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Podcast Episode 021: Listen beyond your life – Adaire Petrichor takes us to the part of life where conversations take on a powerful meaning

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As a young girl, Adaire Petrichor companioned her grandfather during his life-altering experiences with cancer, the treatments that followed and his eventual death. Adaire was profoundly affected when her youngest sister’s life was tragically cut short when she was 21. In these two very different deaths, Adaire began to see the many ways grief carved its initials into one’s heart and soul.

She was to learn one more lesson about advocacy and cancer and the circles of life and death when her youngest son, age 11, was diagnosed with a rare form of cutaneous lymphoma. Little did she know how these experiences would shape and influence the inner landscape of her soul, nurturing the seed that was emerging as her life’s work.

Adaire is the Founder of Heart of Dying Doulas LLC and the Founder and Director of The Heart of Dying Project, a budding non-profit dedicated to building community-based circles of care, through education, training and advocacy. The Heart of Dying’s mission is in Guiding the dying home, one Heart, one Family, one Community at a time.

Tune in to learn

  • Adaire is an end of life doula and chaplain who helps people navigate through the difficult task of transitioning from life to death.
  • She shares how she listens carefully to those moving on and away from life.
  • She listens carefully to their families and the medical practitioners involved in the situation.
  • We talk about the incredible power of looking carefully into people.
  • Listening deeply without judgement to make sense and meaning out of what they are saying about the purpose of their lives.
  • Finding the story for why children are here on earth. There are a lot of emotions that rise and fall like a hurricane on the ocean.
  • The importance of being open and developing rapport, but not offering answers and just letting them talk.
  • Not being emotional and thinking of yourself as a conduit or blank slate that is just holding the words, feelings, and energy that this person is sharing.
  • Adaire uses techniques to bring herself in the present moment like journaling, writing, and paying attention to the chair she is sitting in.
  • It’s not her job to take away this person’s pain as they offer her moments of their history and grief.
  • When they are finished they will tell her physically and emotionally and take back what they need.
  • Sharing these moments is a gift that is being shared and received.
  • Repeating some parts of the story helps with integration and making sense.
  • Listening and just helping the family out and creating a healing and remarkable experience.
  • Balancing listening to those transitioning and those staying behind. Trusting intuition and experience.
  • Practice applying value to the act of being to become a deeper listener.
  • How the dying speak in a different language when they are close to death.

Transcript

Episode 21: Deep Listening with Adaire Petrichor

 

Oscar Trimboli:                                    

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words.

Adaire Petrichor:             

I felt like I needed to begin to think of conversation as more than the words that my brain thinks of, but then also my lips. That I need to think of language where I benefited from thinking of language as a whole experience. I keep going back to all of the visual and the sound and the smell.

That all of that is really part of my language. Sometimes words are limiting and if I am just forming words in my mind in response to someone else’s words, I am missing such a huge part of the story and how I might connect with them.

Oscar Trimboli: 

In this episode of Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, we have the opportunity to listen carefully to Adaire, an end of life doula and chaplain. She helps people navigate through the most difficult parts in transitioning from life to death. We listen to how Adaire listens carefully to those who are moving on in their life to their families, to the medical practitioners that surround the situation.

The pace of this interview is a little bit slower than one you’ve heard before, and it’s in keeping with the topic. Adaire uses incredible power of looking carefully into people without judgement and listening deeply to what they need to say, to make meaning and ultimately to make sense of the purpose of their life. I’m sure you’ll be moved by this interview with Adaire.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Every day we need to listen in environments that are not optimal for deep listening. Today, use this podcast as an opportunity to listen deeply in environments where the sound quality is an ideal. Listening deeply to this podcast will be a great way for you to practise in environments where you might be distracted.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Our listeners may associate most commonly living life with the elderly. I’m sure there are times where you’ve dealt with situations people much younger in life, with parents who felt the natural order was destroyed with their children passing before them. How do you listen then?

Adaire Petrichor:

Well grief it comes in ways and I have found through some personal experience as well as experience of those who have lost their children, the stories that they tell are a little different. There isn’t as much a sense of completion and it’s that destiny really want to offer a story that may have an ending or a meaning for why they were on earth.

It’s one of the harder kinds to listen, because my heart is often open in a different way. There is a lot of crying and a lot of anger and a lot of emotions that rise and fall like a hurricane might in the ocean. I need to be able to be comfortable listening to the pain. It’s really, really important. It’s important for me not to be back onto their experience or to share my experiences. It’s really important for me to be open and to develop a rapport pretty quickly.

