wine, for special occasions. Give and receive it as essential nourishment.

May all who read this break open wide the bottle of affection and splurge with it on others whom they love today. May it be a huge vat of fine wine that is liberally poured about regularly with those they love. And may that love be savoured and delighted in as fine wine should be.
Tags: Grief

Bystander to Hero

- by Carolyn Bergen

Years ago, during grad school, I was flying back to California to study after a visit home. I and the other passengers were sitting in the airplane while it was waiting on the tarmac. As we sat quietly waiting to taxi to the runway, soft wisps of smoke began to emerge from the ventilation system. Very soft and gentle. None of us were moving, and the attendants were at the far end of the plane so there was no drafts to stir up the smoke. so it stayed close to the top of the bulkheads where it was coming out of the circulation vents. It was about 2 or 3 inches thick at first, and gradually increased to about 6 or 7 inches.

Thick grey smoke filling the cabin.

All of us passengers noticed it…and it was somewhat of a curiosity, really. Soft murmurings could be heard, and you could see heads turning into the aisle to ask the person across the way if they also saw it. 

Duh…it couldn't be missed.

But nobody was panicking or concerned--or, at least, they didn't appear to be--so I decided I wasn't either. (Actually, I was pretty nervous about it, but I thought if I said or did something, other people would look at me oddly because I was the only one--funny how my first concern was "What will other people think?" even when there WAS SMOKE IN THE AIRPLANE CABIN I WAS SITTING IN SHORTLY BEFORE TAKEOFF--seems ridiculous to write that now)

Nobody else was doing anything, so neither did I. I, like everybody else, just sat there and watched the smoke slowly increase, taking up more space along the bulkhead.

Nobody did anything for what seemed a very long time.

In a slow, calm move that has me chuckle even now, I could slowly see one hand about four or five rows in front of me tentatively rise and push the flight attendant call button.

The flight attendant came to attend to the call and her eyes got pretty big, pretty fast long before she reached that passenger. She moved quickly towards the cockpit.

We were evacuated almost immediately.

As we milled around in the waiting area finding out what would happen immediately afterwards as we were waiting to still somehow get to California, I overheard the pilot in the waiting area of the airport say that when the flight attendant came to tell him about smoke in the cabin, he thought that perhaps an individual was smoking, because he couldn't hear any distress on the part of the passengers. 

It was quiet, so it mustn't be a big deal.  or so he thought.

When he saw the level of smoke in the cabin, he had trouble believing there wasn't mass panic and freaking out on the part of the passengers.

It hadn't occurred to me to panic…because nobody else had.

I just went along with the crowd. As did everybody else.

I always wondered why somebody doesn

Classic example of pluralistic ignorance. We do what everybody else does…because everybody else is doing it…cuz we are all taking our cues from everybody else doing what everybody else is doing. Why do we join others in pluralistic ignorance?


One reason may be that when a situation is unclear then we look to others for clues to define what is happening. We then make decisions based, sometimes incorrectly, on other people’s actions, reactions or lack of action. This is known as pluralistic ignorance – when the group’s majority privately believes one thing and mistakenly assumes that most others believe the opposite. For instance, when we drive past a car accident, we might assume that someone else will call 9-1-1 or stop to help. Pluralistic ignorance occurs frequently and in diverse situations.
Rosemary K.M. Sword

It would seem that too many of us have this underlying concern of acting differently than everyone else in the crowd with the almighty question that seems to rule too many of us too much of the time: 

What will other people think?

We hate to be different in a crowd…to stick out, to stand out. It takes courage to go against the collective behaviour of the group to act out in a way that is faithful to our own internal values.

We fear looking foolish, or cowardly, or over-reacting, or trying something only to make a mistake.

We are wired for connection, and even amongst strangers, we feel the threat of being ostracized and pushed out of the tribe.

What makes this even harder is the diffusion of responsibility. When a hundred people see a person fall, then whose job is it to help them up or call the ambulance? The answer is unclear. When two people see a person fall, then the answer is much clearer.

I remember coming upon the bus accident on the Coquihalla this past August. When I and my Junior Tribe member found our vehicle stopped just before the scene could be seen, I initially suggested we stay in the car--certain that whatever accident had occurred would have folks much more qualified that we on the scene doing what needed to get done. I had no desire to be a lookie-loo. 

