Keep Calm and Carry On

You may be wondering why you haven’t heard from me since my last newsletter on May 27.

Before I explain, I want to remind you of this. I became The Challenge Coach because I have been, and still am, a challenged human. Life throws us challenges when we very least expect them: the better prepared we are to handle them, the better we can deal with those life challenges. When we are trained for life’s challenges, not only do we survive, we THRIVE. Given the amount of challenges life has thrown me, I feel pretty well equipped, and I’m ready to help YOU build and grow your own toolbox.

Now, let me take you back to May 2021…

Friday, May 28 2021 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I arrived the day before in Milwaukee for the NASAP conference (North American Society of Adlerian Psychology) and its board meeting. First time in 14 months that I was out of my house for professional reasons. And first time ever presenting as a speaker in person at NASAP. I had always been an attendee, learning from Adlerian masters about Adlerian psychology (find out more about Alfred Adler and Adlerian Psychology here). Needless to say, this was a great honor and a completely nerve-racking experience, for which I prepared for, for months. There weren’t too many people present in person at the conference, but it was so fabulous to see people “live” again, and reconnect with so many old friends or colleagues, and cherished teachers and mentors. 

It’s 4am in the morning on Friday and I am sleeping in my hotel room, getting the much needed sleep I need to present my first workshop of the conference. I wake up, confused … and realize it’s the buzzing of my phone which woke me up. I look at it: I just missed a WhatsApp call from my sister Bénédicte. She is in France, 6 hours ahead of me, and she knows about our time difference. If she has called me, it must be serious. 

I call her back. “I hate to have woken you up so early. I waited as long as I could to let you have somewhat of a night. Papa died this morning.” 

It’s one of those moments where time stops and stands still: everything slows down, reality becomes warped, and you enter an out-of-body experience. One minute this person was here. The next they are gone, and life will never be the same. 

My sister and I talk for a little bit longer and she gives me the details she knows. My Papa, Philippe, was at home with his wife the night before. She made him one of his favorite dinners – steak and fries – and they watched a movie together. He went to bed, woke up a couple of hours earlier than usual, got up and out of bed without his crutches, went and sat down in his arm chair. Within a very short amount of time, his lungs stopped working, his heart gave in and he was gone. His wife woke up when she heard him gasping for air. When she found him it was already too late. 

I lay in bed after I hung up with Béné: she has told me that Papa is still in his house in the suburbs of Paris. She and my brother (who both live far away) will be converging toward Paris today to say goodbye to him, to support our step mother Elena and decide what to do with his body. My siblings will stay overnight and meet the next day with the funeral home to make all the arrangements. 

It doesn’t take me long, lying there in the dark in Milwaukee, to realize that I have to go: I’m not sure how I am going to make it, but I am getting on a flight to Paris tonight so I can say goodbye too. There is no way I am not going to be there with them, in this fundamentally important but fleeting moment. There are certain life passages that should not be missed. Thus starts an absolutely insane day of striving toward one goal: making it on a flight to Paris that night. 

I bolt out of bed at 5am and find a 7am flight back to Baltimore. I contact my "Life Team" (life partner and two daughters) and enroll them into helping me schedule everything else that’s needed for the success of this mission: a rapid Covid test, a 72-hour PCR Covid test (French regulations at the time required a negative 72-hour Covid test, but I only have 12 hours before I need to board, so I do both tests and pray that they will make an exception), a ticket on a flight to Paris for that night and everything else I think I might be forgetting. I make the 7am Milwaukee flight to Baltimore under the wire, and then sit in the airport for an hour after I land to finalize booking the flight to Paris which one of my kids has found for me. I then rush back home to find out that the two Covid tests have been scheduled by my other daughter within the hour and I have to race if I want to make them (of course each test is in a different part of town). In the midst of all this, I realize that I don’t have a passport! It was sent to the State department a few weeks ago for renewal. Inbetween tasks, I talk with a friend at the French Embassy to find out if I will be able to leave the US, enter France, and then come back to the US (more than likely, not). I race back home, unpack my conference bag, repack a suitcase for Paris (not knowing how long I will be gone …). Barely a few hours after landing at Baltimore airport, I’m on my way to Dulles airport to catch my flight to Paris. I know the likelihood that I will make it on that flight is minuscule. 

