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The Importance of Important Relationships

A look into an array of connections that shape our lives

So many important relationships impact our lives, it’s hard to distinguish which is more important. Truth be told, they all are.

In this chapter, Stephanie Davis presents a look into the life of Becky Moehring, a local CNA who builds relationships with families as they prepare for the passage of loved ones, and Lois Sabatino shares a life lesson honoring a long-lost relationship.

We take a look at our relationships with siblings, with food and with our bodies.

We hear from three women whose livelihoods depend on the art of listening and from Dr. Kiran Gill, who urges her clients to partner with the doctor’s pre- and post-surgery advice.

Today, more than ever, it’s important to appreciate relationships we hold dear. We hope you’ll take time to embrace and reflect upon the importance of important relationships in your lives.

 
 
 
 
 
 

FEATURE

Answering the Call

CNA feels her job is an honor and a privilege

by Stephanie Davis

Becky Moehring has been forging and fostering relationships since she was 18 years old and felt the calling to work as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“I was making $4.35 an hour and riding my bicycle to work because I didn’t have a car yet,” she remembers. “But the important thing is that I was meeting people, bonding with them and helping them — and that’s what I love.”

When her boss at the time left the nursing home to work in hospice, Moehring followed.

“We had a great relationship and she thought I’d be really good at it — I trusted her. We still keep in touch to this day.”

After a long career in hospice up north, fast forward to 2017, when, like many northerners, Moehring followed the sunshine to Southwest Florida and now works with Hope Healthcare in Fort Myers as a hospice CNA. She helps people to make the transition from life to death as she works with both patients and families to make the journey as smooth and painless as possible.

Moehring has a spark that can’t be denied. At 51, she seems even younger with her pixie haircut and bright twinkly eyes.

As her wife, Cheryl, says, “She has a spunky personality and she loves everyone — you can’t miss Becky.”

Soon after Moehring started with Hope Healthcare, she met Cheryl, who worked in the administrative offices. 

“I love everybody, and I love to talk to everybody,” Moehring says. “When I met Cheryl, we became fast friends at work and that lasted for about a year. But, one day, I decided to ask her out to lunch. She said yes, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. Our relationship grew and we got married. I sometimes think that’s why I was supposed to move to Florida — to meet Cheryl. She’s the most kind, caring, remarkable woman I’ve ever met.”

The couple makes their home in Lehigh Acres, along with their large assortment of beloved pets — four dogs and five cats.

Moehring describes her home life as blessed, and she feels her job is an honor and a privilege.

“When I go into homes and meet my patients’ loved ones, I learn so much about different nationalities, religions and traditions,” she says. “Sometimes situations are easier than others.”

At one point back in Pittsburgh, Moehring took care of a dying man who was “high up” in the Ku Klux Klan.

Becky Moehring

“I didn’t believe in what he did,” she says. “But I still went and cared for him without showing judgement. That’s my job.”

She feels fortunate to be able to create relationships with the families of her patients. “I continue to stay in touch with many of them. Some have had me to their dinner tables,” she says.

Some families want to be alone after their loved one has passed, but in Moehring’s case, most prefer that she linger with them for a while.

“Me being there seems to provide comfort,” she says.

Moehring strives to bring smiles to the faces of her patients and their families.

“We’re guaranteed two things in life: birth and death,” she says. “Death is inevitable, so we can only do our best to accept it as it nears. It touches me when families and patients tell me that they look forward to my visits.”

Humility is evident in Moehring’s personality. She values the relationships she’s forged through her work, but she makes it very clear that she doesn’t feel special, although she’s often told she is.

“People have told me that I’m one of a kind, but I’m just me, Becky. I only treat people the way they should be treated: with kindness and humanity. And I hope that when it’s my time, someone will care for me the same way I’ve cared for others.”

Stephanie Davis, a freelance writer, has written for local, regional and national publications for 20 years.

CHAPTER 49

RELATIONSHIPS: SIBLINGS

Mending the Divide

Fractured sibling relationships affect other relationships, as well

by Fern Schumer Chapman

The list is long: Alex and Stephen Baldwin, Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Beyonce and Solange Knowles, Kim and Rob Kardashian, Eric and Julia Roberts, Madonna and her two brothers and Prince William and Prince Harry, just to name a few, are all estranged siblings.

Kelly Osbourne, of the reality show, “The Osbournes,” has no contact with her sister, Aimee (who didn’t participate in the television series). “We don’t talk,” Kelly told Dax Shepard in a segment of the “Armchair Expert” podcast.  “We’re just really different. She doesn’t understand me, and I don’t understand her.”

