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Love, Death and Vulnerability

#169: Love, Death and Vulnerability

Jacqueline Hellyer - Monday, June 27, 2016

 My cousin died recently. She was only 33 and essentially drank herself to death. This is a modified version of the speech I gave at her funeral. 

I do a lot of public speaking. My topic is usually around Love and Life, yet today I am speaking on the subject of Love and Death.

Because someone we love has died.

My cousin was a beautiful young woman - strong and caring and funny and gentle. She was surrounded by people who loved and cared for her, close friends and a loving family. We are all devastated, and no doubt all of us are asking ourselves what more we could have done, why we weren't there for her when she needed us.

No doubt there is more we could have done. But as we examine her last weeks and months we see that she withdrew and wouldn’t let those close to her come near. This is the great tragedy.

As all she needed to do was reach out. Ask for help. Be vulnerable and trust the support.

It is so sad that we live in a society that does not support emotional vulnerability, where emotion is often seen as sentimentality and shut down. We rush off to the doctor when we have physical ailments, there’s no shame in that. But when it comes to our mental health, our emotional wellbeing, we feel we should be able to handle it on our own. We look to others and it seems they are doing ok, so we repress our fears and sadness, our loneliness and desperation.

This in part is because we are also not good at listening. Despite our best intentions we inadvertently shut people down. Rather than creating a safe space for our loved one to open up and share their vulnerabilities, we go straight to advice and problem solving, or try to cheer them up with a ‘you’ll be fine’. When what they need is simply to have us listen, and hear them.

In my work as a relationship therapist I spend a lot of time teaching this skill. It should be taught at a young age, but it’s not. So we grow up and fumble our way through adulthood lacking this key life skill.

Just as we struggle to open up and be vulnerable. And without that ability we can’t receive, we can't feel loved, regardless of how loved we might be. And my cousin was certainly loved.

I can relate, as I grew up in the same family, although we lived far away. I know how we were brought up not to feel, to suppress emotion. I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life overcoming those barriers so that I can be open and vulnerable, and through that can feel loved; and now I help others with these skills. No doubt one of the reasons I’m good at my work is because I had to overcome so much within myself to do so.

I feel sure my cousin would want us to learn these skills: the skill of being vulnerable and that of being able to create a safe space for others to open to us.

We don’t know exactly what was troubling her, what personal demons she was struggling with, because she didn’t share. Without sharing there was no connection, and without connection she felt alone.

Yet she wasn’t alone.

My dear cousin, you were loved, you are still loved, and will always be loved. And you are missed, and will always be missed.



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