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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 37 - Not Quite Strangers: Living Without Someone You Love

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Not Quite Strangers: Living Without Someone You Love

How about we start with Saundra? Saundra, I want to know what did you bring.


I brought pictures of my brother Norman. I was born in January. He was born in September. We were very close. He was deaf. He passed away in 2020 but he's always in my heart everywhere I go. He's doing the sign for I love you. I brought two pictures of my son, Nelson. This is my favorite picture of him. He's in his element. He's outside. He's in the water at the beach on a birthday. He's the happiest dude ever. This is a picture that we used when I had some interviews on television when he was in the hospital with COVID.


This is a totem that he bought me. When Nelson was young, he was very small, short, light, and fast. He could run like nobody's business. He was home-schooled for a while. For a Science trip, they went from Maryland to New Mexico. When he got to New Mexico, someone gave him a totem and said that he was a roadrunner. He was about 13 or 14 years old when he got it. He brought it back to me and I kept it with me ever since. It reminds me of how fast and carefree he was.


We're going to hear more about both your brother and son. You can already hear that this is going to be a powerful and maybe emotional conversation. Thank you, Saundra.


You're welcome.


Wakako, what did you bring?


I brought a picture as well. This is maybe when I was fifteen years old. There is a phone. This is my little cousin, Dan, who is eleven years younger than me.


We're going to hear more about Dan and that phone in a moment. First of all, I wanted to say thank you to the two of you for joining me for this episode. This is an opportunity in this show to bring two people together who have not quite met and also to inspire your curiosity and the curiosity of my guests, build connection, and more than anything, disrupt the status quo and what it’s like to meet someone or get to know someone that you don't know very well even better. That's the purpose.


I brought these two very special ladies because I've had the fortune of us working together. We all took a course with Heroic Public Speaking so that we could hone our craft and build a meaningful message. In that process, I got to know the two of you quite well, or at least very intimately. There were some of the stories that you shared with me and the rest of the group. As I spoke to the two of you, I realized an instant connection between the two.


I realized that the two of you haven't spoken tons about I don't think some of these topics perhaps but I had the sense that it would be a great conversation to have on this show. Saundra, this is part of the speech that you’ve been working on. It is the journey that you took as an advocate for your son's life during the time that he was diagnosed and treated for COVID, and his passing too.


Everything that you went through was such a relevant timely message and one that I found that you had a lot of courage to think about and work on this message shortly after everything that you'd experienced before his death but also in leading up to that. I wanted to say thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to have that conversation with you on this platform. It's going to help a lot of people.


Wakako, there was a moment when you and I were practicing. I asked you a few questions about why that message was important to you. You have a message about helping parents who have children with ADHD or different neurodiverse children. I kept asking you, “Why? What is it about that?” You shared a story about your cousin that will resonate with Saundra. I don't know if Saundra knows the story yet. Before we jump into all of that, I thought it would be great for people to know why you said yes to being on the show. This is not a conversation that you've had with each other and probably much less in this type of platform. I'm curious about why you said yes to sharing.


It’s because you asked me so nicely to do it. When we met at HPS virtually, I thought that you were a great person and I wanted to get to know you better. The only way for people who don't already know the story and find out about the story is for me to talk about it. It is difficult and painful but some people need to hear it. Hopefully, it will help people.


My son was very much about helping others so I want to honor his life by doing what I can to help other people advocate for themselves when they're having health issues or have someone in a family advocate for them because sometimes you can't advocate for yourself. I am trying to come out of my comfort zone a little bit and do different things that I've never done before. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity and I appreciate you asking me. Thank you.


Thank you, Saundra. Wakako, would you like to share why you said yes?


It's about the same as Saundra. I needed to come out of my comfort zone and this was a perfect opportunity. I know you and how good you are. You were the only person who got this story out of me. I haven't told many people about this. The way you ask questions, you have something magical. I know Saundra’s story a little bit. Why not? This is so out of my comfort zone but I'm going for it.


I appreciate the trust that you put in me and sharing this. I do think both of you have such a powerful calling. That's what I heard and saw in our conversation that I thought would be a meaningful conversation to have on this show because both of you have been called to share a message. I thought, “If I have an opportunity to not only provide this platform for you to share the message but also to inspire each other in the process of doing so, then let's go to it.” Saundra, you brought photos of your brother and son. Tell us a little bit more about what they mean to you. What was it about your brother and son? Both of them passed in 2020.


My brother passed in 2020 and my son passed in January 06, 2021.


What can you tell us about them?