Holding space and being present and listening and not offering answers for them, but asking, can you tell me more about that? Offering them questions that lead to always open for them to walk through if they choose.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Apart from tell me more about that, for our listeners, what are some of the other questions or possible techniques you’re conscious of yourself that keeps you present in the moment? Maybe keeps you out of judgement and keeps them in a place that helps them to explore what they need to say much further?

Adaire Petrichor:

Well, I try to be very intentional. Before I go into a room or a situation, I try to think of myself as a conduit and that it isn’t my job to make anyone feel better, because I don’t know what that is for them. I try to be very intentional and think of myself as a conduit or a blank slate. That all I’m really doing is holding the words and the feelings and the emotions and the energy that this person needs to share.

I believe that when they share it, I try to pay a really close attention to what it feels like, what chair feels like that I’m sitting in, in order to bring myself into the present moment. This is where I am now. Sometimes I do some writing beforehand and say, “It was a time when I was in this home, it was a time when I was with this person. It was a time when I was cold.”

I try to get really in touch with all the senses that my body has the ability to listen and be present with first of all. I also remind myself that it isn’t my job to take away this person’s pain, and that they’re going to offer me moments of their history and moments of their grief. I hold it in a bowl of sorts.

When they are finished, and I just allow them to come to completion. They’ll tell me their body, they won’t be grieving as quickly, the sweat that may be appearing on their skin will subside. They’ll may reach for something to drink, and they take back what it is they need to take back.

I try to remind myself, that if I try and take away what makes them seem uncomfortable, I would be taking away an area that they need to grow in. In the moment that they share it with me, it’s a gift that we are giving and receiving. I need to really be able to remember that. It takes some focus and some intention.

 

Oscar Trimboli: 

A lovely example of level one listening, listening to yourself first and setting the intention. I’m curious what happens with what’s inside the bowl?

Adaire Petrichor:

Well, it depends on what they take back. There are some portions of their story that they want to take back and repeat, and I believe it helps them integrate. It helps them make some kind of sense out of something that there’s no, doesn’t make sense.

There are fragments that I may walk away with that I then need to process in my own way, with my own tools, with my own mentors. I remember the first time in the hospital that I worked with a young boy who was brain dead. His parents were out of town and they had not told his parents that he is. They were basically keeping him alive so that they could say good bye to him.

I was given his clothes in the emergency room, and I waited to hear them. They were about two hours away, and while I was looking in his clothes, there was a little note that said, his parents had given him a list on how to do his laundry. It was the first time he had moved away from home. I just cried my eyes out, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, is this professional? Am I supposed to be doing this?”

I realised that there is a level of feeling that it’s okay for me personally to share with those that I’m accompanying. If there are tears or if I move away with some of the thoughts and feelings that they’ve left in the bowl, that’s the nature of giving and taking and listening and being present for me.

Oscar Trimboli: 

With this story, what happened next when the parents arrived?

Adaire Petrichor:

I walked with them from the emergency room up to the ICU, and I was the person that told them the condition of their son, who had Crohn’s disease and he had stopped taking his medication. That this family was very, very distinguished and very tailored and maintained and turned stoic.

It was a mother and a father and a 12-year-old brother. When we got into the ICU unit, we spoke with the doctor, who basically told them that he was poisoned by his own body. That he was not alive, he didn’t have any brain activity. This family was apostolic. In their faith, they believed that they were given the responsibility of the children in their lives until their God told them that now my relationship with your children is close enough and they’re mature enough, and you no longer need to be responsible for them in that way.

As this young man was moving more and more out of his body and his body was starting its own process of dying, being dead, there was some blood that came to his, the surface of his skin. His mother was confused, but she wanted to remain near him, so I gave her a tissue and we bloated his face. I took my queues from them, then I was, I tried to be very aware of what they needed. When they looked to me with a question in their eye, I ask permission to speak to them. They ended up integrating what they felt was that he decided to stay in heaven with his grandmother.

That all was well. That somehow, they had missed the queues, like it was time for him to die. It was an incredible, I can still feel it now in my body, and that would be something that I would say I allowed myself to walk away with. It was a gift in the form of a beloved person and in the form of honouring someone in their own spiritual beliefs.

Oscar Trimboli: 

At the end of life, people often associate grief. Have there been situations that you remember as joyful?

Adaire Petrichor:

Yeah. Absolutely. I companioned a woman who was 50 at the top of her game in her opinion, strategic player from one of the most well-known hospital systems in the world. Got a brain tumour, had a brain tumour, and I was with her eight months. The family was just fractured. There were lots of old resentments and lots of pain and lots of ex-husbands and mothers and it was quite messy in that regard.

