Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When the holidays are anything but happy December 27, 2018

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An edited photo of a sign promoting kindness as part of The Virtues Trail Project in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THIS PAST YEAR SEVERAL FRIENDS lost loved ones—one to suicide, another to an aggressive cancer, the other to advanced age-related health issues. Friends are battling cancer. Other friends are facing a myriad of challenges.

Christmas is not always easy. It can be downright difficult when you’re missing a loved one or working through something that’s really really tough. I get that. And I hope in some small way that my friends feel my care for them. I’ve reached out with words of comfort, with hugs, with a recognition of their struggles. I don’t pretend that I can erase their grief or solve the issues that are affecting their lives. I simply want them to know that they are not alone, even if they feel alone.

More than ever, it’s important for each of us to step outside of ourselves and recognize that people are hurting. Within our circles of family and friends. It’s important to realize that loss—whether by death or through strained relationships or other factors—hurts. We can ease that hurt by caring. Caring enough to ask, “How are you?” Caring enough to validate an individual’s loss and say, “I’m sorry.” Or “I’m here for you.” It doesn’t take a lot of effort. But it takes that pause, that ability to recognize that saying something is better than remaining silent.

I understand. I’ve heard words of care and support when I needed them. But I’ve heard, too, the loudness of silence.

TELL ME: How do you support family and friends dealing with a loss and/or a difficulty, especially during the holiday season?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t tell me you’re “fine” when you’re not & other insights March 5, 2017

 

HOW ARE YOU? I’ve never liked that question, even realizing the underlying kindness that laces those three trite words.

The standard answer of “I’m fine” is expected. The truth most often is not.

 

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Now Minneapolis writer Nora McInerny Purmort—who has faced her share of “I’m not fine” days—tackles the “How are you?” question in a podcast series from American Public Media. Terrible, (Thanks for Asking) is a must-listen series in which Nora seeks only honest responses to “How are you?”

I’ve listened to one podcast thus far. “Unbroken” features an interview with sexual assault survivor Sarah Super. It’s an incredible, horrible, powerful and, yes, sometimes graphic, story. But so worth your time for the insights revealed. Sarah is one strong woman. And we can learn so much from her about the importance of speaking up, of being heard and more.

Both she and Nora address the issue of silence. And, yes, I picked that from the interview because silence is all too pervasive. I’m talking the hard, uncomfortable silence that those who have suffered trauma, those who are dealing with health issues, those who are facing unimaginable difficulties and challenges hear. Yes, hear. Silence truly can be deafening.

Sarah cites the reason many friends and loved ones remained silent following her assault: “I didn’t know what to say or do.”

Puh-lease.

“Your silence,” Sarah says, “feels like apathy.” The definition of apathy is lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Lack of. Imagine how that feels to your loved one who is hurting. Lack of.

Nora reiterates Sarah’s thoughts: “Silence hurts when you are on the other end of something awful.”

In an interview with National Public Radio about her podcast series, Nora repeats, “The worst thing—and it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with death, or if you’re dealing with all of these other things that we’ve talked to people about—silence is the worst thing you can hear from people.”

She gets it. Within six weeks, this young woman lost her father to cancer, miscarried and then lost her husband to brain cancer. Since then, Nora has authored the book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too). And now the enlightening podcasts have followed.

What can we learn from all of this? My take-away is this: First, we need to speak up, to end the silence, to really care when we ask someone, “How are you?” And then we need to listen, really listen. That means setting aside our stories, our comments, our whatever, and truly focusing on what the other person is telling us. It’s about them. Not us.

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CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a way that Minnesota is breaking the silence on an issue that affects all of us, directly or indirectly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Silence is not always golden January 10, 2017

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Powering into a new year, symbolism in a locomotive photographed along US Highway 14 between Owatonna and Janesville.

Powering into a new year, symbolism in a locomotive photographed along US Highway 14 between Owatonna and Janesville.

A NEW YEAR BRINGS introspection, the opportunity to start anew, to face challenges head on, to build up rather than tear down.

That can be applied on a personal level and on a community level. In Faribault, my home for more than 30 years, I’ve never felt a stronger sense of caring for one another. That message of “you are not in this alone” has repeated itself in words and actions following two murder-suicides here in December. My community is choosing to be there for one another. That uplifts and empowers.

When life throws us a curve, we need to be there for another, linked by the commonalities of care and compassion.

When life throws us a curve, we need to be there for another, linked by the commonalities of care and compassion.

Yet, it takes more than a community reacting to tragedy to effect real and long-lasting change. And that starts with each of us. But we get busy. And we forget about the individuals in our circle of family and friends who are grieving, battling illnesses, struggling financially, facing unimaginable challenges. I try to be cognizant of the needs of others, especially those closest to me. Sometimes I fail, though, to extend much-needed care. There is no excuse. I have enough time to pick up the phone, send an email, jot a note in a card and/or simply ask, “How are you doing?” I can listen and encourage without injecting my opinion, my advice, myself.

We can

In a harvested cornfield, we choose to walk around the stubble to avoid physical pain. In life, we need to acknowledge the painful stubble in others’ lives and not avoid it.

By ignoring an issue, by failing to address the difficulty a friend or family member is facing, we add to the pain. Silence is not always golden.

Sometimes we must intentionally choose to keep at arm’s length those who fail to support us. That failure can come via omission or via hurtful words and behavior. We are all adult enough to realize when words encourage and when words hurt.

So many times I’ve observed people shift a conversation to themselves, as if that’s going to help whomever is struggling. This is not about ourselves; this is about the person sharing his/her concern.

A strong visual that we can help one another. Photographed near New Ulm.

This strong visual shows that we can help one another. Photographed recently near New Ulm.

Bottom line: We need to hone our listening skills, to show genuine compassion, to be here for each other.

TELL ME: How do you help family and friends who are struggling with challenges in life? What do you find helpful and hurtful when you are dealing with a difficulty? Please be specific. We can all learn from one another.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling