Sharing Grief

You might know that my daughter, Krissie, died just a few weeks ago. Understandably, this event has had a rather profound effect on me, as well as others who knew Krissie, both family and friends. The effect on me, and of course on others, has been one of grief. These past six weeks has been extraordinary as I have been grieving…and sharing grief with others.

The blog I published just yesterday was on the I-You-Me theory I have discovered over the recent years, namely how people of different natures have different ways of establishing and maintaining relationships. Simply put, I find that there are three predominant ways that people “relate” one another, namely with what I have called “I-first” people, “You-first” people, and “We-first” people. (There are also some subsets of these basic three kinds of relating discussed in the previous blog.) I-first people begin a relationship on what they feel, think, and do; and then they tend to make statements about themselves. You-first people begin a relationship with what the other person thinks, feels, or does; and then they tend to ask questions of the other person. We-first people tend to wait until something happens in the relationship, whether one of words or actions as they look the find what they call a “connection” with the other person. I have admitted that I am an I-first person.

Sadness and Grieving

You may be aware that Deb and I wrote a book entitled The Positive Power of Sadness not long ago, which is a rendering of what we have come to believe is the most important, and the most love-based emotion in the human experience, namely sadness. We have come to believe that this love-based emotion comes about singularly when there has been a loss, specifically a loss of something that the person has loved. As we note in our book this loss can be of person, property, or idea. While most people think that the loss of a person is the most profound loss, people can feel just as much sadness when they lose property or an idea does not work as they hoped that it would. Deb and I continue to assist every one of our patients with facing the losses that they have experienced in life, and in so doing avoid the tendency to fall into the emotions of fear and anger or the condition of depression. So we know quite a bit about sadness, and frankly speaking, are pretty good at feeling sadness instead of anger and fear. Anger, by the way is the emotion that occurs when I have lost something in the past, and fear is the emotion that occurs when I consider that I might lose something in the future.

Our ongoing journey of grief

This has been a remarkable journey indeed, and it has been particularly remarkable one for me because I am the I-first person noted above and in my previous blog. Recall that I-first people tend to establish and maintain relationships with statements, usually statements about what they think, feel, or do. So, during these past six weeks I have done just that and have found something quite remarkable, and seemingly quite memorable. The remarkable thing about these weeks of grieving is how I have felt the value of the relationships I have established, mostly built upon people’s kindness, generosity, and selflessness as they have shared my grief, and very often Deb’s and my shared grief. I think I have found what We-first people seek all the time, namely the connection that two (or more) people can have when one person shares something with another person. In the case of this past few weeks, the sharing has been of our grief, but we have also had times of sharing joys with many people. This “connection” that We-people seem to know so much about has found its way into my soul. I am a changed person as a result. Let me tell you of some of the encounters over these past weeks, almost all of them in regards to someone hearing, feeling, or listening to me (us) regarding our loss:

  • The person at the counter at Starbucks, which is Deb’s most preferred brief hangout when she seeks her caffeine addiction. Deb happened to mention that she was “coping” when the barista simply asked, “How are you?” This led to this woman coming around the counter, hugging Deb and crying with but what has become the most treasured words, “Oh, I am so sorry.” Just sorry. Nothing more.
  • Many more of these encounters. Like the time, now about 3 weeks ago in my Madison office, after my first day back at work. It was the end of the day and I just locked my door and was walking towards the stairs when a pleasant older woman sitting in the waiting room brimmed a most pleasant smile and wished me a good night. I walked hallway down the stairs and then found I was compelled to return to the third floor. I did so, and said to the woman that I particularly appreciated her smile and greeting because the recent days had been hard as my daughter had died. She immediately got out of her chair, and asked if she could hug me. “Certainly,” I said.
  • The first day back at church, actually on the Sunday after Krissie had died when I was supposed to preach. The person who filled in for me that day mentioned that he was a bit surprised to see me there and mentioned my loss. Immediately, several people (all men, I believe), gathered around me as I found myself in tears.
  • Deb and I traveled “west” not knowing where we might go beyond “west” but we knew that we wanted to get to the source of the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota. We did what all people do in this sacred place: walked across the Mississippi River. We went back to the car after an hour or so at these waters, but were somehow compelled to return once more to this spot where the great river begins. Deb asked a young lady if she would be so kind to take our picture, and then noted that Krissie had died and we were scattering some of Krissie’s ashes at the source of the Mississippi. She did what so many people of her nature do at such times: her hand went immediately to her chest, she begin crying, and then hugged us. After the pictures she took of us scattering, crying, and the like, she said it had “been a great honor” to be of service.
  • Another such chance encounter happened closer to our cabin “up north” as we say in Wisconsin. We were on a trek to a falls that Krissie and her kids had taken with us a couple of times. Deb again happened to encounter a woman who asked how we were only to hear of our loss. Without missing a second, she turned to her friend and said, “Ashley, come over here, we’re going to pray.” Then she proceeded to hug us, together with her friend Ashley, and pray for us. Don’t know if I will ever see her again, but she is now is “connected” forever.
  • Many more such encounters with “strangers no more” while their names are not in my vocabulary.
  • Many moments of sharing with Krissie’s friends, particularly at the celebration of life in Bloomington where she lives.
  • I think I have received no less than 100 unsolicited hugs over these past weeks, maybe another 100 emails and more cards and letters. Each of them has been meaningful and helpful.
  • Of course, Deb and I have been “connected” all the more with each of us taking turns crying and holding one another.
  • Among other things remarkable is the fact that I have hugged my sun-in-law, Lamont, perhaps 50 times over these weeks, about 49 times more than I have ever hugged him.

Sharing Grief

It has been enlightening to have had these many experiences of connection, most with strangers, some with friends, and of course some with family. I am a changed person. Yet grieving, yet recovering. I am indebted to these many people, none of them true strangers, for their kindness. The experience has taught me, as I seem to continually be taught by many experiences in life, that there is value in shared grief. I say so to people, like a friend this very morning as we were having a cup of coffee together and heard from him how he “couldn’t imagine how it would be to lose a child” as his eyes welled up. I told him, as I told everyone who shared my grief, that it was helpful to be loved by his sharing this grief with me. I’m not sure that many people truly understand how grief is meant to be shared and how profitable it is to the grieved as well as consoler. It seems that people who are able and willing to this simple task of love have a good sense of who they are and hence can care, if for a moment, more about me than they do about themselves. I look to be more gracious in such things.

Just one brief note regarding the sharing of grief: some people are unable to actually share grief with others. This is because they have not finished their own grief. So when someone with unfinished grief encounters someone grieving, there is a mixture of feelings including a desire to avoid grief altogether and a kind of jealousy that the other person is grieving if place of the person being asked to share the grief. There is no shame in this inability to share grief, but it is impossible for such a person to genuinely love someone else in the other person’s grief when their grief is yet so unresolved.

I Walk A Little Slower Now

I walk a little slower now

My gate not up to speed

I step and step, but then I bow

My back like bread to knead


I stumble on a step or two

But find I cannot bear

This burden but for just a few

Seconds as I stare


I stare, I stare, I stare once more

As if I could but see

My daughter on another shore

Somewhere ahead of me.


I stare, I look, I carefully inspect

That shore I think I see

I look, I think, I feel and yet respect

For what must certainly be


I stare, I look, I think, I feel

My hope for this last claim.