One of the most joyful moments happened after her transition. About three months before she transitioned, I do sacred bathing and prepare bodies after death. I offered this to a mother and I had already spoken to the woman I was companioning. Several days before it was apparent she was getting ready to transition.

Her mother came to me and asked if I would consider doing that with she and her sister. I said of course. I assumed I would be facilitating this or the most part. I had lavender soap and I have things that I bring and this family, about an hour after she died and the mother and I went to start this ceremony, and her teenage boys approached and asked if they could help. Her sister who she was very estranged with asked if she could help, and her father came and requested to be part of this.

I realised that my place was to just hold the space again and I watched and I listened. The father stood at the head of the bed and I could sense that he wanted to be there, but wasn’t really sure what options he had. I took a brush and a wash cloth and held each of them out. He took the brush and so he brushed her hair and her sister cleaned her feet. Her sons got a night gown for her. It was just the most healing and remarkable moment for the family.

If there could be joy in grief, I know that this woman would be experiencing the little bit of joy that the family was feeling along with the grief. Afterward, her mother wrote me a note and said, “I never ever could have anticipated walking away from her death with a memory that filled me with something other than dread.”

Oscar Trimboli: 

You paint such a powerful image. I feel like I was in the room when all of that was happening. Adaire in your work I sense there’s a number of situations where you play some kind of interpreter or negotiator role. I’m curious how you balance listening to those who are transitioning, to their end of life and those who are staying behind. How do you listen simultaneously to the wishes of those who are the patients and those who are the families? Then finally, how do you integrate that most often either with a medical or religious community that’s part of the time you are spending with them?

Adaire Petrichor:

That’s a wonderful question. I have lots of thoughts and feelings associated with that and how this could answer it. I really strongly believe that it’s impossible to step in the same river twice. I have a deep trust in my ability to hold multiple feelings and emotions and thoughts at one time, and be present holding them until the one that feels the strongest rises to the surface for me.

Now I’ve had lots of training, I have a hospital chaplain. We were a year in residency. We had four hours of individual group with these core chaplains every day. I would take an example of a five-minute interaction with a patient or a family member and break it down per sentence. I would say, in my writing I would say, “Adaire chaplain says hello. Patient one says hello,” and I would break it down and then we would create visual experiences in the same writing minus the facts.

There was, I have learned a lot of craft. I’ve learned a lot on how to separate some of those, but hold them to paint one picture. Then in the same therapy to our group, we would take that and everybody would tear it apart and look at it and say, “I think when you said this you might have shut this person down,” or, “Did you think about this interfering with them being able to say something.” Or, “I think you got in the way.”

There was a lot of that, that I integrated into some of my techniques, but there’s also a really, really deep trust in everyone’s process. Even though it’s not my death, it isn’t my family, so in a way, I need to remove myself out of the way and being willing to be okay with not knowing. Being willing to listen and being willing to say, “I hear what you’re saying, but I see something else. With your permission, would you like to know what I see?”

I think that the bottom line for me always goes back to, it’s my position to accompany or companion this family and this dying person. Depending on who asked me into this scenario, I try to be reverent in layers. Does that make sense?

Oscar Trimboli: 

Suddenly it does, I’m curious to explore those layers.

Adaire Petrichor:

Well first and foremost, I resonate with the inner calling that I had from a young girl, to companion those in end of life. My grandfather was my guard ship on her and when he became ill, I had been walking around as a young girl thinking, not even cognitively, but there was something in me that thought, “People are just not really saying what they mean, or they’re saying something, but they’re showing me something else.”

I was really always aware of that. When my grandfather became ill, despite all these masks came down, and I said, “Oh, well there he is.” I believe that when people realise that their time is more limited or that they have some, a disease or an illness that’s going to eventually end their lives, they offer more layers.

I think that I probably listen a lot with my eyes, and some of those layers are, what I’m I seeing that I’m not hearing? Or what I’m I hearing that I’m not seeing? Some of those are layers that I have to trust my intuition and I have to trust my experience, and I have to trust my intention most of all.

Believe me there are times that I may see a family talking over someone who is near end of life, and they think they can’t hear them. They’re seeing things that are hurtful in my opinion. I have to be able to hold that judgement and know what my place is, depending on how I have been invited into the situation once again.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Most of us spend about half of our day listening, only two percent of us have been trained in how to do that. Maybe you’re in a slightly different position where you’ve been trained, and you probably spend 80% to 90% of your time listening. What advice would you provide for people in a work place, about how they could become deeper listeners?