My brother Norman was born deaf. Even though my mother had all of her vaccinations and everything, she still got exposed to rubella. She worked in a lab. Maybe she was exposed there. We're not sure but he was born at a time when there were lots of rubella babies in the United States. He had some issues with learning, being deaf, Black, and having health challenges. I grew up not only just a big sister but big sister of a brother who was disabled. He used to be a skinny, little dude but as he got older and bigger, he was pretty big. His biggest threat to people was, “I'm going to tell my sister.”


I could see that. That's how he would bully people in the playground. What's the age difference?


About eleven months. Even something as simple as going to McDonald's, with COVID, people order it on the phone but during the ‘60s and ‘70s, going up to the counter and going through the process of, “What do you want,” and having an assignee. The person behind the counter would say, “Hurry up.” I'm like, “No. Everybody else took their time. We're going to take our time.”


Sometimes, I would let him go and stand in the back to see how things were going. He asked for a visual menu, which they had never written down. They would act like they couldn't read it or, “What do you want,” being rude. I would put up with it and then go ahead and say, “This person is disabled and this is not how you're supposed to be treating disabled people. You have visual menus for a reason.”


I was trying to educate people in a little bit of a rough way because they were hurting his feelings and being mean. We always gave them the opportunity to do the right thing but people didn’t always do the right thing. As his health declined, he got more and more ill. It was more advocacy that I was doing for him in hospitals or the doctor's offices and all kinds of places.


He died on May 17, 2020, at my mother's house. He was over at my house a few hours before. I was fussing at him about staying home and not catching COVID. At about 3:00 in the morning, he texted me about getting some diabetic supplies for him. I was annoyed. I almost texted him something back like, “Don’t wake me up again.” A couple of hours later, my phone rang and it was my son saying that the house was on fire.


I bought a house near my mom to help her with my brother. We went around there and the house was inflamed. The flames were shooting out the front door. There were helicopters and police cars. I couldn't even get near the house. We had to park. I kept trying to tell myself to stay calm and walk down there but I ran. My son, husband, mom, and I stood there watching the house burn, knowing that my brother was inside and it was hard. We lost everything.


For me, that's when the story started. After the fire, my mother and son moved into a two-bedroom apartment. Fortunately, thank God for the Red Cross. They came and helped me get medication for my mom, dentures, and things that she needed. She went from having everything to nothing and lost her son. She only has a pair of shoes on.


My son did go back into the house after he got my mom out to try to get my brother out but he said the smoke was too thick. He had some burns on his face from being in the house and trying to get my brother out. Unfortunately, they weren't able to save him. He didn't survive. That was in May and in September, my son came down with COVID.


There's one tragedy after the next. Saundra, I'm so sorry to hear that. I knew about your son. I had no idea about your brother. It’s a tragic accident. Out of curiosity, what is the emotion that you carry? You're a warrior woman. You're here as an advocate. That's what you are. You know your purpose. This tragedy is taking you toward a path and a calling but I'm curious about it. Emotionally, how did you process all of that?


I'm still processing it. Both events are very traumatic for me. I got a grief and trauma therapist after my brother died. I went away to college in Europe and stuff but all my life, I've been in this neighborhood and there’s a firehouse up the street. I'm used to fire engines. One day, I was coming home and a fire truck came down the street. I started screaming. I couldn't remember my way home and I was in my neighborhood.


I told a friend about it and he said, “You need help. You need grief and trauma therapy. Most therapists are trained there.” He was very helpful in helping to find me someone who could take me away and do it virtually. My husband is great and the people that I work with. Escuela Key in Arlington, Virginia, they were wonderful and supportive. They sent us food and all kinds of things like blankets and love. They brought me little things from school all the time. It was great. People came to visit or even go outside the door to say hi. I appreciated all of that.


A few months later, my son got sick and I went back to work. The grief and trauma therapy, my family, my husband, and especially my school, everybody getting together and supporting me has been very helpful. Not watching a lot of television, the news, and what was happening politically was also a good move on my part because it kept me from getting triggered all the time. It is very difficult.

Not Quite Strangers | Trauma
Grief And Trauma: Everybody gets together, and support has been very helpful.

I can only imagine. I want to ask Wakako. What would you like to say? I see you nodding. You've heard some of this before probably but I'm curious about what's there for you.


It was one after another. I don't know how you do it but at the same time, I found another connection to you. My sister is blind. She wasn't blind from birth but she was diabetic because of her genetic thing. At the age of 30, she lost her eyesight. She lives with my parents.


