Saturday, January 31, 2009


I think the following is a poem that explores and explodes ideas that to be accepted in a circle of friends, or any of the larger circles of social networks and society in general, one must stay a follower. It goes a long way, and beautifully, to reinforce the idea that to get anywhere together our circles of friends, family, country and associations are best served through having a circle that is made up of leaders. This poem is especially applicable to the current trend toward faceless internet social networks.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

—William Stafford

New Ways of Being

I always found that new ways of being often unfold without a fully conscious input from us as we go forward; as if we recognize after the change has been in process for a while exactly what characterizes it. We just keep putting one foot in front of the other and suddenly the light goes on: "Oh yeah, that's who I have become!"

Four questions to ask yourself about recognizing and tracking inner change:

  • What little things are you doing that are revised or new?

  • Do they feel okay enough to keep around?

  • How do you distinquish between what is forward motion and what is regression?

  • Is regression sometimes a way forward?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Poem about Dreams and Family

In My Dream

In my dream my mother who has been dead fifteen years
helps me take the fish hooks out of my shirt

after I retrieve boxes and boxes of music
from the garage where I left them years ago.

In the dream the boxes are piled where
my father kept his tools, under a ladder

to the attic that was never there when I was a child.
It is the house where I grew up and the hooks are not easy

to dislodge, my mother says nothing, but the music is in good repair.
I am excited to find some singers I have forgotten

I owned. The dream comes after a week of dreams
in the middle of months of grey snowy weather

and one day, yesterday, when the sun
made us feel like mole-people emerging from our caves

finally into the frigid air.


Yesterday I talked
to a young man who has manage to fence in his beasts

but has friends who have succumbed once again to theirs
and without admitting to it he talks about the fear

of his sick tigers coming out to tear him up again.
He says that lately he has had many dreams too

and we speak of tomorrow, and spring, and building
walls against the return of monsters

and living even if they do return. I say: in my dream
my mother is kind as she unhooks me and does not even

tear my shirt. What does this all mean?


I wake
in the dark again, not long before the alarm and wonder

about all the people I work with who must stay angry at something
just to keep themselves from being swallowed by the grief

of it all, the wars, the torture, the little losses
every day at work set into the cloth of our unconscious

and in puzzles of bare trees outside the empty houses.


In another dream
I only now remember, there are the flowers my mother grew.

None of this is easy, I tell the young man

but you might be able to do it.
We have coffee and laugh.

--- Bob Vance

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eulogy For My Father

Eulogy For My Father
Robert A. Vance 1923-2009

One of the things I learned in my years of work as a family counselor for a hospice organization is that each member of a family has an equally valid, and often very different, piece of the over-all story of the family member who has died. I learned that parts of the story that are difficult to tell and hear are as important as the parts that are full of the spirit of life that fills each and every one of us and is expressed in deeply spiritual and loving ways. We needn’t tell every part, but it is important to acknowledge the totality of all the pieces. Without all of the pieces we are left with a flat, paper doll, version of the person whom we have loved; not a living, breathing, complex and miraculous individual of whom there exists not a single duplicate in the entire universe.

Family legacies and stories are similarly complex and go back much further than any living memory. The birth of the good and the bad in our families precedes, by far, our very limited ability or willingness to recall.

I was born in the city where all of my sisters and I were raised because of the sudden death, one month before my birth, of my father’s father. At that time my Dad and Mom moved back to Mt. Clemens, Michigan from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania due to my father’s overwhelming loyalty to his mother; loyalty that came from years of the kinds of family struggle that were typical during the Great Depression.

My grandfather was a jack-of-all-trades who built the home where I was raised and where he died. He was, in Alcoholics Anonymous parlance, one of the early “Friends of Bill”, and in spite of his constant battle with alcoholism, I believe his early death in his fifties from heart disease was a direct result of the nature of the disease of alcoholism. He had served in the trenches in France in WW1 and was apparently, as is common among men who suffer what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, very reluctant to speak about the horrors he had seen. He was not a very nice drunk.