I could have said the same thing about my only brother. We didn’t talk for decades.

While the estrangement experience may be common, it often carries profound hurt, stigma and loss of self-esteem and trust. Support groups for the estranged exist, but many who endure this trauma are reluctant to join. Most who can’t get along with a sibling — roughly one out of three people — don’t want to tell their stories, so they suffer in silence, isolated twice — from a sibling and from social support.

In my case, I didn’t know why my only brother had cut me off, and I never discussed it with anyone. Instead, I ruminated endlessly about the break. The estrangement resulted in other losses. I no longer was a sister, sister‐in‐law or aunt. My children had no cousins on my side of the family. I dreaded birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals, family get‐togethers — every possible encounter with my brother or, perhaps worse, his glaring absence.

Even when estrangement is a clearheaded choice to move forward from abuse or unbearable discord, the cutoff leaves disconnected siblings in a world of secrecy and shame. Estrangement feels like an utter contradiction of the very nature of family, an aggressive rejection of the fundamental way most living creatures organize themselves.

Most siblings probably don’t understand how they contribute to a brother or sister’s well-being. In fact, the longest study of well-being — the Harvard Study of Adult Development, underway since 1938 — reported that a strong sibling connection can be fundamental to emotional health. The study identified a close relationship with a sibling during college years as a reliable indicator of emotional health in later life.

Additional research reinforces the value of positive sibling relationships. Various studies have shown: 

  

  • Adolescents who perceived that their siblings validated and valued them reported higher levels of self‐esteem. 

  • Sibling support correlates with better academic performance.

  • Sibling support and closeness was associated with lower levels of loneliness and depression.

In childhood, brothers and sisters instill in one another necessary social qualities of tolerance, generosity and loyalty that eventually shape their adult relationships. Siblings typically spend more time together than with anyone else. For the fortunate, those relationships endure through decades, often outlasting friendships and marriages.

Still, some siblings, particularly those who come from dysfunctional families, often are at risk for a cut-off due to factors, such as family trauma, parental favoritism, poor communication skills, and family values, judgments and choices (such as lifestyle or partners).

Additionally, certain life stages that require family members to redefine their roles, like marriage, birth of a child, divorce, illness or death, are particularly perilous for siblings.

 

A sibling cutoff often ripples well beyond its origins, disrupting ties with other relatives, friends and acquaintances, and deeply disturbing an individual’s sense of belonging. That’s why Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School and the fourth director of the study, recommends people reach out to relatives they haven’t spoken to in years.

“Those all‐too-common family feuds take a terrible toll,” he says.

Now reconciled for seven years, my brother’s and my renewed connection is a treasure for our elderly mother and our children. In addition, as the Harvard study reported, we have found the loving presence of a brother or sister brings rewards well beyond our relationship.

Fern Schumer Chapman is a journalist and author of several books, including Brothers, Sisters, Strangers: Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation. She is the co-host of the Brothers, Sisters Strangers podcast. Learn more at

https://fernschumerchapman.com.

RELATIONAL LISTENING

What’s that, you say?

Listening: the foundation of our most important relationships

by Kathy Grey

There’s a marked difference between hearing and listening, just as there’s a difference between being heard and being listened to. With that in mind, we spoke to three women whose livelihoods depend on listening. Here’s what they had to say.

Joyce Owens - The Architect

As principal architect at Architecture Joyce Owens LLC/Studio AJO (www.architecturejoyceowens.com), Joyce Owens’ client list extends throughout the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy. 

Big or small, she says each project has everything to do with listening to clients and understanding their needs.

“It’s very import that we listen very hard,” she says, especially as a project begins. “The client is telling us what they want and asking a lot of questions. By taking time at the beginning and writing everything down, we have the opportunity to create something right from the beginning that will respond to their needs.”

Owens says that listening involves knowing what questions to ask, something that requires skill and experience.

“We want to be sure we’re giving that client exactly what they want. We’re doing the interiors now, too, so it’s knowing what they need,” she says. And that takes true collaboration between the parties.

“You’re working with them so closely; it’s like being married for several years. It’s nice because you get to spend the time to know them. They come to trust you more. When you come with the first solution, they say, ‘Wow, you listened!’ because you took the time to understand their needs.

“All of my clients will tell you that I listen. Having them like you at the end of that project,” she says with a laugh, “… that’s also important.”

Kelly Townsend - The Business Consultant

Kelly Townsend is a principal at Leaders Team (www.leadersteam.com), an organization that calls itself “Codebreakers for Human Performance.” The team is comprised of experienced professionals who work to unlock human potential, helping organizations create breakthrough results. For Townsend and her associates, listening is crucial to achieving those results.