The JTM disagreed and went to offer his help--he's too young and naive to go along with the crowd--in his youthful energy, he fancied himself a potential hero. He came back for water and to tell me the situation was grave. The tour bus had rolled and there were passengers all over, wandering around or lying on the ground stunned. The JTM and I helped for the next four hours…while many simply stood by and took photos. 

Yes, took photos of suffering victims reeling from shock.

And yes, my son, who didn't know any better, and foolishly believed we could help? Well, both an ER physician on site and the RCMP site coordinator independently sought him out shortly before we left to thank him and congratulate him for being a hero that afternoon. He truly had gotten in there and done what needed to get done.

I have a feeling he would have pushed the flight attendant button earlier than anybody else on the airplane--because his inner compass would have told him it was the right thing to do. 

'Cuz that's the kind of young man he is.

And I hope he doesn't outgrow that courage the way so many can as they grow out of the youthful stage of, "I can change the world."

Ways to avoid "the bystander effect":
  1. Intentionally be mindful of your own values and honouring your own integrity. Isn't it ironic that we seek to please others that we don't know and we will never see again?
  2. Ask yourself, if I live by the Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you…what will my actions be?
  3. Draw deep on your courage, and invite others to join you as do seek to be helpful to someone or something that needs your help. Inviting someone to join you in assisting can then inspire lots of people to help.
Take a peek at the bystander effect in action:




The Ring

- by Carolyn Bergen

Quote by Donald Miller: It

I've been on my own for about 10 years now. 

I remember the first week I was alone rather like a blur…or maybe rather, I don't really remember it at all. I wasn't sleeping; I had lost weight; I was just putting one foot in front of the other. My friends were supportive and were checking in on me regularly cuz to say I was a bit of a mess is like saying the pope is a little bit Catholic.

However, I do remember one call that week very distinctly. L called me Wednesday of that first week that I was on my own to check in. 

I had known L for a long time and she was one of my best friends. I had met her when she was a new single mom, and had walked with her through the adjustments and grief of being a single mom--with all the heartaches that come with trying to parent solo in the middle of one's own loneliness. Now she was walking with me.

It was in the morning…and she reluctantly told me about a date she had had the night before. I pulled it out of her--she was very hesitant to pour her joy over my sorrow and lostness. 

But I needed good news. I needed to hear of hope in action. I was desperate to see somebody else's light at a time when I was in my own darkness. So, I made her tell me of this fantastic promising date in the minutest of detail. She was set up by a mutual friend. He was friendly and warm. He had a huge mustache.

L had met Gary…and over the months as I continued to adapt to my singleness, I watched L fall in love with Gary.

Our friends and I were like mother hens. We quizzed her about him. Was he kind? Was he good? Was he good for her? And when we met him, while being friendly, we secretly did what we could to screen him. He had to pass muster with us. L had been hurt before, and we were gonna make sure this guy passed inspection.

He did. With flying colours.

Gary is a gentle soul, made very wise in the school of life. He was a student of life experiences and he had learned much. He's the sort of person who helps people in incredible ways--but only when he thinks no one is looking. He reminded L of her value, and reminded her to slow down to take care of herself. He's so good to so many. He was good for her.

We approved (not that she needed our approval--but don't friends offer their opinions even when they aren't requested?). And they got married. Gary and L have always been a couple of hope for me…with their beauty rising up as my world was crashing.

Gary is Oro de Rey, a concierge jewellry service. He provides personalized service for custom designing jewellery of all kinds--remaking old heirloom brooches into funky modernized pieces. He helps couples design the wedding rings of their dreams, and then he makes it come to life. Gary is a bit of a jewellery magician, really.

I trust Gary. So much so that I gave him my original engagement and wedding ring. I told him that the ring had a history of many good years of a great marriage in it, and I felt it best that they continue to bless another couple in a great marriage. I wanted my rings to find a new and positive reason for existing again. 

Both Gary and L relate to all sort of people, including some that have little or no resources. I asked him to give it to a couple who would benefit from a set of engagement/wedding ring but wouldn't be able to afford one. I asked him not to tell me when he did this, and to never give me details of it. I wrote an anonymous note that could be passed on with the rings, inviting the recipient to celebrate her relationship with these rings that had been worn with love for so many years.