My father and his mother, my grandmother, from what I can gather, were often forced to rely very heavily upon each other in order to survive even when Dad was very young. My father sold honey door-to-door from a wagon during the Depression to help the family get by. He was an only child. He went on to become the first person to attend college in a family that has roots in this country that go back to the Revolution and before. One of our earliest ancestors was among the Hessian German mercenary soldiers hired by the British to fight the Americans during the Revolutionary War. This ancestor was captured by George Washington’s troops during the battle that included Washington’s famous Delaware River crossing. He was subsequently made a prisoner-of-war in a camp where, I have learned, Thomas Jefferson probably visited. Jefferson was homesick for things European and found it among the Hessians there. Our ancestor, like many of those Hessians, switched sides to help the American cause because they were treated better as American prisoners-of-war than they had been by the Brits.

My mother likewise showed incredible strength and resourcefulness as a child growing up. She could pick up almost any string instrument and play it and made sure each one of us learned an instrument and/or sang in choirs. Sometimes I believe her near perfect pitch and love for music were among the big reasons she survived, rather spectacularly, her own father’s unsettled inner conflicts and his resulting cruelties. She survived as well due to the enduring strength and resourcefulness of her mother and her mother’s Iowa farmer father and mother, my great grandfather and grandmother. Among my earliest memories are the family visits to their farm south of Des Moines, and then again to the small house where my great grandparents lived after they left the farm and into which my sisters and I released a jar of captured fireflies that glowed off and on throughout the night. That same night my great grandparents were heard giggling in their bed.

That my father and mother found one another is one of those necessary and true miracles of two people who need exactly one another to become the best adults they could and who, by fortune and fate, heal each others’ childhood wounds by becoming each others’ greatest aspiration. They completed one another.

One of my parents’ goals in raising children was to be better at parenting than their parents had been. I believe they accomplished that goal. One of the goals that I believe I share with my sisters has been to be better at child-rearing than my mother and father were. I believe this has been a goal met as well. I challenge our succeeding generations with that same task: be better at raising your children than we have been. If you never have children then I challenge you to work in the world even better than your parents have. Don’t be satisfied with what was done before. I challenge you with this task in honor of my father’s and my mother’s legacy. It is what they wished for, for all of us. It is the way we can make the world better.

To finish I want to share something I sent out to my email list after my father died and a couple of the responses I received:

‘My father died yesterday. He had a stroke while opening holiday gifts at my sister's home in Pennsylvania. He was taken to an ICU unit at the local hospital where his condition deteriorated over the week. He died peacefully with people around him who loved him and who he loved, and with my sister Linda acting as midwife and shepherding him into whatever follows this life.

My father made an incredible life for himself after the early and unexpected death of his soul mate, my mother, in 1991. They met during WW2 when he was an Army Air Corps cadet expecting to be shipped overseas. They married a month after meeting. My grandmother, my mother's mother, routinely bragged about what a good looking couple they were. And boy, could they dance!

My father and mother went on to have four children and, in many ways, each of my parents served as healer for the other, deliverer, savior, good news, and best best friend.

In spite of a rough few years after her death that included serious, life threatening, health problems, as well as the death of his own mother in 1993, he went on in a way that could only be called inspirational... traveling the world, making friends every where he went through Elder Hostel, and cultivating an active respected role in his community and church. He lived on his own until the end and only recently began to tire of the harsh Northern Michigan winters.’


Grief is a necessarily solitary process I guess, since we all mourn a different loss when someone dies; one loses a friend, another loses and adversary; one loses a husband, the other a brother, the other a dad. Still, I think a man losing his father has some commonality of experience for all of us.

Kurt Colborn, Erie, Pennsylvania


My folks… …met right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and went together only six months, married, and they had met at a dance club. And over the years they were really into dancing too: like the couple who dances together stays together. It worked for them!

Balyn (Linda Balent), Boston Massachusetts


On occasions like this I am always reminded of the Serenity Prayer. I am sure you are aware of it.

