QUESTION: Our son just graduated from high school with honors. Obviously we’re proud parents. Our problem is we’re going on a three-week vacation the last week in July and he doesn’t want to go with us. His argument is this is the last summer he’ll see his high school friends before he leaves for college in August. The college he’ll be attending is in Washington State.
His aunt and uncle who live locally said he can stay with them if he doesn’t go on vacation with us. Our thinking is this is the last vacation we’ll have with him before he leaves. He’s always been a responsible kid, so leaving him behind is not the problem. We just want to have him with us.
We’ve had many discussions and haven’t come to a decision. What do you think about all of this?
~ Love Our Grad
Dear Love Our Grad,
I’m going to side with your honors grad son on this one. I know you love him, and you probably think this will be the last vacation you’ll have with him, but it won’t be. How about the summer after his freshman year? How about the summer after his sophomore year? There are no guarantees of course – but I can remember going on vacation with my own parents even after I had graduated from high school. (In fact, after my first year in seminary following college, I went to Alaska with my parents – so you haven’t “lost” him!)
Also, please don’t “make” him go with you; that would be a mistake in my view. And look at things from his point of view: this really will be the last time he’ll have so many friends together, whereas you will always be his family. Tell him you’d love to have him go with you, but it’s his choice. By acting in that manner you’ll demonstrate to him exactly how loving you are … and he may just remember how loving the next time vacation time rolls around!
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Love Our Grad,
It was not so long ago that my husband and I faced the same beginning pangs of empty nest syndrome. As much as they love us, this epic time in their life is about an adult milestone and, as newly accomplished young adults, they want and need to explore as such. That usually leaves the family nest of doings and gatherings down to holidays and Skype visits. Sadly it’s normal even though it feels so foreign in our heart. I found that coming to terms with my empty nest wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I knew it was coming; we all do. Family structure is going to change and the love will always be there growing stronger, as love does so naturally. Parents become more like friends and touchstones for strength and wisdom. Wherever it is we can help we give it our best.
Holidays now become even more precious to us. We share them now with the world more than we ever have before because they are ready, willing, and wanting to get out there and “do it their way.” Take comfort in the fact that you raised up a young man whom you can feel relaxed and confident about while you go on with your vacation plans. I feel that to rein him in is effectively forcing him to vacation with you and it’s not likely going to enhance your time together no matter where you go.
Lastly your son does make a strong point. The summer after graduation is the “last blast,” as they say, then it’s time to put childhood things away. College and job opportunities often call people away and friendships can dwindle down to fond memories. I cast my vote with your son.
Have a wonderful vacation, and I hope that your son has his well-deserved summer too.
Kim Winders, RScP
Center for Spiritual Living – La Crescenta
QUESTION: I retired three months ago and decided to volunteer at a local hospital. Because I’m new at this and, even though I’ve been through orientation training, I’ve been assigned to hospitality, asking patients and their families if they’d like to have coffee, water, snacks, etc.
I quickly realized that hospitality was much more than just serving drinks and snacks. After many conversations with patients’ families, particularly patients who are terminal, I find myself saying over and over, “I’m sorry.”
Could you please help me with ideas so I can converse in a caring, compassionate way? I really do care about these people and I pray for all of them.
~ Newbie Volunteer
Dear Newbie Volunteer,
You have hit on a very deep and important point. It is awfully difficult to talk to those who are in the midst of a grievous situation. What makes it really impossible is if you try to fix their situation. You cannot.
Over my six years as rabbi at the Jewish Home for the Aging, I learned that the thing that is wanted most of all is your presence. You are not the person who is grieving. You do not need to become sad in demeanor to mirror them. In fact, your air of normalcy, your connection to all things good, and the fact that you are from the world that is not grieving is a great comfort as well.
Listening is the most important tool you have. While you listen, be sure you hear the heart beneath the words of the person. Pay attention to what the person is conveying on the deepest level possible. As you hone this listening skill you will begin to get hints as to what, if anything, you need to say. You are so lucky that you have the tools of refreshments. In the Talmud, we learn that when visitors come don’t ask them anything except what pertains to fulfilling the visitor’s needs. Are they thirsty, would they care to sit? By providing these you are already going a long way to giving the person what is possible and therefore giving them the feeling of being cared for. To be able to support fully those who imminently face a death in their circle you must do the work of facing your own death and exploring your feelings, thoughts and beliefs about death, illness and after-life. You must wrestle with these until you come to your own peace about them. You will then find yourself able to be fully present and at your best.
Congratulations to you for finding this service of great value to the world. I compliment you for going past your comfort zone to reach out to others in their time of need. Thank you, Newbie Volunteer! Enjoy this journey; it will pay you back so deeply in personal growth and satisfaction.
Rabbi Janet Bieber
Jewish Community & Learning Center of the Foothills
Dear Newbie Volunteer,
I know that this is probably not what you want to hear, but I think you are already communicating in a wonderful, compassionate way. You have turned a simple hospitality role into a profound ministry. The fact that families talk with you shows that you have a caring spirit – and they can sense that. This is probably the most important element. You can’t fake it. Either you care or you don’t – and you obviously care.
Secondly, at a time like this what hurting individuals need is someone to listen. And it sounds to me that that is exactly what you are doing – listening. Often it is hard for them to talk to other family members (especially initially). The emotions are often too raw. But a friendly and caring hospitality worker can provide enough “emotional space” for them to open up. You don’t need to, nor should you, provide a lot of “great advice.” And frankly, generally “great advice” is not what they want or need at that moment. They just need someone to be there to listen, to care. You have no idea what a profound impact you are having by simply listening and caring.
The one practical piece of advice I might suggest is know what resources are available at the hospital where you volunteer (chaplains, support groups etc.). If you feel like the individual you are listening to needs more help, share with them the available resources.
Overall, I’d say keep up the great work you’re doing. Please know that you’re making a difference. And saying, “I’m sorry” from a caring heart can be a great comfort. It says another human being cares. And do continue to pray and offer to pray with them.
Pastor Bill Flanders
First Baptist Church at La Crescenta