But it’s enough for me to steal

A glance from God’s domain

Ron Johnson




Temperament VII: Lovers: Challenges and Opportunities

This is the seventh of a series of nine blogs on “temperament.” Previously, I have discussed the four temperaments that we have used to understand people for the past nearly 50 years. As we have defined these four temperaments, we identify players, lovers, analysts, and caretakers. Briefly stated, players seek experience, lovers seek connection, analysts seek truth, and caretakers seek effective use of property. For a more thorough review, see my previous blogs on temperaments, particularly on “lovers,” our current discussion. I also want to note that no one fits perfectly in any one of these categories, but rather people tend to be somewhat like other people in one of these categories, and sometimes two of them. Furthermore, people have characteristics of all of these four temperaments. And even more important, temperament theory is only one way of understanding psychological make-up. We will eventually discuss personality “type”, which was originated by psychologist Carl Jung and popularized by Elizabeth Briggs-Myers in the popular MBTI instrument. Other ways of understanding people would include gender matters, cultural matters, intellectual matters, and personal development. You will note, however, that our interest in understanding people is not particularly oriented towards psychopathology, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and the like. We have done a bit of such study in previous blogs as well.

In very brief review, the people we call “lovers” are people whose primary orientation is towards human connection. This is a concept that is hard to explain in objective terms because it is so subjective by nature. Like, what does it mean to be “connected” to someone? Lovers use this term all the time, using it as if everyone understands it. But not only are there widely different understandings of what “connection” means to people of different temperaments, we won’t be successful in actually defining this concept except to say that connection is a “feeling” (there we go again with an undefined, but important word) that happens when one person feels a kind of unity, closeness, or deep understanding of another person. We might call it a “spiritual” thing that happens to people, but this word is also undefined. So, let us proceed with this discussion in the murky waters of human connection that is certainly very real but just as certainly undefined, at least in objective terms.

Our current discussion is how one can be a “lover” in temperament and find success in life, i.e. relationships, work, play, and personal life. To be successful at anything one has to understand what he/she is by nature, which includes temperament among many other things. I just talked to a guy who is a “biker” among other things (also a mechanic and a truck driver; also a pretty intelligent person). He told me that an important female relationship didn’t work out with his former girlfriend partly because she didn’t understand his passion for all that goes with being a biker. I think that if he could have adequately explained his biking passion, he might have better at succeeding at his relationship, but he admits that he has very little skill at such things. Importantly, biking is important to him. So, there are many things that are important in what it means to be a person, among them passions like biking, but also temperament. The first thing that a lover person needs to know and do is to understand the nature of being a lover, which means seeking connections. But what does that mean? We discussed this somewhat in the previous blog about the Lover Temperament. In a nutshell it means that the person with this lover nature needs to see its connection-based nature, see that this is a good thing, a godly thing, and a valuable thing. This is the beginning of success in life: knowing my basic goodness.

The second thing is much harder, particularly for lovers: not all people are lovers, nor should they be. This is a very hard pill for lovers to swallow because love and connections come so easily to them, that they think love and connections should come as easily to everyone. I have to hammer away at lovers in my office to get the point across that they have a “gift”, which happens to be the gift of love (and connections), and that have an opportunity and an obligation to use this gift in the world. What does that mean?

It means that whatever they do, lovers will have love and connections at the bottom of their desire, whether this is relationship, job, friend, play, or personal reflection. So, if you are a lover, know that your approach to all of this will be to find some kind of connection. I just spent another hour with a typical lover, who is primarily distraught because his 32-year relationship hasn’t been successful. It is beyond his ability to conceive that his seeking of connection, however good and godly, was not enough, and is not yet enough to have a successful relationship. Nothing wrong with being a lover, nothing whatsoever; in fact, everything right about it. But loving and connecting is not enough. His wife, whom I know but briefly, is certainly of a different temperament, and simply does not need, and does not want, the connection that Sam wants all the time. This is a tough pill for Sam to swallow, but it is one he has to swallow if he wants his relationship to succeed. The same is true of the rest of life.