And every once in a while, he would tell me, "Carolyn, some day when you meet the Special One…and we are gonna design your ring. That's gonna be some ridiculous kind of fun."

I knew he meant it. I just never knew if it would happen.

It happened.

It's for real. It's my ring and it tells our story. J got down on one knee and slid it on my finger in the most romantic of moments.

Carolyn Bergen

I wanted a beautiful ring--and I think it's incredible.

It's two rings woven into one--one white gold, one yellow gold--like two families, woven into one. Each unique and different--and exquisitely beautiful together. 

There are three diamonds on top…our faith is important to us, and so it acknowledges God in the centre of us. He and I together with God on the ring, as in life. It implies a sense of unity and togetherness, mission and purpose.

There are three diamonds on one side, and two on the other…representing his Junior Tribe Members and mine. It's an family engagement/wedding band--we are two families marrying, not just a man and woman. I am committing myself to his children, and he to mine. They are represented as important and critical components in the ring, just as they are in our lives.

To visit Gary in the planning and design of the ring was a dream come true. 

To plan my life together with J is an even bigger dream come true.



The Leap into Love

- by Carolyn Bergen

I'm getting married.

I'm engaged.

Yep…the marriage therapist is herself entering into the commitment of a lifetime of love. I believe that we are created to bond closely with another. I believe in the power of connection. I have watched and facilitated relationships heal with trust being restored. 

I know that research says that those who are married in committed life giving relationships are healthier, react differently to pain, are grounded and therefore are able to take greater risks in other areas of their lives. I believe in marriage. My couple clients have taught me over the years that marriage is life-giving. 

But therapists are human…and when we get hurt, we fall into the same fears and patterns that all humans struggle with. And so the thought of a lifetime love for myself was something I longed deeply for, yet was simultaneously terrified of.

I don

I was married once. For years and years to a wonderful man in a wonderful life in a wonderful marriage

Until it wasn't. 

It all unravelled--mostly out of my awareness, and completely out of my control. It was painful and mysterious and confusing. I felt utterly helpless. And pretty hopeless. And then I was alone with my Junior Tribe Members (JTMs), needing to raise them and help them and needing to ramp up the practice to be able to support us and keep a roof over our heads.

My husband was also my pastor. And if there are two people in life you think you can trust, it's your husband and your pastor. And when they are one and the same, the trust is doubled…and then so is the betrayal.

So, amidst confusion and lostness, my ability to trust deeply and closely was tested and tried, and shattered.
I was spun dizzy, trying to figure out what was solid and true, and what was smoke and mirrors. I felt like I'd been on a boat all day, and now even when I was on solid ground, it felt as it heaved and swayed underneath me.  What was real and trustworthy? What wasn't?

To be sure, I had fabulous friends and family who stuck close and gave support that I will treasure as priceless. They kept my faith in humanity alive. They helped me with gardening and lock changing and cleaning and such in ways that were far beyond what I would have ever asked for. 

To be sure, I had contact with folks who I witnessed hanging in there, fighting the good fight to repair and preserve relationships, to restore brokenness. In the midst of my own marriage crumbling, I worked with others on theirs.I witnessed folks living out courage as they embraced their commitments and worked through difficult times. Some clients I worked with will never know how they were also healing for me as they sought to restore trust, and to repair the breaches.

The raw aching wounds that a divorce creates took years to heal. Years when I was preoccupied with caring for my JTMs…they were also hurting, and they were also just busy active children that needed driving, lesson practice, and help finding their mittens. Thos was a time of slow healing, happening in the background, as the foreground was fully of survival from one day to the next. 

Saying we were surviving undermines the simple reality that in many ways, our little family came to be very much thriving. We had such richness…there were Fridays when we shared a super sized meal at McDonalds and it was such a treat. There were Sundays where a wiener roast and America's Funniest Videos in the family room had us feeling cozy and content. We had good friends, played on good teams with coaches who cared deeply, and adjusted to our new life with a different sort of goodness. Decisions made to survive--growing the counselling practice and increasing responsibilities at the University of Manitoba turned into thriving times of growth and challenge and opportunities I couldn't have planned for or dreamt of.

