Book Review, Education

Book Review- ‘I’m Your Teacher Not Your Mother’ by Suzette Clarke

I was asked to review a book about education and youth. Although most of the book reviews I have conducted have been related to the social work or helping professional fields, I wanted to go a bit beyond.

Hmmm… as a parent not an easy read and as a parent who happens to be a social worker and volunteers in her children’s school-not an easy book to read. Education is important to me and to our family. Not graduating high school is not an option and fortunately the school my kids attend is academically good, offers amazing after school activities for a reasonable fee, and has very caring and dedicated staff. I realize this is not necessarily the case at all schools.

While the author of this book was a teacher for 15 years in the New York city public school system and sees it as the parent’s responsibility to assist children with their homework and emphasize education, I would personally and professionally be somewhere in the middle. Perhaps it is a bit naïve. To me, it is both a system and a parental effort. To me, the two should work together to help students succeed or do the best they can. The PTA or Home and School Association are often a strong influence and every school should have one. I read two amazing books by Rafe Esquith. See my post on his style and his two books with programs and incentives that could easily be offered or part of the teaching style at any school.

If weaknesses are noticed, students are falling asleep during the school day, appear depressed, withdrawn and do not participate in class discussions, there is a reason for this which can fall outside of the school environment, but nevertheless affects a student’s ability to function well in the school/classroom environment. Bullying by fellow students is a whole separate issue. Is there abuse at home of any kind, parental supervision, do they live in an area that is prone to violence, a lot of noise, do they have the responsibility to look after younger siblings, are the parent(s) ill, diagnosed with a physical, emotional or mental health issue? Do teachers or other school personnel even know this information? Should they know it? As a parent and social worker, I say yes.

Socioeconomic class, ethnicity, culture, religion, the fact that there are so many one parent families, divorced or separated families and a parent’s own upbringing and values regarding education will surface and influence. Parent/Teacher interviews are often in the late afternoon or early evening, but not all parents can attend during this time.  What about mornings, online, at lunchtime or by appointment?

Social workers can be a key part in this along with guidance counselors and other school personnel. Parents should be part of the solution and part of the planning with an emphasis on EQ. IQ is one part of the equation, but EQ matters just as much. Teaching students’ empathy, caring, sympathy, the ability to describe their own feelings and the feelings in others is so important and can make a huge difference in the school environment. There are many programs and schools that focus on this and have turned around drop-out rates, increased school attendance and have provided some kids with a haven-in attending school.

Particular educational programs and standardized testing are needed, but do not necessarily fit the mold of every child. Some kids learn visually, others auditory and still others are extremely smart, but are bored. It is very difficult for teachers of today to adjust to the needs of every child in a classroom without the proper support personnel whether teacher’s aides or parent volunteers.

There are so many more issues that did not seem to exist when I was in elementary and secondary school-learning disabilities were almost unheard of, food allergies also, very few cases of ADHD or ADD, Autism and Asperger’s did not exist or where not known in my day or not labeled as such and if anything, it was youth with intellectual disabilities or physical disabilities. So what has changed over the past 20-30 years?

Certainly, there are more single parent families, divorced families and families where both parents work for economic reasons. Finances play a huge part in this equation from the parental perspective, as well as the school district and school tax base. Parents do not seem to be as involved with education. Youth are exposed to electronics by the dozen whether TV, computers, DSi’s, iPods, internet, etc which did not exist when I was growing up. Parents sometimes over- schedule their children for extracurricular activities. Why not make extracurricular after school activities contingent on grades?

So, back to the book…..who is at fault-the educational system, parents or a combination of the two? I find myself going back and forth between all and do not have the answer, but I do see the need for collaboration between both or nothing will change.

The author makes a comment that, “Children are often products of their circumstances” and I agree. Caring parents and involved parents will often show engaged children in school while children who have uninvolved parents, parents who themselves did not graduate high school and/or university as failing and having difficulties in the school environment.

Again, speaking for myself, I check my kids agenda’s daily where their homework is listed and check or ask daily if they need help, had any difficulty and often I have to sign both returned tests and the agenda to show as a parent I have looked at it. I am not sure if all schools do this, but I find it to be very effective. I can write notes in the agenda and the teacher reviews this daily and writes notes back. Phoning the school is always an option as well, but if there is an issue with the teacher, it should be addressed with the teacher first before going to the principal.