The rest of life is work, play, friends, and self-reflection. Knowing that you approach all these things, even the self-reflection part, with a penchant for connections is very important. Ideally, you have a spouse, co-worker, and friends who understand your need for connection, but it is just as likely that you do not. So finding success in these important arenas of life means that you have to know that your gift is but one of many in life, and at the most ¼ of what it means to be a complete person. This does not mean that you have to just tolerate your spouse, friend, or co-worker, but it does mean that unless he/she is a lover like you, you will not be able to forge the connection that is dear to you. You can have connections, but you can’t have them with most people, and maybe not even with your friend, co-worker, or even your spouse. You have to have connections, but you can’t have them with everyone like you would like. So, how do you cope with this? Sadness.

You cope with having less than universal connections with everyone in your life by allowing yourself to feeling sad. In fact, if you do it right, you will actually feel sad more often than most people because you love more than most people. If you don’t allow yourself to feel sad (and lonely and disappointed), you will end up feeling irritable, angry, and resentful. This is when you are not at your best, and sadly, very sadly, many lovers end up being quite the opposite of being the lovers that God made them to be simply because they expected too much of other people, namely expecting then to want connections. When lovers do not have the connections that they so dearly need in life, they can become angry, irritable, and even mean spirited.

Having discussed (briefly) some of the grief associated with being a lover, how might such a person find success in life, i.e. relationships, play, work, and friendships? First by noting and valuing this love gift, secondly by recognizing that most people don’t have it, and thirdly finding people and places where you can, indeed, have real connections. You might, for instance, find a connection with someone who is not a lover, but you feel the connection even though he doesn’t feel it. You might want him to feel it, but it can be just as good for you to feel it, perhaps entirely silently, without his even knowing that you are feeling it. You can find that moment in time when you feel something with a co-worker or boss at work, perhaps a time when you really feel what they feel, be it sad, hurt, lonely, excited, or hopeful. So, these brief moments of connection might not be what you would like relationships to be about, but it can be very good for you and keep you going in life.

Aside from taking these brief moments of connection, you need to foster one or two relationships that are mutually connecting. Lovers absolutely need this in their lives, and if they don’t find it, they will find some kind of compensation. Compensations tend to be anger, addiction, and avoidance. If you find yourself in any of these, know that you are compensating for the lack of the intimacy that is so central to your living and being. But finding that right person is no easy task and there are many confederates to the real thing, like affairs, for instance. I think most affairs occur because one or both of the parties happens to be a lover, usually a lover who doesn’t have someone with whom he/she has real connection. The addictions that people have in their lives are also compensatory, but then they become the go-to thing to do instead of doing the very hard work of developing a long-term relationship with someone, having a good friend or two, finding pleasure in work, and having good play in life. If someone has all of these things (good work, good play, good friend, and good intimate), addictions simply are not as fun and not as attractive.

All of this is very hard work, and the finding that the whole world is not made up of lovers like you is the most painful part of the work, and the most necessary part of the work. Then you will be at your best, giving, forgiving, learning, leaving, and connecting.

Temperament IV: Lovers

This is the fourth in a series about “temperament” in which we are discussing the idea of temperament as a way of understanding personality and the behavior that results from one’s personality. Acknowledging that there are many ways of understanding personality, we propose that there are four primary temperaments that give us a general orientation to the world:

  • Players: seek experience, often excitement, adventure, and tend to take a rather physical engagement to the world
  • Analysts: seek meaning in life by identifying problems and their solutions
  • Lovers: whom we will discuss in this document
  • Caretakers: take care of things, both property and people

Our use of “temperament,” as well as several other ways of understanding personality is first and foremost a focus on “what is right about people” rather than the rather popular way of understanding what is wrong with various mental health diagnoses. We do not disparage the use of such problem-based ways of understanding people, but rather do not think it is the best way to start the understanding process. We do, however, admit that there are problems that result from all good things including temperament. The “problems” that erupt from temperament are primarily three: (1) the person does not know, and hence value, his or her own temperament, (2) the person uses the gifts of his/her temperament “to a fault,” and (3) one’s gifts of temperament may be substantially different from people with other temperaments leading to a conflict between two good things.