And all the time, slow healing. But the healing was never really tested…how could it be with two JTM's growing and needing tending?

The wobbling, heaving world I had lived in began to steady itself.

But just as the brokenness was borne in close personal relationship, so too, the healing couldn't be complete without close personal relationship.

And months ago, along came J…the future fellow Senior Tribe Member in my family.

J did not come into my life as a suitor…somebody who would trigger internal alarms to question his trustworthiness. 

Not at all. 

J. came along innocently, as a fellow traveller that was also hurting from recent lost love. He had buried his sweet one and now found himself needing to support his JTM's through that loss. Mama's are often the ones to care for a JTM's heart after a loss, and when the loss is the mama herself, what is a papa to do? That's hard. Especially with his own heart in pieces, and he sees the world as a sea of washed out greys.

J's sweet one was a distant friend of mine and so when he called, I agreed to meet him over lunch. I knew something about helping hurting JTM's after a big loss, and so we shared stories and brainstormed wisdom. Conversation gets pretty real, pretty fast when talking about cancer, devastation, loss, parenting and love. And thus we became fast friends--without pretense or performing. 

I loved how he deeply loved his Love. I came to appreciate and admire his commitment to her--to them--during years of pain and suffering and uncertainty and fear. I remembered how he had coached my JTM in basketball when he was in Grade 1, and heard from friends how he was caring and compassionate in the long haul of cancer treatment. I experienced his reliability and solidness now as he told me of his days, conversations with his JTMs and friends, how he related to me in our friendship with the kindest of ways. And I came to know him as a man that could be trusted, as a man who knew how to be married in the toughest of times, who knew who to follow through on commitments even when life challenges those commitments at unimaginable levels. 

I trusted him before I loved him.  

Me --who believed in the value of trust, and has built a career on facilitating trust in relationships of others--but who, at a cellular level would find trust deeply terrifying--felt the slow warmth of trust building in a man who I enjoyed a beautiful friendship.

Until it wasn't.

One day it became more than a friendship…it became a love that was real and alive and built on a bedrock of a trusting friendship.

He is the man I love. He is the man I will marry. He is the man who has helped me learn to trust again…first by just unconsciously by simply being himself and telling the stories of his life in friendship, and later consciously by acknowledging in small and large ways his intent of being trustworthy now and for the rest of our lives.

J counts it as an important mission in our relationship to have me feel solid in the relationship…for me to know he's trustworthy, to answer questions or hesitations, to reassure me that he's committed. 

The ground beneath my heart is solid and trustworthy at levels I never would have thought possible. J has invited me to leap into the unknowns of a relationship with 5 JTMs, a combined household--but with the foundation of trust and love. 

And with a solid foundation under my feet, this sounds like a wonderful adventure.

But that's a whole other story…and it will be told.


Introducing Beckett--and our favourite two time Grandma!

- by Carolyn Bergen

Our office manager, Melanie, loved being a grandma so much, she decided to do it all over again. Ava is the sparkle in her eye, and the screensaver on her phone, and the photo on the wall by her desk. And now,for variety, she had a grandson as variety to her adored granddaughter.

Introducing Melanie's newest grandchild…Beckett.

Beckett is Melanie Thiessen newest grandchild. Melanie is the office manager at Bergen and associates counselling in Winnipeg

She's positively smitten.

And why not…he's handsome.

Beckett is a boy who knows himself. And he's not shy to tell it. I respect that in a person. 

He knows three things already, very clearly:

Beckett hates having a wet diaper…and he wails.
Beckett hates being changed even more than he hates having a wet diaper…and he wails even louder.
Beckett loves a dry diaper.

I like Beckett already. 

'Cuz Beckett is a lot like me. Probably like you too. He's just more candid about the whole thing. 

Which I kinda like…cuz he's way more honest than us adults, I think.

I find uncomfortable places…well, er…frankly--uncomfortable.

But I also am intimidated and even more uncomfortable with the change that is required to get out of those uncomfortable places. 

But I like what happens after the change…because it gets me to better places.


You see the dilemma. Beckett and me--a lot alike.

You too? I thought so.