Another comment in the book has to do with school uniforms. Some schools have a strict uniform and others a color code. What is the reason for the uniform? Is price an issue? Does the student have an adult to purchase the uniform? Is it a public or private school? Should schools allow students to attend school if they are not dressed in the required uniform? Are parents notified? Are there consequences and a school board to back up the requirement? What happens if a family cannot afford the uniform?

I sense frustration in the author and in the examples she depicts in the book. It is easy for a parent to blame the teacher and just as easy for the teacher to blame the parent. This is what makes me pause and question who is at fault. To me this means better communication is needed between the two. The author has taught in the inner city school system in NY which is very different from a small town system elsewhere in the states or Canada.

How do others feel? What are your thoughts? What is the best way to encourage change? How do we best direct and challenge students to succeed and foster this same goal in parents? How do we encourage collaboration?

Thank you to Suzette Clarke for approaching me about reviewing her book and I hope that discussions will flourish! Her book is worth taking a look at.

By Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Presence

I find myself reviewing my writings and I know it is because a new year is almost here. Many use the time just before to make resolutions, to review the year that has passed and to make plans for the upcoming year. I do this as well, but I also like to review books I have read previously to see if I note something I missed the first time I read it. For this particular book, the answer is no. What is written below stays the same and I still believe the message is important.

“Presence must be balanced with a strong sense of who you are at your core.”

“Treat everyone, no matter the person’s position or level of power as a respected colleague.”

“Pay attention, the simple act of noticing your own behavior and that of others, in a deeper way, will create an ongoing focal point on presence.”

(Taken from Kristi Hedges- The Power of Presence)

The definition of presence I would use in the above is: a noteworthy quality of poise and effectiveness, the actor’s commanding presence. This definition best describes the book above which is a fantastic book on leadership or management with a strong presence.

The focus is on a sense of worth, walk tall, hold your head up, look people in the eye, talk to everyone as an equal, display confidence with excitement and passion, and your body language must match the spoken message.

Further questions to consider focus on- What is it about some people that they can get others to follow them? What qualities do they have that state or show ‘trust me?’

First and foremost-be yourself, be authentic, be intentional and most importantly…. be present.

By Victoria Brewster, MSW

*First published at: http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2013/02/14/quotes-on-presence/

Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Relaxation and Reflection: Do You Do Enough of Either?

Relaxation and reflection-two very important concepts especially within the helping professions. As I sit here on the long holiday weekend relaxing, I have the time to think about what is really important in life. Being in nature and spending time with family are two of those things. When camping, you are limited in what you can bring, so you pack sparingly and focus on needed items. If you forgot something you make do or see if a camping neighbor can share. People are friendly overall and everyone is focused on  relaxing and spending time as a family. There is nothing like sitting around the campfire at night, making s’mores and staring up at the stars to make you appreciate your life in general.

In winter it is playing outdoors in the snow and coming in to sit by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate, surrounded by holiday decorations, the smell of cookies baking in the oven and music playing in the background that lifts your spirit.

There seems to be two groups in society-those that care about appearances and materialistic goods and those that do not. All of us at different points in our life flit between the two groups and part of it is age related, how one was raised, friends, family, colleagues and advertisers/marketers influence us. The question often becomes, are we drawn in/do we take the bait? Think about it. Which group or category do you belong to at this moment in your life? Is it the group you want to belong to?

The point of the question is for each of us, no matter what segment of the helping profession we work in, social work, mental health, psychology or counseling to reflect and contemplate the important issues in life. Will owning a fancy, expensive car make your life have value? Importance? Make you feel better about yourself?  Perhaps it is designer clothes vs. a department store brand that will make all the difference in your life. The same can be said for electronics. Do you rush out to buy the newest IPhone, tablet, or laptop and if yes will owning one make you feel better about yourself or make you part of the ‘in’ crowd?  Does it really matter? Will putting yourself into huge debt to focus on this materialism be what matters most-showing everyone around you that you have all the new and best things in life? Personally, I think the stress alone of trying to live up to this standard will get to you and if you really think about it-none of it really brings you true joy, happiness or peace.

