Monday, February 1, 2010

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

My brother Jim, who was a lover of storms, was more at home with the elements than he was with people. As the stories progressed, his essence began to emerge as the mysterious changing qualities of the moon. Dan was compassionate and generous. His bright light was personified by the sun. A silver and gold thread began to shine through the dullness of my grief and weave itself through the stories. The mythical presence of Jim and Dan, expressed through dreams, symbols, and the coincidences that my family and I shared, supported me in my grief and became the signposts out of it. ~ From The Jim and Dan Stories

“Two words,” I said to my husband as we were walking through the front door of Sal’s Restaurant, ready for a late supper.

“Cue cards,” I blurted out.

It was 9:00, and we had just come from the Radford University grief and loss class that is using my book, The Jim and Dan Stories, as part of their curriculum. I was the guest speaker, and Joe was telling me what a good job I had done. For once I didn’t deflect his feedback.

It was the 3rd time I had spoken to a class of Radford University counseling students in the last 2 years, and so I suppose my improved public speaking abilities could be due to the fact that I’m finally getting the hang of it, but it was also the first time I used noted index cards, and I think they helped immensely.

In “The Jim and Dan Stories,” I mentioned my ongoing fear of public speaking, so this group of 16 who had all read the book, smiled knowingly when I shuffled my index cards and began our hour-and-a-half together by saying, “I write better than I talk.”

Having my husband, a former counseling student who enjoys speaking to groups, by my side gave me an added boost of confidence. Although he injected less than he has in the past, he was able to overview the direction of the presentation, gauge the responses of students, and remind me to slow down when necessary. He also logged onto my webpage and blog and displayed them on a screen for everyone to see.

The evening included a show-and-tell of newspaper articles about the book, photographs, a scrapbook, and emails and letters from readers. My index card notes of talking points included headings such as; How the Book Came About, The Shadow Epilogue, The Turning Point in My Grief Process, What has happened since Writing the Book, The Hull Village Reunion, and Grieving My Father's Death. When my mind either went blank or became overloaded with what I wanted to say, I could glance down at my index cards and stick to my own script. Other times, I could refer back to them, after having veered off into a class-led discussion.

In the chance that the students might be hesitant to be vocal, I came equipped with a short series of questions that past readers had asked and a few questions that I like to ask readers, but I didn’t need to use them. The class, mostly women of various ages, was welcoming, intimate, and engaging.

In closing, I read The Black Feather, an account of a recent transpersonal experience related to my father’s death in November. By the look of the wet eyes in the room and by the feel of the hugs at the end of the evening, I knew it was a worthwhile shared experience, one that I would find myself thinking about later.

On my way out of the building, a woman who had been in the class but had not spoken a word approached me shyly and asked, “Just how did you conquer your fear of public speaking? I’m not even able to speak up in class.”

“I’m still working on it,” I answered. “The more I do it, the easier it gets. But it’s never easy, even with cue cards,” I told her.

Outside, I emerged, feeling like I had passed a milestone. Looking up, I noticed that the sky was filled with an amazing formation of large clouds. Seeing them, outlined by the gold of the setting sun, I instantly thought of my brother Jim, the weatherman, and my golden-hearted brother Dan. The clouds were like a “thumbs up” from them and a visual validation of something I had just said in the class. Death doesn’t only take away. Because Jim and Dan lived and because I wrote about them, so much love and insight has been given, received, and shared.

~ Originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on July 3, 2006.

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