It

So…the thing of it is, is this: Beckett's too little to decide for himself that he'd rather stay wet than get changed. His mama and papa impose the diaper change upon him (and I suspect Grandma Melanie elbows her way in for a turn too). 

They impose that change on him---with resulting increased discomfort--because they care about him…and they know that after the time of increased discomfort, he will come a better space.

Hmmmm…I gotta remember that.

Thanx Beckett…for sharing your wisdom with us all. 

And Beckett…don't pee on your Grandma when she changes your diaper…we like her a lot.

The power of "WOW"

- by Carolyn Bergen

I'm a bit of a knowledge geek. Or, maybe, a lot of a knowledge geek. 

One of the ways I increase my enjoyment factor when I exercise is to listen to podcasts that teach me things...pretty nerdy, huh? But I like to hear about new and interesting things...it's just quirky interesting learning...and I find I come back to things I've learned on these runs on occasions when I'm sorting things through, or trying to get a handle on a challenging situation. 

Learning for the sake of learning...and it's good.

One of the podcasts that rocks it for me is the NPR Ted Radio Hour. I was listening to a program on Unstoppable Learning that stopped me in my tracks. Sugata Mitra spoke of how he learned that children have the ability to teach themselves.

He put computers with English operating systems into a hole in the wall about 3 feet off the ground in various impoverished slums and villages in India leaving no instruction. The children taught themselves English and how to use the computer on their own. He was amazed at how expensive schools and teachers weren't necessary to have children learn--these children learned effectively and spontaneously on their own...but he wanted to push the envelope yet further.

So he set up an impossible question: "Can Tamil speaking children in a South Indian village learn the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a streetside computer?" 

And the answer was, very surprisingly, "yep, some". No teacher. No classroom. No prior English. 

Serious.

Amazing, huh?

But he wanted them to learn a lot, not just a little bit, about the biotechnology of DNA replication. So, he asked a 22 year old accountant that lived nearby who knew nothing about science to help them. She refused, but he insisted her input would make a difference. Her role was to be that of a "granny", looking over their shoulder and saying, simply:

"Wow!"

and then...
  • How did you do that?
  • I couldn't do that when I was your age
  • What will the next page say, and what will you do then?
Encouragement is the key to effective learning.  DonShe was simply to be an encourager. And when he came back a few months later, their scores, without a school or a teacher, were equivalent to that of bright youngsters at a private school with a skilled teacher.


Mitra says the key to children learning well is encouragement

He encourages people to salute learning to enhance it.

He points out that:

There is evidence from neuroscience that the reptilian part of our brain, that sits in the center part of our brain, when it is threatened, it shuts down…the prefrontal cortex, the part which learns….Punishment and examinations are seen as threats.  We take our children and we make them shut their brains down and then we say, “perform”

Mitra was talking about this with regards to education...saying that it is no longer adaptive to put children on high alert and then test their skills. For me, this goes broader...beyond teaching my students, and on to how we raise our children, and relate to partners and others close to us.

The reptilian part of our brain sees any threat as a threat
So, 
  • having a car screech its tires when you run out into traffic, 
  • Friday's spelling test that the teacher says you need to get a good grade 
  • or your mother yelling at you that you didn't clean your room in "that" tone
...are all seen as threats that put the body on high alert. Different levels of emergency that the limbic system treats identically.

This has implications for classroom teaching methods to be sure. But I'm much more interested in relationships, and how the need to listen well to each other goes down when the panic/threats go up. 

Is it any wonder that when a conflict arises, and tempers flare, and voices are raised...and the brain perceives a threat...that the ability to communicate effectively deteriorates. How often haven't parents or partners yelled, "You better tell me right now or..." (shutting the brain down) and then expect the responder to competently produce a reasoned response.

I've been actively working on this for a while, myself...wanting my junior tribe members to learn life lessons well when they goof...not just scramble to deal with the threat of my anger. I want them to discover their own lessons from their mistakes, because I have encouraged them to explore the situation, their actions, and the results. So, I'm working on waiting to respond when I find out something that puts my brain under threat which shuts my brain down, and I can't perform well.