Your true friends will not care and will like you for who you are as an individual. Perhaps it is your sense of humor, your humanistic approach to life, your generosity, your work ethic, a vivacious spirit, your ability to see the positive/bright side in life or your ability to forgive and move on. Today, I heard a nurse say: “You cannot control the future so why spend time worrying about it; you cannot change the past so why dwell on it; and the only moment is today/right now so focus on this.” What great advice!  Not easy to do though. Many of us worry about the future. Many of us wish we could change something we said or did in the past. Perhaps we should look at the past as a learning opportunity and move on and focus on the now.

Every professional should take the time to reflect. Without doing so we cannot grow as professionals. Every person needs a relaxing weekend to recharge. And at this time of year when many are off work for the holidays, perhaps the time can be spent asking yourself some of the above questions.

So, do you do enough of the 2 R’s, relaxation and reflection?

Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
Book Review, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

The Little Girl is Me

This manuscript is many stories in one and describes the trauma that many have faced. If we think about the people in our lives; we can name at least one who has been a victim of abuse whether physical, verbal, emotional, financial or sexual.

This manuscript is written by Christine M. Ristaino who was molested as a child, date raped as a young adult and assaulted as an adult by a man who stole her purse and punched her in the head and face with her young children as witnesses.

She is a professor at Emory University teaching Italian. The manuscript is a memoir which describes her family, her own upbringing and her husband’s along with the prevalent issues facing the U.S today-racism, prejudice, inequality, victimization and trauma.

She discusses her Italian-American upbringing and her current involvement with the Unitarian Universalist congregation. She further describe a course she took through the Unitarian Church on social justice, called, “Building the World we Dream About.”

She discusses the assault and how it stays on her mind and in her memory thru dreams, interactions with others, how a Target store triggers her memory of the assault (It happened outside a Target store) and how when she tries to seek help there is no ‘right’ fit for her. She is not repeatedly abused thru physical, emotional or sexual means. She is not a subject of domestic violence, so who can best help her?

She is seeking assistance and resolution of some sort. She and her daughter attend an Aikido class and her son a karate class. She discusses friends of hers who are Jewish and Italian and the prejudices and misunderstandings that occur-an almost ‘lost in translation’ moment.

A line from the book that stood out for me, “When something is painful,” I said, “You just want to shut down, stop a conversation, prevent it from happening. It’s sort of a protection. But I was alienating people.” By not sharing the experience of what happened, she did not heal or move much in that direction and her friends and colleagues had no idea of how much this traumatic physical attack had on her.

How does one truly move on? Is trauma something that stays with a person who has suffered some form of it? Should an individual who has been traumatized open up and talk to family, friends, colleagues, and professionals to begin the healing process?

Another quote from the manuscript that stood out for me is:

“…I know there are different levels to this, but what people don’t understand is that it’s all

traumatic. It all counts. Abuse is abuse. You can have it happen one time or hundreds,

but once it happens, we all feel the same way later on.”

This manuscript should become a published book. There is a lot of material here that covers many areas in the ‘helping’ field(s).

It is never easy to write about your own hurts, misfortunes, and terrible moments in your life, but by doing so, one allows others who have gone through similar circumstances the opportunity to heal, to know they are not alone, and it provides others with an opportunity to learn. I commend Christine on writing this manuscript!

By Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health, Youth

Bullying and Mental Health

Teen bullying: why does it sometimes feel as if nothing is being done? Why are there so many teens being teased by their peers? Have things changed so much since I was in high school that the youth of today is under so much more stress, anxiety, and emotional pain? The youth of today is experiencing life much differently than a generation ago. Technology, social media, economics, family dynamics (more divorced, separated or blended families) and the educational demands (standardized testing, academic achievements) of schools today seem to place a huge load on kids. At the same time, this fast paced life of technology is occurring, kids and teenagers have access to an online world where individuals post every detail about their lives. Facebook, cell phones/texting have taken over the typical face to face interactions. Much easier to tease, make fun of, and bully an individual online than in person. More needs to be done both by parents/families, communities and schools re:  appropriate online postings for Facebook along with more support offered to deal with the fallout of bullying and potential mental health symptoms.