Herein we will discuss the characteristic that are natural to the people we call “lovers” and then speak somewhat of the value that such people bring to the world. We will defer the challenges and opportunities that lovers have in the world to a latter blog.

Characteristics of Lovers

  1. Connecting

Like the term love, “connecting” does not lend itself to an exact definition but it a very real experience nevertheless just like the many elements of psychology and the basic elements of the universe are real but hard to define. This is the central ingredient of people we call “lovers,” but this characteristic does not lend itself to exact definition. It is something like feeling the same thing that another person feels. Connecting is a shared feeling, shared, insight, shared belief, shared joy, shared sorrow, shared hope, shared expectation or shared experience. Clearly, this has to do with sharing. This sharing, this connecting blends the boundaries between people, and it is something that lovers do all the time and especially with the people they most love. I sometimes say that lovers think, “If you feel it, I will feel it,” whatever the “it” is. A cognate of this feeling is something like, “If I feel it, you feel it,” which, however true this might be, can be problematic for lovers. The simplest experience of something shared jointly can be the seeing, appreciating, and experiencing a sunset or a sunrise because beauty is usually another part of the lover temperament. Connection can just as equally experienced in any other realm of life but the key is always having the same feeling as someone else.

This connection/sharing phenomenon can lead to a new creation, what we call la unity of souls. This unity is more than one person and more than the other person, and it is more than just two people experiencing something. It is a spiritual union that now makes an us out of “you” and “me.” This “us” orientation that lovers have is more important than the I and the you, and it is something that they are looking for all the time.

Both of our daughters have this lover temperament, and both seek connections, but our younger daughter, Jenny, is perhaps more of a true lover, while Krissie blends player with her lover temperament. When we talk, text, Facebook, or visit, Jenny is always the one who seeks connection with us. Certainly, hugs are first when we actually meet, but after those moments she is looking to what we feel, what we think, and what we have done. She is looking for connections. She is looking at a way to find us so she can find a way to blend with us. I wonder how these two girls turned out so good in life with one parent a caretaker and the other an analyst. It seems that we all muddled through their childhood together doing our best to love each other. Lovers do it best.

  1. Harmonious

Harmony is an adjunct to connection. When two people have this unity of souls, there are yet two people in the “us” but the relationship but these two people find different ways of experiencing life and expressing their feelings. Ideally for the lover, this harmony works to enhance not only both people but the “us” that has been created in the connection. In seeking this harmony lovers avoid conflict if at all possible. They will bend their own perceptions and their own words to find agreement and harmony, and they attempt to blend others’ feelings and perceptions to blend with their own. Lovers will do their best to find this harmony by listening, watching, and feeling their emotions in order to see how the other person sees the world and feels about the world.

The lovers that I have mentioned above all have this characteristic of seeking harmony. Daughter Jenny rarely displays any kind of anger or displeasure. Likewise, I have rarely seen other lovers angry, at least at the beginning of a relationship. Janet gets angry on a very rare occasion, and I have only seen John a bit irritated. Rather, I have seen these people spend hours and hours seeking to connect with people and find similarities that make for human harmony. And when they can’t seem to find harmony, they can feel great distress and clearly repressed anger. Mostly, though, they simply feel a great loss when harmony is in absence.

  1. Dreaming.

We have discussed how analysts like to dream. Lovers also dream, but their dreaming is substantially different than that of analysts. Simply put, lovers’ dreams are more emotional while analysts’ dreams are more cognitive. Furthermore, lovers’ dreams are more about connections with people. Dreaming for a lover is much more of a free-floating process where their minds drift into possibilities and opportunities for human connections. Lovers’ dreaming is almost always people-centered rather than things-centered the way caretakers dream or idea-centered the way analysts dream. They don’t think much about why something has happened the way analysts do, nor do they think about what has happened like caretakers. They dream about who they could be connected with. They might dream about having a perfect relationship, or dream about improving their current relationship, or they might dream a having a relationship with some unknown person where everything is about connection and harmony. Lovers can dream about places, ideas, and possibilities but these dreams always involve people. Furthermore, these dreams do not have to come into fruition; it is enough for a lover to dream about doing something, seeing something, or going somewhere. When a lover has engaged in this kind of fanciful dreaming, it may no longer be necessary to actually do the dream. Lovers have the ability to experience the future when they dream, a future that may never happen, but is real nevertheless.