Because I'm realizing I'm not my best self when my family's safety is threatened...by a near car accident, or poor grades, or watching one strike out at the other. My reptilian brain gets threatened, and I'm not much an effective communicator...so a couple of times, I've managed to catch myself and say:

Thank you for telling me what you just said. I think it was probably hard for you to tell me and I want you to be glad you did. So, can you give me a day or two to process and then we can talk about this so that we can have a conversation that we both feel good about?

Then, I can come back and shape the conversation in an encouraging way, letting the junior tribe member learn from the mistake/goof/error. And it has produced remarkably effective conversations, once I can encourage learning, rather than lecture and blame.

It's not gonna work all the time...sometimes immediate action is required. But most things can wait for a bit, doncha think? And why wouldn't we as parents or partners want to shape a conversation in such a way that actual learning can occur? Why wouldn't I want to salute another's learning to enhance it, rather than threaten and shame them?

Just something to think about...thank you, Sugata Mitra for teaching me something in such an encouraging way! :)

Here is his TEDx talk...the part that I really like starts at about 9 minutes and lasts for about 6 minutes.
 



Altered Memories or Lying?

- by Carolyn Bergen

When I was in Grade 2, we moved from a house that I loved and a neighbourhood I felt safe in--I loved my school, enjoyed my school, had great friends down the street, loved the beautiful elm trees arching over the street, and loved playing on the stone steps of the grand church nearby. I didn't want to move…y'know, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I remembered that childhood home fondly, and occasionally shared with friends about how fantastic that home was. Shortly after I graduated from university, I found out that an acquaintance had purchased that very house…and she invited me over for the evening. I was thrilled to be able to visit this beautiful home that I had idealized for almost 2 decades.

Except it wasn't so beautiful. And it wasn't nearly as grand as I remembered it.

And the big beautiful bedroom that I had given up to move into the new home? 

Well, it had shrunk to half the size it had been when I was there! 

I was shocked.

Brian Williams, a respected and trusted broadcaster, was recently suspended for 6 months for breaking the trust of his viewing audience for embellishing a story about the circumstances of being in a helicopter a decade ago. He has told the story recently that his helicopter was shot by a rocket propelled grenade, when the story was originally related as the helicopter in front of his whirlybird that had been hit.

There is concern over how he broke the trust of those who have listened to the news.

That concerns me…and it seems to me that we have to remember that when we point a finger at someone else, three fingers point back at us. 

Surely, we know that the rest of us have also been accused of remembering things wrong, too, right? How many fishing stories haven't you heard where the fish was thiiiiiis big…and someone else who was there adjusts the hands to be only half as far apart? This just hasn't happened to Brian Williams. 

Unfortunately for Brian Williams, being in the press, his stories are all captured and recorded so they can be compared over time.

Why blog about Brian Williams? He's an American broadcaster and most of us don't watch him!

Because we have all been in Brian Williams' shoes at one time or another, and related a memory we have to others as fact, in a way other than how it actually happened if we had a movie camera.

So…I don't have a hot clue about why Brian Williams' story changed over time. None of us do…and so I don't think it's fair for us to judge or criticize. We don't have enough information to be in a position to know.

But I do know why stories are related differently than how they occurred:

1. We are suggestible people

That's not wrong. That's just the facts, Jack.

Our memory is malleable over time. Everybody's is. 

Folks have spent their lives behind bars with eye witnesses swearing that they were seen at the scene of the crime…and then later it was discovered that with the lighting at the scene at the time of the crime, no one could have seen the shooter's face. No one. The witnesses hadn't intended to lie…but over time, it was suggested that it was a certain young man…and they came to believe it over the years.

I like the way Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist puts it: 

Our memories are constructive. They're reconstructive. Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: You can go in there and change it, but so can other people.

She showed a video of car accident to a buncha people. When the investigators asked, "How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?" the speed reported was lower than when the investigators asked, "How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?"

Brian Williams saw footage of himself repeatedly with the helicopter that was hit by the grenade. His own helicopter may well have been shot at as well. Did the pictures influence his memory?

2. Trauma has us remember things differently


When a person is in a terrifying situation, they are worrying about their own survival…and the ability to pay close attention to what happened and how it happened decreases. Memory storage is seriously impaired as the brain is doing it's best to ensure survival.