At check in, I get denied boarding as I don’t have the required 72-hour negative PCR test. I explain to people that my dad died this morning: it helps. People care and people are kind. They want to help when given a chance. Miraculously, boarding this same flight is a woman who turns out to be an angel who works for French Immigration. The Air France attendants somehow seem to know her, and she accepts (even though she is on her private time) to step out of line and contact someone she knows at French Immigration in Paris … who tells her they can make an exception for me and I will be let into France. They also let me leave despite the fact that I don’t have my US passport. Another miracle. Though it remains to be seen how I will make it back into the US. 

A few hours later, we take off for Paris. As I settle into my seat, I review this very intense day and count my blessings.

That’s when I realize that I forgot a work deadline I had today. Incredibly, the Air France flight I am on has WiFi – and I spend the next three hours finishing a big project via text on my iPhone to meet my deadline. I get it done and it’s unbelievable!!!

NOW I can finally rest. I close my eyes and take out my travel pillow: we’ve been flying for three and a half hours. I can still try to close my eyes for the three hours remaining on this flight.

I MADE IT! I am going to say goodbye to Papa. I’m going to get to see him one last time. 

That’s when the captain makes this stunning announcement over the intercom: “We have a medical emergency and are turning around. We are flying back to DC.” …

THIS … has to be the biggest cosmic joke that’s ever happened to anyone. My father, who had a wicked sense of humor, must be having a field day! Some folks around me on the flight are clearly getting agitated, nervous or angry. Strangely, I remain very calm. The two expressions that came to mind in the moment were “que sera sera” (“what will be will be” in Italian), and “Inshallah” (“God willing” in Arabic). It’s a total relinquishing of control: I am at peace with destiny, and I feel grateful to be at peace.

Finally we land back at Dulles airport around 1am. Miraculously, despite having no passport to re-enter the country, they let us walk back into the airport without meeting immigration as we are landing at Dulles in the middle of the night and have technically not really left the country.  

Did you count the number of miracles that occurred during this day?

The real miracle however is that I stayed calm – all day long. I stayed focused – all day long. I breathed – all day long. And not just to survive as we all do – but consciously, on purpose. I knew that if I was going to achieve my one goal to get from Milwaukee to Paris that day, to see my Papa, I had to stay calm and in charge of my emotions and my stress, otherwise I would not get done what needed doing. I knew – because that is what I teach and practice daily – that the only way I would make it through was if I stayed calm, focused, and breathed.

Let me share this breathing exercise with you.

Much easier said than done, especially in a moment of crisis … which is the reason why calming oneself down through mindfulness and breathing has to be practiced when we are *not* in crisis. It’s a little bit like going to the gym - except this is the gym of the brain: we can grow our “ability-to-stay-calm-muscles” when we don’t need them, at calm times, so that when we DO need them, they are available to us and at the ready. Believe me when I say that this practice is life changing (in addition to being brain changing!), on two levels: 1) because you are actually changing your brain to function better and be in service of you (vs. you being at the mercy of it). And 2) because it’s a miracle (another one 😉) to realize that we actually have this power over ourselves. We can literally MAKE OURSELVES BE A DIFFERENT PERSON. It’s cool beans, if you ask me.

Another thing that’s helpful to know in a moment of crisis is that, as one of the Mamma Jar notes say:

I did eventually make it to France (with a passport this time!) for my father’s Memorial Service 10 days later. I finally got to say goodbyes… it just wasn’t meant to be that first time around.

I’ve spent the summer in France grieving with my family and helping with everything that has to be taken care of when someone dies. As it transpired, it was yet another miracle that I was over that side of the ocean when my daughter who was on a summer placement in Spain contracted Covid-19. But that’s a story for another time…

In Memoriam 

My dad, a musician himself, was a huge classical music admirer and connoisseur. This was one of his favorite pieces of all times:

The second of the four pieces is called “September” and is a poem written by Hermann Hesse:

The garden is in mourning.
Cool rain seeps into the flowers.
Summertime shudders,
quietly awaiting his end.

Golden leaf after leaf falls
from the tall acacia tree.
Summer smiles, astonished and feeble,
at his dying dream of a garden.

For just a while he tarries 
beside the roses, yearning for repose.
Slowly he closes
his weary eyes.

Are you ready to grow and build your toolbox in order to deal with life's challenges? Maybe you have also lost someone close to you recently and need help processing the grief? I am here to help!

Book a free coaching sample session here, or get in touch to find out more.

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