Townsend uses the term “recreating,” which results in what she calls “getting gotten — not just listened to.” She asks, “How do you know you’re a good listener? You have to have your attention on what exists in your listening … to set aside any opinions, judgements and assessments about what the person is saying, or anything about them, or anything about yourself that would get in the way of actually getting what someone is saying as they’re saying it. If we don’t do that, we distort what people say. Get stuff out of your listening, so you can be in a conversation.” That’s the first step to recreating, she says.

 

“As a practice, I always want to check in with what exists in my listening before I have any meeting. I want to make sure that, if I am going to be a ‘good listener,’ things need to cleared out about anything, so I can practice recreating what another person says.

“When I say ‘transformation,’ what do you hear? People will say, ‘change.’ Now, you just distorted what I said because you had something already there about ‘transformation’ that you think it means. If you recreate someone, you’re actually saying back to someone what they said.”

Townsend gives the example of someone saying, “It’s been a challenging year.” In order to recreate someone, commiserating with the speaker about your challenging year is ineffective. “My challenging year is not your challenging year,” she says.

“But if I do recreate you, I say, ‘Oh, you said it was a challenging year. Tell me about that.’ I’m asking, ‘What is that for you?’ rather than what I think it is, based on my own experience.

People can listen, and maybe even understand what you’re saying, but it’s very different when they get you and you’ve actually been gotten, and not just listened to. (As you recreate and) get what’s being said, you ask questions to have that person also say what they mean by what they’re saying.”

Patricia Tulli-Hawkridge - The Professor

In a recent interview with Go Local Live/Providence, Patricia Tulli-Hawkridge discussed active listening.

“Because we hear someone does not mean that we have actually listened to them,” says Hawkridge, an adjunct professor in theater, dance and film at Providence College’s School of Continuing Education.

“Personally, I’m a fixer. I want to help. And so, when someone speaks to me, I want to jump in. I want to say, ‘I agree with you. I want to help you. Have you thought about this…?’ But most times, what is really necessary is just being a witness … to really hear the person.”

Our listening and getting someone provides a healthy foundation for the most important of our relationships.

As Mark Twain humorously said, “If we were meant to talk more than listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.” Twain is also known for this more serious quote: “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would rather have talked.”

LIFE LESSON

Genevieve

Remembering a life well lived

by Lois Sabatino

I learned early in life that everybody in this world is important. A woman named Genevieve taught me this valuable lesson.

She worked in the employee dining room cleaning tables at Yale New Haven Hospital, where I got one of my first jobs as an 18-year-old.

At first, I didn’t notice her because I was busy trying to become friends with doctors and nurses, lab techs and social workers, each so impressive to a young kid like me.

One day, I was sitting by myself at a table in the huge employee dining room, munching on a sandwich while trying to knit my first scarf. Along came Genevieve, stopping to wipe my table and spending a few minutes teaching me the ins and outs of knitting and purling. From then on, this tiny woman was my friend, never too busy to listen to my girly problems and giving me a little hug now and then, but never talking about her private life.

I noticed how Genevieve smiled and said hello to everyone who came in for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many doctors, nurses and others knew her name and said hello back, asking how she was. And yet, there were many who couldn’t be bothered with her. I’m sure their indifference hurt, but she never let on.

This woman in her uniform with its little apron, stiff hairnet and cap to keep her gray curls tamed, always kept her hands busy, with more than 100 tables to straighten as people came and left. She put miles on her shoes every day in the cavernous room, resulting in a pronounced limp from being on her feet for hours.

  

Years passed and many of us moved on, but for 23 years, Genevieve stayed in the dining room, living her invisible life as conversations swelled all around her. Salt and pepper shakers were wiped free of ketchup fingerprints. Crumpled paper napkins, sticky ice cream wrappers and eggshells were whisked away, along with forgotten trays left by “important” people too busy to notice she existed.

And then one day, Genevieve didn’t exist anymore. She had cleaned the day’s final table, folded her soiled apron and walked to the bus stop, riding home to her little apartment, where she died in her sleep.

She was all alone when her heart stopped, but a few days later, a small obituary appeared in the local newspaper along with a blurred photo of Genevieve standing near one of the tables she had cleaned so carefully. Whoever wrote the obit knew she had been a widow, and that her husband was an Army private who caught a German bullet in his head on Omaha Beach, leaving Genevieve with two little boys to raise all alone. By being very careful with her hospital salary and her small widow’s check, she had saved enough to put her two boys through college. And medical school. Her doctor sons and their families had moved away to live their own lives, which was fine with Genevieve, who never asked them for help because she had her hospital job, which she secretly thought was important.

