Taking courses in Nonviolent Communication from Marshall Rosenberg and teachers he trained was one of the best things I have ever done for my personal growth. For years I had wanted to learn how to really listen to people. Reading about active listening in books did not help me at all. But I was so fortunate that in Encinitas, where I lived at the time, internationally known communications teacher Marshal Rosenberg gave classes regularly.
The situation is that 20 years of clutter have piled up because of client’s father’s hoarding tendencies. The client, their daughter, wants to help them to make a more livable space.
Having this skill enabled me to help with a very tense situation in an organizing job that I am working on right now. The client’s mom did not want help getting rid of what we have now found to be about 200 boxes of papers out of just one large room–combination of kitchen, dining room and den.
The reasons that the mom was resistant to getting help were many.
- It was too late to be able to do anything.
- She wouldn’t be able to find things.
- No one had helped her in the past and she didn’t want them to help now.
- Relatives would resent her if they spent time and money on her.
- She didn’t care about her home’s appearance any more.
When I patiently, emphatically and loving listened without judgment, mom kept uncovering all these reasons. She also shared feelings such as anger, frustration, sadness, fear and hurt. After a half hour of listening in this manner, demonstrating that I really understood her yet not agreeing, I gently presented the question:
“Would you be willing to let us work in your home and so our best to bring order so you and your husband can be nurtured?”
She begrudgingly said, “Yes.”
We said our goodbyes with gratitude and then left.
Mom stayed with her husband for eight hours at a rehab center that he is staying at temporarily. One of the reasons that the client (her daughter) brought me in was because husband was going to be coming home soon and he needed to be able to get around the house in his walker. During that time while Mom was gone we worked on the house.
The first night Mom came home and looked quite unhappy with the miraculous transformations that we were able to pull off, including cleared counters and tables that had not seen the light of day for over twenty years. We quietly left and hoped that she would be willing to continue the process.
The next morning we came over after she left for the nursing home. We had already been informed by client’s husband that a note had been left by Mom with some directions. This was encouraging. There was direction and preferences expressed. Definitely no gratitude expressed–but there was one “please.”
Tackling the job for seven hours straight with no breaks was actually quite exhilarating for me. My client and I with the help of two people who did the heavy lifting and cleaning were able to clean out one entire bedroom; create a staging area for precious items to sort later; and get the den that we had started on the previous day into really good shape.
Mom came in and looked around glumly. “What do you think?” I asked brightly.
Mom says, “I probably won’t be able to find anything. Where is my paper? I was really looking forward to reading it tonight.”
Client says,”I will get you a paper–someone probably accidentally threw it away.”
After a rather negative conversation like this went on for a while between client and Mom, finally client got upset and shared some angry words with Mom. Client was yearning for gratitude. Mom was yearning for–well, we didn’t know quite what. We knew she wanted to feel love–but we didn’t know how we would ever get through to her.
Client ended up going to the store to get a paper and some sodas that had also been accidentally disposed of. I guess when you are dealing with thousands of items, a few will slip through the cracks. This absence was very good timing, because Mom needed to vent in a safe place–with me.
Mom says, “I was just getting calmed down and then she got mad at me. Now look at me–I am all upset again. This whole situation is so terrible.
I say, “Sounds like you are pretty frustrated and you just want some peace.”
Mom shared a bunch of angry words and then started crying. I kept being present and listening. After about fifteen minutes she calmed down. I don’t know exactly what happened next. I just remember client coming in and something helped them connect. It might have been that client showed her Mom the old pictures she had found. Mom started looking at the frayed black and white photos and sharing happy and sad stories about:
- being home coming queen
- life time friends that she still stays connected to
- a friend who’s husband died. Mom had lost her brother the next day. They comforted each other
- a fiance who was killed before they were able to marry
- living out in the country and letting her children play in the dirt
- her father who gave her a gift of a sewing machine as a graduation present
Although I had been working eight hours now, and was extremely hungry, I would not have tried to rush through the next hour for anything. Mom shared such precious memories as client and I sincerely and lovingly listened with great encouragement and respect.
At one point when she was reminiscing about how great her kids were when they were children, I said, “I just want you to know that your daughter has been showing me how much she loves you as she has been working in this room. She was so happy thinking that you would enjoy this room, have family over, and that she would feel comfortable coming over and spending time with you. I saw her love in action. And she has also treated me with great kindness and respect. I hope you will take some credit for raising such a wonderful daughter.”
Mom accepted the feedback a bit reluctantly, but I think it soaked in a bit.
She even found a house coat that I had placed on top of some high priority stuff to be sorted soon.
“Where did you find that? I have been looking all over for that?” was her delighted response. She took the coat out and showed us how pretty it was.
Mom’s demeanor was completely changed. Loving, warm, engaging, lively and life-filled, she brought us into a world of mostly happiness that was inspiring to all of us.
As we readied to leave, I asked for a hug. I put on my coat. And then mom saw something else that drew us all in. No, we were not going to cut this off for anything! I took off my coat and we stayed some more.
After about another fifteen minutes had passed, we were all ready to go. It seemed quite natural. I was so honored to witness this mother and daughter who had only one hour before been at odds with each other with seemingly no resolution in sight–say to each other, “I love you,”and embrace.
Having the skills to organize and to communicate were invaluable to me on this job. My communication skills always help because 99% of my clients are stressed out. That is why they call me. Having the ability to be empathic helps calm them down and feel safe so that they can proceed with the job at hand. But I had to really rise to the occasion in this case. With God’s help I was able to use skills infused with love.
To have mom on board is going to really make things easier from now on. And I hope and pray that mother and daughter will continue to heal their relationship as they sort through cherished items that bring back memories and stories that my client so treasures.
If we hadn’t boxed up about 200 boxes of papers and miscellaneous, we would have never found these treasures. There are a lot more to be discovered. It also seemed that there was about a ton of weight on Mom to be lifted. Well, it would appear that a lot of clutter has been decreased from the inside and out And the greatest treasures to be found are the healed hearts that are now connecting in reconciliation, forgiveness and love.