The Globe and Mail had an article on Mental Health and Bullying. It focuses on a school district in Eastern Ontario-Upper Canada School District- implementing a solution: Peer Mentoring which links grade 12 students who are trained to mentor every incoming grade 9 student. Besides mentoring, the initiative is an anti-bullying program called Link Crew founded by the U.S. Boomerang Project.

“The Boomerang Project is a company dedicated to both educators and students; our goal is to help create schools that not only teach students, but reach them as well. Whether it be through high school or middle school orientation and transition programs, student to student mentoring programs, an incredible teacher training, a powerful in-service, a dynamic speaker, or providing useful resources. Link Crew is a high school orientation and transition program that increases freshman success and Link Crew schools report having greater student connection, increased extracurricular participation, fewer discipline issues and improved academic performance.”

Peer to peer mentoring makes sense. Who does a 9th grader want to talk to about potential bullying and emotional upsets: an adult or a fellow student who may have gone through something similar? This does not take away the importance of a student speaking to the appropriate adult or professional if the needs go beyond what a peer can assist with.

Social and emotional needs must be addressed. Considering that students spend 5 days a week in the educational environment for at least 6 hours a day-it makes sense that these needs are addressed at school and can even become part of the curriculum.

I hope to see more school districts implement anti-bullying and peer-to-peer mentoring programs. What are you thoughts?

By: Victoria Brewster, MSW

*First posted at: http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2013/06/14/mental-health-and-bullying/

Humanity, News

Interview with Shawna Garcia-Empowered Mommas and IGH International

IGH International is dedicated to inspiring and supporting people just like you, to live a happy fulfilling life! Our motto is: “Life is Meant to be Enjoyed!”

We are a reseller of an award-winning, college-accredited personal empowerment program, and we also offer a home business opportunity to those, who want to earn an executive-level income working from home. We are based in the United States and do business internationally.

My background is in corporate sales, however, in 2001, I left Corporate America (where I never really felt at home) to experience my first business venture. I wanted more freedom and flexibility to live life my way so I decided to give the real estate industry a try, and started a real estate appraisal company. I did this for many years! I liked it, but I wasn’t passionate about it, and it did not leverage my time or my money like I wanted. I was afraid if I expanded the company I would be working more hours, and that was not in my plan.

In 2008, I had my first child, a beautiful baby girl named Isabella (in fact IGH International is named after her). She was the reason I started researching the home business industry. Having a child made me very much aware of the value of NOW! It also brought to the forefront of my mind the fact that I wanted to live my life with my family; traveling the world together, pursuing our individual passions…enjoying life together!  Not only did I want freedom to live life my way, but I also wanted a business that would leverage my time and money so I could do more work in less time, and ultimately spend more time with the people I loved most. I had found it!

In 2010, I started IGH International and in 2011, I started a subsidiary of IGH International, EmpoweredMommas. Although both groups work hand-in-hand, IGH International works with “people from all walks of life,” CEO’s, executives, carpenters, teachers, etc. who strongly desire financial freedom, life improvement and life change. EmpoweredMommas does the same thing, but is a niche group where we address the unique challenges moms face harmonizing & balancing home and career.

What do I do? Two things, First: I show people a very real and professional way they can achieve financial freedom with our home business opportunity. If learning more about this interests you, please visit one of my business websites:  http://www.IGHIntl.com or http://www.EmpoweredMommas.com .

Our business operates similar to a franchise. We are not MLM, but direct sales, as your earning potential is not dependent on a “down-line.” Our model is simple & proven and offers two very lucrative income-generating options.

Second: I educate people on The Laws of the Universe. These Laws govern in all areas of life: money, relationships and health to name a few. Have you ever wondered why you may be working so hard, but not getting where you want to go? The answer to this question, and many others, is what we help you discover. (For-the-record, I am an avid student of these Laws and also refer to them as personal development or personal empowerment).