Adaire Petrichor:

One of the first things that comes to mind is, the idea that we’re not doing something, we’re not protective, and so I often practise applying value to the act of being. I think that if we shift our focus from thinking that doing is the only way to learn or get something accomplished, that we will limit our ability to be present.

I, of course, there are wonderful techniques of meditation or breathing, learning to take breaks in between, work or when on the computer or taking more time for ourselves. Like not a 30-minute lunch, what about an hour lunch and what about not being on the phone while you eat. For me, being able to live and have a more balanced environment really helps me feel more whole. I also think about what are the ways in which I stop someone from finishing what they want to say.

I also sometimes practise seeing other people as, I think of other people as we are all one brain, and everyone else is a brain cell, that makes up one brain. If I am talking to them, I am not learning what they can give me. Everyone has their own little world, and sometimes I also practise seeing everyone in asunder and they have their own world, 360 degrees around them. How fast they need to be able just to preserve that.

I do a lot of those kinds of practises naturally because I’m curious. The one that I like the most is practising seeing other people as an extension of me, that I can learn something about.

Oscar Trimboli: 

You have a story that matches that.

Adaire Petrichor:

Well, I have two stories that match that. One was when I was quite young, and I used to work with a gentleman and this was more about judgement. I used to help, I was in retail and I would, I was a floral designer for the first half of my life. I helped a man every week and he would come in and I was very friendly with him. I stood easily with him and he would be in tattered clothes with paint all over him.

Then one day he showed up in a tuxedo in a Rolls-Royce. I was in my teens really and it totally flawed me how blinded I had been to my own perception of who this man was on one little level. That stayed with me. Another one is I took for a 30, 35-year-old patient in hospital once who had come in, who had been on a binge drink over the weekend.

They gave him fluids and there were some things that happened in his brain and he ended up being a lock in. Where he was aware of everything that was going on around him, but he couldn’t move and he couldn’t talk and he couldn’t blink. I went and visited him every day and I was trying to connect with him.

Everybody was saying, “Oh you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to worry about it.” I felt like, but there was more there. I just kept coming in every other day and I would put my hand on his shoulder, and after a couple of weeks, I would come in and put my hand on his shoulder and I would start to cry.

Then one day he looked, I realised that he could move his eyes, and he looked at me and he was crying. I realised that we had been connecting, but I had not seen that we were connecting.

Oscar Trimboli: 

What gift can the dying give the living about listening?

Adaire Petrichor:

Healing isn’t always about healing the body. I have seen sometimes there is presence and a sacredness that fills the room when someone is near end of life and transitioning and after they die. That is a feeling I only have at that time. There are so many times that I have companioned people who I was present when they were sharing or listening to a family member go on and on about something.

When the person left the room, and it was as if the dying person was able to see other facets of the relationship and the conversation. They were so forgiving. For me, sound is part of listening, but it’s also visual and it’s a scent and it’s a lay when my hand holds someone’s hand who’s transitioning. There is a, I hear them in a different way, and I believe that the dying speaks in a different language when they are very close to death.

I almost want to say it feels like what I might think love is. Language is individual to the person using it. And my, or what I associate was the meaning am…of… geez ..this is where or love or the colour red. It’s very different than what others associate. I made it or I felt like I made it to begin to think of conversation as more than the words that my brain thinks of, but then more so my lips.

I need to think of language where I benefited from thinking of language as a whole experience. I keep going back to all of the visual and the sound and the smell, that all of that is really part of my language. Sometimes words are limiting and if I am just forming words in my mind in response to someone else’s words, I am missing such a huge part of the story and how I might connect with them.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Well you’ve demonstrated beautifully why the title of the book ‘Deep Listening’ has a subtitle called ‘Impact Beyond Words’. I love the way you described how you listen with your eyes and how you listen with your heart. How important the smells are around you when you’re listening as well. You’ve shared an extraordinary gift with our audience today, and for that I say thank you.

Adaire Petrichor:

Thank you. It was really an honour, honour to be here, thank you.

Oscar Trimboli: 

What a great privilege it was to listen to Adaire during the interview. She broad model so many of the characteristics of deep listening. Her depth and her breadth of listening. Her ability to see both joy and grief in death. She talked about a way she listened to people who are transitioning in her words. She taught me that listening is not just about your ears, but it’s about your eyes, it’s about your hands, it’s about your mind, and it’s about your heart.

As I was listening to Adaire saying that today, I was thinking, as you are listening to this recording, how deeply are you listening to those that you love? Are you listening completely? Or are you just listening with your ears? Are you listening fully with your ears, your eyes, your hands, your mind and your heart? Thanks for listening.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep listening, Impact Beyond Words.

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