Again, Elizabeth Loftus, a memory psychologist reports:

The subjects in this study were members of the U.S. military who were undergoing a harrowing training exercise to teach them what it's going to be like for them if they are ever captured as prisoners of war. And as part of this training exercise, these soldiers are interrogated in an aggressive, hostile, physically abusive fashion for 30 minutes and later on they have to try to identify the person who conducted that interrogation. And when we feed them suggestive information that insinuates it's a different person, many of them misidentify their interrogator,often identifying someone who doesn't even remotely resemble the real interrogator.

So…in Brian Williams' case, he and his crew spent three days in the desert with the military folks in the helicopter awaiting evacuation after their convoy was shot at. That's serious stuff. Wouldn't it make sense to cut him some slack?

Who amongst us doesn't remember the teeth of the dog that bit us as bigger than realistic?

I see this happen with couples when they have a massive fight. They come in and tell me how it happened, each with a story that opposes the other…and now they have another layer of conflict convinced the other is lying. When a person is married, and loves their partner, and has their lives intertwined and invested in the other--when there is a huge conflict…that can feel extremely threatening--which will distort memory.

I think we need to avoid rushing to judgement in situations where the story told is different from how others or the camera remember it. We need to take the perspective of the other and understand that the memories may be different for a reason.

3. We embellish to better tell an important emotional truth


Years ago, a Junior Tribe Member often crashed through the door after running home from the school bus, loudly and desperately claiming, "I'M STARVING". 

On the days when I had less reserve to be patient and loving, I would say to him, "You are not starving. I watched you eat breakfast, and I packed a lunch and two snacks. There is no way you are starving".

And we would fight because I was basically accusing him of lying.

(Yes, I recognize this story doesn't do me proud. We all have our moments.)

Other days, I would be able to hear the truth in his words. The loud telegraphic phrase, "I'm starving" actually was the only way he could transmit to me the depth of his hunger. It was a way to say, "My hunger is so big, that if I simply told you I was hungry, you wouldn't really get how hungry I really am feeling".

On those days, I could cheerfully say, "Oh my…that sounds like we better cut up an apple for you right now and get it into your tummy pronto". 

On those days, I could recognize how what he was saying was emotionally true, even if it wasn't factually true…and hear the truth and address it.

I think that when others say, "You never…" or "I always have to…" they are trying to say to us something that, in that moment, feels emotionally very significant. That's often when we start to quibble and say something like, "Well…last summer I did"…which is besides the point. With listening to the emotional truth of it we can respond to the depth of pain and frustration, rather than defensively nitpick on the factual accuracy.

4. We want to be liked and valued


Who of us hasn't embellished a story consciously just to make it a little better…and thereby have a better story to tell…so that we can be received better?

We tell ourselves we aren't lying, we are just telling a better story.

Y'know, y'say you didn't get ANY sleep that night (when you know you fell asleep about 4 am), or all these women were giving you their phone numbers (because three is a lot, but not nearly as shocking as "all"). Stuff like that.

We all want to be liked. We all want what we say to be valued and to reflect well on us. We all want to know that we were memorable to others. 

We were made for connection…and for most of us, there can be a small part of us that worries that if we tell the story as it really happened, others won't be so impressed, and the story will fall flat…and that will mean that we aren't seen by others favourably.

That's because of the shame gremlin…where all of us who are capable of empathy fear that we are flawed and therefore not good enough with the story we have…and so we invent better stories.

5. Others expect us to tell a better story.


When a person has been in a challenging situation, others can approach and ask to hear the story. They are looking for something juicy, something scintillating…something that will have them feel like they themselves have been present with something pretty special. 

We all long to be connected with the really cool, outlandish, newsworthy and famous.

And so, either consciously or unconsciously, we put pressure on the storyteller to tell the story we want to hear, rather than what actually happened. 

(And inadvertently, possibly suggestively shape the story the teller then tells in ways that even the story teller doesn't realize).

We want to hear the dress looks good on us. We want to know that people like our blogs when they read them (OK…I was a little too transparent there, wasn't I?)

The truth is always an insult or a joke, lies are generally tastier. We love them. The nature of lies is to please. Quote by Katherine Dunn. Poster by Bergen and Associates

I think we need to be a little slower to decide when people are intentionally lying. Storytelling is a whole lot more complex than simply "telling the truth". Memory is complicated. Emotions are powerful.

Compassion and benefit of the doubt is also powerful…and it builds bridges and creates opportunities for understanding and processing…and greater connection.

Whether Brian Williams was lying or not is irrelevant in your life…but I think this raises the issue that it isn't fair for us to be asking that question, and that question isn't even a helpful one. 

The Brian Williams story does create a helpful opportunity to decide what sort of conversations we can have with loved ones where it does matter…where what we assume, what motives we assign, what questions we ask, and how we dialogue when we remember it differently can ultimately change the course of a relationship.



We as witnesses

- by Carolyn Bergen

One of the things i love about being at Bergen and Associates is that it isn't just a place where I show up to do therapy with the fabulous people who are clients that I get to work with. 

It is more. So. Much. More. (and that already is a ton)

It is also a place where I show up to work with colleagues who inspire me with their own gifts and talents--and they are incredible people who are also great friends. I just simply love them...I like them, to be sure, but I love them too.

Kevin Beauchamp was an intern with us for two years. He and I met regularly for those two years for supervision. I had a chance to watch him develop his skills, to witness his passion for the work, and compassion for his clients. And I had opportunity to watch him work through his own personal stuff too, which is something all of us therapists have to do all the time to ensure that when we work with clients, we don't impose our crap into their work. Kevin was candid and open and vulnerable to do this, working through some challenging and tough stuff...and I hugely admired him for it.

He married Melissa yesterday...which is a celebration of tremendous proportions on so many levels. It was extra fun for me because Melissa was a student of mine as an Occupational Therapy student at the University of Manitoba when I was teaching there. I knew each of them and liked each of them, before they even knew each other. How cool is that!! 

Melissa and Kevin Beauchamp were married February 7, 2015 in Winnipeg

Several of us from Bergen and Associates were privileged to attend the wedding. What an honour to be included in those invited to be a part of such an incredible day.

Melanie Thiessen, Roshonna Plett and Carolyn Bergen attended the wedding ceremony of Melissa and Kevin Beauchamp

I liked how the minister opened the wedding.

Paul Stanley said something like:

You might think you were invited to be guests today. But you are more than that...much more. You are witnesses to the vows of Melissa and Kevin. And witnesses are sometimes called to bear testimony to what they witnessed.

There may come a day when you are out with the guys, and Kevin says something about Melissa that is unkind. And as a witness of today, I would invite you to remind him of the promises he made to Melissa today to be with her, and to support her.

Because Melissa is human, and we all make mistakes, there will quite possible come a time when Melissa is discouraged and angry with Kevin, and speaks of him in a way that threatens to drive a wedge in between them. And you can bear witness to the vows Melissa made today, and challenge her to reposition herself towards a compassionate and loving posture to Kevin. 

As witnesses today, you are seeing that Kevin and Melissa are joined together. Their invitation to you to be here today tells you that they want you to know of this commitment to each other . And your role in their life now includes being a presence that encourages them to honour their vows that you will shortly hear. You are no longer Melissa's friend where you hear her talk about Kevin in a way that could increase the distance. You aren't pals with Kevin in a way that separates him from Melissa. 

Your presence here today means that you recognize their desire to grow together, and your witness to that today means that you will help them be a healthy couple…not one that says in 70 years: "Well. we gritted our teeth and made it somehow through that hell" Rather, you will help them to be a couple that will build each other up, support each other and encourage each other…they will be better people because they are married to each other.

(Ok…so I didn't record him, and I think he said something like that…and this was the essence of it…but I added my own flair to it…cuz it's now a day later.)
As witnesses, we may be called to testify and bear witness to the vows. Bergen and ASsocaites Counselling in Winnipeg

I loved how the officiant recognized the value of community. We sometimes forget how incredibly powerful we are in influencing each other. 

We belong to each other. 

We are wired for connection.

We do better with support of caring people who have earned the right to speak candid and honest and challenging things into our lives.

We bear witness. 

And it is an honour and a privilege to do so.

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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

March 26, 2015

A letter to Car…your kids…that I now have the privilege of being part of their lives

A letter to Car…your husband…my future husband

A letter to Car…you are grieved



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