What can one expect if they decide to join with me? Well, it depends on what you are looking for. If you love your job and are looking for a way to improve your love life, your health, parenting, etc., you will want to take advantage of our 12-month personal empowerment online course. You will become a part of our “safe-haven” community, meet others, learn about their struggles, how they overcame them and are now living a fulfilling life!

If you are looking for a business that you can run from home, and strongly desire an executive-level income, you will want to visit one of our websites and provide me with your contact details. I will contact you personally and begin educating you on what we do and how we do it. After reviewing our business plan, you will know if it is right for you, or not.

Here is one of many testimonials from our team:

“My name is Pauline and I live with my husband and son in Melbourne. We’ve created a whole new reality in such a short space of time (with this business model). Working 25 to 30 hours a week, I was able to retire my husband in my 7th month in business, which was a dream come true. I’m so excited for the future!”

Like Pauline, many others are making very rewarding changes in their lives. Regardless of where you are in yours, you can get where you want to be. I have witnessed many incredible “magical” changes happen for many people, and it starts by breathing life into that vision you have swirling around in your heart and head. It takes living from that vision, rather than from your current circumstances to achieve it. I look forward to learning more about your specific situation, and am even more excited to hear what you want to achieve; YOUR VISION FOR YOUR LIFE!

My best to you,

Shawna Garcia

Biography:

Shawna Garcia – I live in Ogden, Utah with my boyfriend and our kids. I am passionate about cultivating a deeply-connected, intimate relationship with my boyfriend, raising a home full of happy children who have a clear and exciting vision for their life, eating lots of healthy nutritious foods, and understanding how this thing called LIFE works. I work from home, and show others how they can work from home too. I also take a stand for Personal Development, being both the teacher and the student.

http://www.IGHIntl.com

http://www.EmpoweredMommas.com

or Follow us on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/JoinShawnaGarcia

http://www.facebook.com/EmpoweredMommas

Aging/Gerontology, Grief/Grieving/Bereavement

The Holocaust: Bereavement Takes a Different Course

By Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD- Guest Blogger

Jewish history has all too often been written in tears…

I am fascinated by people and groups with the capacity to recover,

Who, having suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Are not defeated by them but fight back,

Strengthened and renewed.

                                                                      Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, PhD,

  From: To Heal a Fractured World

In some situations, the whole idea of complete recovery from bereavement makes no sense. Bereavement can be fully expected to last a lifetime. That must never be considered a mental disorder. Among the most obvious of these situations is Holocaust survivorship.

Very few Holocaust survivors are still living. The last prisoners of the European concentration camps were freed in 1945. Their suffering before release is virtually unimaginable and incomprehensible to the vast majority of us. We have absolutely no mental yardstick with which to measure such suffering. Imagination completely fails. We cannot do it. The children of survivors are perhaps the only ones who come slightly close to a true understanding. They sense the meaning of the emotional horror of the experience and the problems of survivorship.

Fern Schumer Chapman, the daughter of a survivor, said it this way in her book, Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Mother-Daughter Journey to Reclaim the Past: “The past is a presence between us. In all my mother does and says, the past continually discloses itself in the smallest ways. She sees it directly; I see its shadow. Still, it pulses in my fingertips, feeds on my consciousness. It is a backdrop for each act, each drama of our lives. I have absorbed a sense of what she has suffered, what she has lost, even what her mother endured and handed down. It is my emotional gene map.”

We have a habit of using certain old adages to comfort and humor others. We often use these sayings to dismiss from our own minds what otherwise makes us fearful and uncomfortable. One adage says God never gives us more than we can handle. Another says that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. In the case of the Holocaust survivors, so false. So weirdly irrelevant. So insulting. So empty. So absent in understanding of the Holocaust experience. Would we say that to someone who has survived starvation and certain annihilation in a Nazi death camp? The answer resounds with No. Then, too, why do we say it to each other? Life lessons; applied ethics. The wretched  Holocaust is still our teacher, so many years after. From the survivors, another exercise in living.