 

“Did you know that woman whose picture was in today’s paper?” asked a nurse who had never said a word to Genevieve. “I think she worked in the dining room.”

“Yeah,” remembered her friend from radiology. “I never knew her name, but she seemed nice enough,” he said, rushing off to the elevator, leaving a crumpled lunch bag on the table for someone to remember.

 

Lois Sabatino is a consultant in public relations, community relations, special events, fundraising and motivational training. She was the first female executive at United Technologies.

FYI: FOR YOUR INSPIRATION

Mindful Musing

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought and attended to my answer.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

 

EXPERT TIP

Doctor’s Orders

The importance of pre- and post-surgery care in achieving best results

by Dr. Kiran Gill, Aesthetics in Plastic Surgery by Kiran Gill, M.D.

Pre- and post-surgery care are vital to optimal cosmetic surgery results, and both the surgeon and the patient play a vital role in achieving them — the surgeon brings the aesthetic eye and expertise; the patient carefully attends to all pre- and post-surgery instructions, including:

  • Being honest about smoking, drinking and supplement habits

  • Staying hydrated

  • Planning ahead for necessities, meals and help from friends and family

  • Avoiding certain medications, herbs and nicotine, per surgeon’s guidance

  • Following physician-provided skin care to avoid scarring

  • Going to all follow-up visits

Dr. Kiran Gill, a Naples board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, embraces the constant pursuit of integrity, precision and innovation in her practice. Aesthetics in Plastic Surgery by Kiran Gill, M.D. is located at 6610 Willow Park Drive, Suite 104, Naples. To learn more, call 239-596-8000 or visit www.kirangillmd.com.

RELATIONSHIPS: FOOD

Eating Emotionally

Examining our relationship with food  

by Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Exploring our relationship with food is an opportunity to explore our relationship with ourselves. When we answer the call to address our hunger, with self-awareness and radical introspection, we can engage in the life-changing work of managing our hunger from within.

How do we care for ourselves? Are we worthy of the time and attention required for that care? What boundaries are necessary to support healthy relationships with others and with ourselves? What true longing is our desire for food signaling? What do we seek to control, and what might we need to relinquish in order to achieve peace? Where have we abdicated our power, and how can we reclaim it? Is there a path for healing rather than numbing? And if not for food, then what are we really hungry for?

Whether we know it or not, we are all emotional eaters. The marriage between food and emotion is hardwired in our neurochemistry. Sometimes patients will come into my office, shaking their heads in shame at the admission that they are an emotional eater. Other times patients will come into my office, defiant that they are not. The truth is that we are all emotional eaters, and it is physiologic! In the many years of doing this work, rarely have I encountered a human whose emotions did not inform his or her eating habits.

Think about it: When we are happy, we eat. When we are sad, we eat. When we are longing for something, tired or hopeless, we eat. We eat to celebrate, to indulge and to network. Eating is our physiologic response to almost any emotion.

There are hormones that respond to food and nutrients, to the amount of fat we have in our cells and that send signals of hunger or fullness to our brain. But these hormones also respond to our emotions. In fact, our emotions literally hijack our hunger hormones.

Ways to Overcome Emotional Eating

The first step to overcoming emotional eating is to practice mindfulness and examine why you are eating. Ask yourself: are you really hungry, or are you bored, tired, anxious or frustrated? Are you eating because you truly want the food, or are you eating to soothe your emotions in some way?

 

To help yourself determine whether you are eating to soothe your emotions, start by identifying and naming them. You may want to download an emotion wheel. This wheel visually represents the primary emotions and displays different degrees and complexities of each, showing the relationship between hundreds of different emotions. This can help you identify and name the emotion you are truly feeling. 

You might also want to consider keeping a mood log. Instead of writing down what you eat, a mood log involves listing how you feel each time that you seek food. This will allow you to identify the emotional patterns that cause you to eat. 

And, finally, when you are feeling the urge to soothe your emotions, you can also seek dopamine from other sources. Sunshine, heartfelt connection, movement and mindfulness practices all trigger a release of dopamine and may help you find comfort without the comfort foods you usually turn to.

Adrienne Youdim, M.D., FACP, is an internist who specializes in medical weight loss and nutrition. She is author of the best-selling book, “Hungry for More: Stories and Science to Inspire Weight Loss from the Inside Out.” Learn more at www.dradrienneyoudim.com.