  1. Touching.

It is almost impossible for lovers to keep from touching people. Yesterday, Deb and I did therapy with a couple. I have been working with the man for many months, and Deb has been working with the woman. This man and wife have come to a very difficult place in their life together and they needed us to help them sort things out. After rather intensive three-plus hours with this couple, and after many tears, we ended the session. After we all stood up, the wife, a woman I had never met before, reached out her hand for a handshake, which I accepted. But then almost if she had said, “I need more than this,” she reached out to me for a hug. It was one of those full body hugs that lovers give where two bodies are close enough to feel one another’s heartbeats. It wasn’t one of those hugs that I call “A-frame” where two people only touch at head level, nor was it a “C-frame” hug that is typical of men where the two men stand facing in the same direction each with an arm around the other guy. This was a great big bear hug. It was real, and it was absolutely necessary for her. We had had this three-hour connection, not all of which was pleasant, and she needed to feel this physical connection before she left my office.

Lovers’ tendency to touch people is clearest when they touch another person who is in pain of some kind. The affectionate touch rendered to someone in pain that is fairly natural for all of us is perhaps more of a wonderful compulsion for lovers: they are compelled to touch a person in pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional. Their touch is very likely healing in a way that lies beyond exact science. There are professional healers, many of whom may well be lovers by temperament, utilize “healing touch” as a principal part of their work. Healing touch is quite simply the healer placing his or her hands on the part of the body of the patient that is in some kind of pain. There is a good bit of research that suggests that touch, whether emotional or physical, is beneficial to people in some kind of pain. Massage therapists perhaps know more about the healing nature of physical touch, but it is also a part of physical therapy, chiropractic, nursing care, Reiki, and other more traditional medical practice. When I had a massage recently, I could not distinguish the difference between the muscle relief I experienced from the more emotional relief I felt. Many nontraditional healing practitioners talk of a healing “energy” that occurs when two people touch one another.

  1. Generous.

Lovers truly enjoy giving. They like to give hugs. They like to give greeting cards and thank you notes. They like to give presents. They can even give things that they probably can’t afford to give, like property, money, or time. Lovers are very good at giving affection for someone who is in pain even though the very same person may have brought them pain in the past. If a lover is around someone that is hurting in some way, whether from physical, emotional, or relational matters, the lover will feel immediate compassion and a desire to give something to the hurting person. Lovers’ generous nature is more than meeting someone’s need. They simply enjoy the act of giving, expecting nothing in return. My sister, lover by nature, insists that I take some kind of present with me when I leave her house, and when she comes to our house, the car trunk is full of several presents. Lovers’ giving can be out of their own abundance or out of sacrifice, but it is absolutely genuine.

This generous nature of lovers extends to deeper feeling and sacrifice. Lovers are more forgiving than people of other temperaments. It is simply easier for lovers to forgive offenses and mistakes in other people. They seem able to understand that much offense and many mistakes are not intentional, but rather due to misunderstanding or misjudgment. When they are at their best, lovers can forget about bad things that have happened to them or that have been done to them. They can be on the receiving end of vicious attacks, physical or verbal, and they will return the next day, even the next hour, with a spontaneous and genuine felt concern for their attackers if the attacker displays regret and makes an apology. Lovers seem not to even remember offensive things that were said or done to them. Forgiveness for lovers can come easily and naturally, especially if the offending party shows some kind of contrition.

Next up: Temperament V: Caretakers

Further reading: see previous blogs