It must be noted that the survivors had been surrounded by death in the extermination camps. It was not just one death, but massive deaths. Most survivors lost many family members, not only one or two. They lost many friends and neighbors, not just one or two. The camp inmates bore witness to many deaths every day, not just on one or two days. The deaths occurred primarily by premeditated, deliberate and vicious murder, not by disease. Murder routinely took place after extreme torture. Intense humiliation before death was standard practice. Des Pres wrote that human dignity was treated with cynical contempt. The value of life had been reduced to zero. There was no escape except the grave. In many instances, physical survival was an accident of time and place, not an act of strong determination to live. It was a Holocaust, a great devastation, a systematic mass slaughter. That was genocide. That is the background of survivorship. That is monstrous, shockingly hideous.

This is a different kind of loss and a different course of bereavement. This is not ‘good death.’ It is brute force and mass killing. This is not fear. It is terror. It is panic. This is not anger. It is outrage and despair. This is not guilt. It is inner conviction of crimes committed or omitted. Judgment has been passed by the jury of the inner self. The verdict is pronounced. The finding is guilty on all counts. The question is not: is the verdict right? The question is: to what extent is that verdict right? No punishment fits the magnitude of the crimes. The sentence is lifetime-plus-time atonement. These thoughts form a survivor mindset.

In most instances, talking does not help. Only in groups with other survivors does discussion seem to bring some heartfelt relief. After all, in extreme situations, only experience knows experience. The rest of us remain mere outsiders peering in. Imagining carries us to the outer edge. The Holocaust was located very far beyond that point. All of us have an intuitive understanding of personal tragedy. We find comfort most of all in others whose experiences match our own. We find it also in those who have lived lovingly beside us as we suffered. Survival is a collective art. We need other people.

In notable instances, writing also helps to soothe. As an example, Dr. Elie Wiesel long ago became one of the most prominent survivor authors. From his book, Night:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my Faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

He had vowed that, if he survived, he would devote the remainder of his life to telling the story of the Holocaust. It was his moral duty to tell it, he said. If the world knew the facts, another holocaust might be prevented. As the old Santayana adage goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Wiesel has turned his torture and lifetime of bereavement into one of the world’s most treasured and admired literary art forms. A thing of beauty. In so doing, he eases his pain. He brings us news not only of man’s evil but of his goodness as well. He is successfully saving himself and memorializing his dead family and others as he guides the rest of us. His writing is his public monument to the 6 million and so very many more.

Once again he found meaning in life and regained the will to live. Eventually, he was even able to say, “I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to Him for that reason.” As we read his works, we fervently wish him to be right: no more war and injustice! Horror transformed into beauty and the embodiment of moral righteousness. That is quite an achievement of chronic bereavement. It is not a disorder. It is a rare and wondrous gift. The Nobel committee recognized and honored this life of achievement with an award for Peace in 1986.

An elderly lady of my acquaintance lived with her family in Eastern Europe during the War. As the German army advanced, she sent her only child, a teenage son, to live in hiding and safety in the countryside. Her son was discovered by the German army, tortured, and then shot before her eyes. All the remainder of her family died in the concentration camps. She herself became a subject of the infamous Nazi medical experiments. She was never able to talk about her son and her experiences without dissolving into tears of guilt and despair. The wound never healed, nor could that be expected.

Late in her life, she was hospitalized. Due to a medication error, she became delusional. One auditory hallucination brought her to a state of panic. We found her behind the door of her room, frightened and shaking. Over the intercom, this hearing-impaired lady had clearly heard the voice and commands of the Gestapo. They were taking a lineup of concentration camp inmates to the showers. She saw a camp guard pass her door. She beckoned us to quickly hide with her behind the door. The Holocaust trauma survived and burned in her vivid memory. Through her vision, we could sense the smoke and feel the flames. That was 50 years after liberation. She had seen the face of evil. Like Dr. Wiesel, she would never forget. Why would she? Why should she? How could she?  Who would?

She managed to make her peace with life by giving to others. It was her own personal Kindness Project. It brought her purposeful life. It commemorated her dead. She was an expert, avid needle point artist. She was passionate about her skill. Everyone in her surroundings received, with great pleasure, something she had created. She lived to be well over 90. Her bereavement remained raw, but it never brought her down. She was never defeated. She found meaning and healing in her life by giving the fruits of her talent.  Her son lived once more in her generosity. Bereavement’s achievement.