It is good to note that he had a full and satisfying life. While opening a gift in this life he gifted himself with the ones to follow!! I am sure he leaves behind a grateful and loving family that misses him and will carry his legacy forward.

Chandra Chandrasekhar, Chennai, India


I understand how it feels when a parent dies.

I give you all of my heart and humanity for this transition.

It sounds like yr dad was a great man.

But, this is what I know.

You are a man filled with righteousness, justice, & compassion.

You are a man who has taken on the idea that you can make beauty by simple letters and trust.

You believe in beauty.

You believe in truth.

A son does not get this on his own.

It takes a great man to make a son who has the eyes for this sort of madness.

I go out in my yard tonight and say a hello and goodbye for your dad.

It is dark, I am sincere, I wish you well.

You are now free.

And more lonely.

Rob Hutton, Seattle, Washington


This poem was written to be read out loud during a Jewish memorial service for parents/relatives who have died .Yartzeit (Yart-zite) is the anniversary of the day that a loved one has died which is remembered each year. A Yartzeit candle is the candle someone lights once a year on that anniversary. One could call it a memorial candle. Hopefully, this poem brings the mind back to the love and good deeds that the deceased loved person has done in his/her life that live beyond the temporariness of life and geography and that reach to the next generation. –Diane Baum

One loving person
passes love on
father to son
sister & brother
mother to daughter
Like a stone thrown
in still water
rings ripple out
more and more
in widening circles
till they wash against shore
One loving person
doing good
it starts in the heart
begins to connect
from one's own place
in the neighborhood
and on to affect
the city the country
then out into space
One loving person
reaches out like a seed
and plants whole forests
from one good deed
One loving person
is a call
it echoes all
around the town
like a ringing bell
the sound travels outward
from listener to listener
from parent to child
to more children still
Like a candle for yartzeit
small but bright
throws its light
against the wall
down the hall
out the window
and into the night....

Diane Baum, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Few Client Testimonials

The following are a few testimonials from some of the clients I have been proud to work with. I have been delighted by the progress they achieved and real genius they demonstrated in moving toward the goals they set with me.

In looking over these testimonials it occurs to me that initial goals and the eventual outcomes are often quite dissimilar, and some of the best work we have done involves little bits of grief and loss related to letting go of wants and desires when it becomes apparent that the true course one wishes to set has been hidden... but then, through coaching, these discoveries and their attendant losses yield and make way for the opportunities to set a truer course and pursue it as one might find and explore a new land... and one that feels more like home!

I am grateful to each one of these clients and my others for the opportunity to be trusted with some of their most precious treasure: the future and an innate hope in it.


"When I started coaching with Bob, I was this shy little bird afraid to fly out of the nest on her own. Bob was able to hold a coaching space over the months in which I discovered that lacking self confidence was only a hideout for not doing certain things, and that I could stop it anytime I decided to. Bob’s patience, his clear, direct style of coaching, along with his natural empathy and enthusiasm allowed me to find the inspiration within me, to spread my wings and start flying.

Bob didn’t fix anything wrong with me, instead, he helped me discover what was lying within me , waiting to unfold. I feel whole and authentic, clearer than ever as to which directions I want to take in my life. "

- Claire Molinard


“Bob has always been a great support for me. He has a gentle style of coaching. He has helped shift my perspective many times always supporting me to keep moving forward. Even though I have wanted to quit he always knew how to re-motivate me. and clarify what I want”

-- Brandon Williams


“I liked Bob’s challenges and the thinking they often opened up for me. He was generous in spirit and with his time and I appreciated the extra support and interaction we had by e-mail. His compassion and humanity were very evident to me.”

-- Iris Arenson-Fuller


“Bob had the ability to keep me on track with a consistency in message and support. He brought a perspective outside the “forest” (“Can’t see the forest for the trees”). He gave me a place to detach from drama and observe process. Help with more objective analysis of my process. He is nonjudgmental.”

-- Mary Schimmel


“Bob brought a high level of personal concern and compassion while maintaining professional distance and critical thinking. He was insightful, thought provoking and supportive.”

-- Theo McCracken