The Perfect Holiday Gift For Someone Who Has Lost a Loved One

A number of years ago, I found myself making Christmas Eve and Christmas Day phone calls to friends and family who had lost a loved one.

I didn’t realize exactly what I was doing but over the years I kept on doing it.

The phone rings and it’s me wishing people who feel emptiness at holiday time a happy day.  It doesn’t have to be someone you know real well.

Sometimes the calls last longer than either one of us expect.

And they are upbeat because even when the loss of a loved one is mentioned, a few consoling words seems appropriate.

The conversation is easy.

Just ask questions and you’ll get plenty of answers.  What have you been doing? How is the family?  And drill down to ask about others.

If it is the first year alone, the recipient is usually surprised to receive such a call but always pleased.

Then just add them to the list for subsequent years as they look forward to the joy of catching up as much as you will knowing the real precious gift you are giving – the gift of your time.

Try it this season.  

“No matter what your heartache may be, laughing helps you forget it for a few seconds.”  — Red Skelton

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Listen to the Other Side of Silence

Just because people are quiet, doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to say.

And being talkative doesn’t mean you do.

One of the most advanced and potent human relations skills is to listen to the other side of silence.

That which is not said, but can be valuable if we listen for it in others.

Even when a person outwardly expresses a feeling, it doesn’t mean that it is their true feeling.  We humans often say things that are opposite of what we think or feel.

I have seen marriage counselors who sit between warring partners trying to get them to express what is on their minds directly to each other and then they are asked to recite those feelings back. 

Amazingly, it’s not easy even to communicate even when the two people try to listen to what is being said with the help of a psychologist.

Listening to the other side of silence requires a sensitivity for the whole of another person without prejudgment.

The ability to put in perspective what others say for it may be what they think we want to hear.  (We all do it).

Gathering information without making an immediate assessment of the person or situation is critical to effective communication.

Ironically we live in a fast paced world with more communication devices, social networking and opportunities to express ourselves and yet, the truly skillful communicator knows to cultivate a respect for that which is not said.

“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.” – Chaim Potok, The Chosen

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  • Jerry, this is one of the best articles regarding ourselves interacting with others. I grew up in the Jesuit culture. “In Service to Men.” I”m lucky. I leaned in high school to listen to others but also to HEAR what they were saying. I’m sharing this with my circles.

Understanding the Tragedy At Newtown, CT

The words that come to mind are …

Compassion — An outpouring of love shown to families and survivors of the shooting locally, nationally and worldwide.

Gratitude for those whose lives were spared and for our children whom we embrace even tighter today because it could have happened anywhere.

Bravery — The courage of those who were the heroes some of whom lost their lives protecting innocent children from death.

Appreciation for how first responders fought through their tears while they did the toughest job in the world. 

Thankfulness that as grotesque as they are, senseless mass shootings are relatively uncommon even though several major incidents in the U.S. every year claim precious lives.

Brotherhood and sisterhood with others in harm’s way around the world who are also the victims of rage and murder – from war zones to school buses in the Middle East where children are targeted because of their political views.

The words I search for …


Now What?

The Dalai Lama reminds us of a saying in Tibetan: “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength”.

From strength comes ultimate acceptance although things will never again be the same for the families and town of Newtown, CT.

“The shattering of a heart when being broken is the loudest quiet ever” – Carroll Bryant

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Showing Appreciation At Work

I was inspired by a recent Wall Street Journal article about the do’s and don’ts of showing gratitude in the workplace.

It’s no surprise, according to the article, that the workplace ranks dead last among places people express gratitude.

If you work in the media business, it isn’t uncommon for employers to skip the compliments for fear that employees will ask for a raise.

So, here’s how to turn bad gratitude into good:

  1. The employer who walks around at the same time once a week to thank everybody is not as effective has catching employees doing something right, great or promising in real time.  
  2. Offering praise with the intention of getting an employee to work late is self-defeating.  Gratitude works best when it comes with no strings attached and that means no strings.
  3. Avoid the word “but” when thanking someone.  If you say, “you did a great job, but”, you might as well not offer the appreciation.  Believe me, the “but” is the only word the intended recipient will hear.
  4. Waiting before acknowledging a good performance is like eating stale bread.  Serve the compliment when it is fresh.

Employees like to work at places where they are appreciated and as we have said in this space before, appreciation is the number one employee demand – not money or anything else.


A study of 815 managers by The Society for Human Resource Management reveals more than half of human resource managers say showing appreciation for workers reduces turnover and 49% believe it increases profit.

We may not be able to change someone else’s ability to appreciate the work of others but we are always in control of our willingness to begin and that makes us more powerful and kinder people.

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  • I’ve told this to people about using the word but”
    If you have to use the word but as a clarification which is totally incongruous with the original intent (praise, etc.), then you’re talking to the wrong side of the person! Turn them around and talk to their butt because that’s the side of that person who will be listening when you use but incorrectly. 
    Translated: Use “but” in a compliment and the other person may be thinking, “Kiss my a**.”

  • Great advice, Jerry. Something I need to work into my ethos more, I think. Thanks.

Conquering Fear

In the movie “The Impossible”, the actress Naomi Watts plays a woman vacationing in Thailand with her husband and three children when the tsunami of 2004 hits and separates them.

It’s a real life story that has been described by USA Today as impossible to watch on screen “and leave emotionally unscathed”.

Yet Watts has a fear of water from childhood when at 14 she and her family were caught in riptides.

Watts had to overcome her fear of water to be immersed in water tanks for close-ups and underwater scenes for the film which opens December 21.

Almost everyone has fears and as long as these fears do not paralyze us, we go on with life.

The best advice I ever heard about conquering fear is to do the thing you fear to do and the fear will go away from you.

Constantly step up and confront the fear as Naomi Watts did in the shooting of “The Impossible” so that it never gets the best of you.

This is often more difficult than it sounds, but there is no other way.  Otherwise, fear takes over and ruins lives. 

“I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.”

— Frank Herbert

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  • Cool story, Jerry!