Given the depth and breadth of the trauma, it seems an act of heroism just to return to so-called normal life. From Dr. Wiesel again: “I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and to live my life – that is what is abnormal.” The feeling tone is obvious. After such trauma, a life of normal routines seems at first crazy, surreal, disorienting. It seems almost disrespectful of the dead. At best, the reentry is a struggle. It happens nevertheless. At the center of the healing are other people. Connection is the core principle. Hope can be given only by others. Also in Jewish folk wisdom, a Yiddish proverb states: even in Paradise, it is not good to be alone.

Needed: people of warmth and compassion. A shared knowledge that the Holocaust situation was evil and extreme. A firm flow of support and reassurance that guilt for past and guilt of survivorship are misplaced. A conviction from others that the survivor has always been worthy of dignity and respect. Acknowledgement that bereavement is forever and is sane. An understanding that the dead are kept alive inside the grief. Therefore grief is necessary and has a purpose. There is no incentive to finish grieving. On the contrary, there is every incentive to urge grief to remain fresh. Needed: people for whom death is no stranger. People willing to lift the veil of fear and find the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.

So much is said about the devastation of World War II, fascism, and Nazi Germany. Atrocity and abject misery seem to be an endless source of fascination. The reasons are many but the fact remains. Much less is said about reintegration. It is the human will and ability to rise above past contempt. The survivor had to regain entry into a sensible, open society and sane living. Lost through radical suffering. Found, as Des Pres tells us, through social interaction and keeping dignity and moral sense active.

Those of us who did not experience the full horror of the Holocaust will never fully understand its emotional power. But we can help those who did. Never become discouraged by the scale of the problem. Just keep inching forward. This bereavement is a victory for connection, the value of relationships. Accepting, respecting, and appreciating are fundamental qualities of relationship. Attentive listening is also basic. For the survivor, learning to trust again is demanding. It takes great mental effort to accomplish. We can help to point the way, again and again. Repetition is part of the answer. Telling the Holocaust story is that part of the answer. Dr. Wiesel: “I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that, having survived, I owe something to the dead, and anyone who does not remember betrays them again.” To forget the Holocaust, he said, would be to kill twice. Bearing witness gives voice to the dead. That voice is indispensable. Silence speaks.

Connection is a gift we can freely give. It does not require full understanding. It requires only empathy, honesty, and compassion. Maybe a little altruism as well. Each connection provides links to the wider community and further connections and friendship. The support system expands this way. Self-respect and dignity are reinforced this way. Life finds meaning again this way. Life is reaffirmed this way. Once more an achievement of bereavement. Survivors fight back, strengthened and renewed.

Our task is to make music with what remains.

                                                                                                 Yitzhak Perlman, violinist

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:

The last of the human freedoms –

To choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances,

To choose one’s own way.

Between stimulus and response there is a space.

In that space is our power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

                                                            Viktor E. Frankl, MD, PhD,
Psychiatrist, Author, Holocaust Survivor

Selected Readings:

Anne Elizabeth Applebaum, Gulag: A History

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

Bruno Bettelheim, Surviving & Other Essays

Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age

Fern Schumer Chapman, Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust: A Mother-Daughter Journey to Reclaim the Past

Terrence Des Pres, The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps

Helen Epstein, Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Viktor Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning

Bernard Goldstein, Five Years in the Warsaw Ghetto

John Hersey, Hiroshima

Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel, Children of the Flames

Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz

Robert Jay Lifton, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima

Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression

Daniel A. Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million

Emmanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility

Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just

Varlam Shalamov, Kolyma Tales

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Jean Francois-Steiner, Treblinka

The Black Book: The Nazi Crime and the Jewish people  (out of print)

Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, Voyage of the Damned

Leon Uris, Exodus

Elie Wiesel, Night

Elie Wiesel, A Beggar in Jerusalem

Elie Wiesel, One Generation After

Elie Wiesel, The Oath

Rea Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD, is a  retired Director of Social Work Services, Hospice Coordinator, and adjunct  professor of clinical social work.  She can be reached on LinkedIn and on  Twitter @rginsberg2