It’s another connection between disability and diabetes. It sounds like some shared experiences. I do want to say one comment, Saundra. I remember in one of the groups where we were practicing in the speech writing course, you asked to go last or something like that. That was the thing. These are not your words but this is how I remember it. You were saying something like, “When I practice my speech, it takes the air out of the room.” People were like, “I don't know if I want to talk about taxes, joy, or recycling after you share.”


I laughed but I remember how responsible you felt for the experience and the listening to everyone else. No one asked for it or requested it. No one expected to but I saw your tendency to want to care for other people. In that small moment, I could see that your commitment was to make sure that everybody else was okay. I told you that's not necessary. We're big people. We don't need that but thank you. I appreciate that generosity.


Some people have very strong reactions to some of the things that I wrote. I was having a strong reaction. I kept it inside and you can't see it. Some people had very light subjects. I wanted to let that go on and get out there because some people were affected by it.


Wakako, let's turn to you. First of all, share a little bit more about your picture with Dan, your cousin. What about him that made him so special to you?


He's my cousin and he's eleven years younger than me. I've babysat him and known him ever since he was a baby. He's more like my little brother. In this picture, he was four. I love little kids. I was playing with him. He came to visit and it was summer. He got so tired. He was on top of me and fell asleep. I remember that. What happened was as we grew up, we lived in different cities. I went to college in Tokyo, which was where he lived.


I lived across from his house so I was there all the time. I was eating dinner and doing the laundry there. I would go back to my room to sleep to the point that he thought I was his sister. He had a sister but he called me sis. He didn't understand the cousin thing. I was there. I was the only one who was interested in Nintendo and comic books like Dragon Ball. It's a huge comic book. We share the same interest. I would go out and buy those books for him because he didn't have money for it. We would hang out all the time. We were close.


I went off college and went on my way so we parted. He stopped going to school when he was in fifth grade. I would hear these stories from my aunt and my mom. Without going to school, you could graduate from middle school in Japan. He went to free school. It's outside of the school system. It's like a private school where they don't teach academics that much but might focus more on skills. They live in this dorm together. He went to high school like that. I knew he was doing not too bad. He goes to a regular company every day and then earns a salary type of guy but he was making enough money.


I live in Colorado but my family lives in Japan so every summer, I take my two kids, go to Japan for two months, and spend time with my family. A few years ago, I made that trip and then got to my mom's house. The kids went to sleep. I was with my mom alone and then she dropped this bomb on me like, “I was waiting for the kids to go to sleep but your cousin killed himself. We found him right when you were on the plane.”


That same day?


I don't think he did it there but it's been 1 day or 2 before they found him because he was living alone. I was jet-lagged. I came over. It didn't occur to me that he had ADHD. It didn't happen chronologically but that happened. There were all sorts of like, “What if I did this? What if I called him more?” I was thinking about that and then life happened. I got interested in helping out kids and families with ADHD and autism.


As I learned things, all kinds of things started to reveal themselves and then it dawned on me like, “That had a lot to do with my cousin and what would happen to him with ADHD and all of that.” Now that I understand it, my drive to spread the message has gotten even stronger. I have to watch out. In my mind, it's like, “He’s leaving alone. He’s going to die.” I go into that but I've learned to slow myself down. That's what happened and that's why I'm passionate about spreading my message.


Was Dan on the autism spectrum?


I don't think so. He had ADHD. Although, it was before such a diagnosis was readily available.


What was it that you saw, heard, or learned that made you so passionate? What was the piece that sparked your interest in wanting to educate and advocate?


I started working at preschools. The only reason was because I love little kids. My kids were still in school so it was easy for me to work in the same school system so we had the same vacation and all of that. That was the only reason why I started doing that. I was a substitute. As I went into different classrooms, I noticed these kids were not quite fitting in. I don't know. I'm fascinated by how they work, how their brains work, and how authentic they are. I feel that.


The more I noticed them, the more I was with them. It was apparent that it wasn't the best environment for them even though I knew all the teachers were doing their best and they meant well. School environment itself, there are so many kids and distractions. You can't be paying that much attention to every one of them. That's when I was like, “This is not helpful.” That's when I started to dig into, “What can we do? How can we do this?” That was my drive.


Another connection is school. Saundra, you teach English as a second language. What's your reaction to what Wakako shared? I don't think you've heard her story either. 


First of all, I do have my condolences. I'm so sorry. Once you're close to someone and you have that connection, it's hard to live without them. It's interesting that you can see ADHD in other kids not just as a substitute. Without anybody telling you, I'm assuming, that this is the diagnosis or issue with this child, you are probably very sensitive to it. Teachers need that. We need to know other people's opinions and their insights. That's helpful.

Once you're close to someone and you have that connection, it's hard to live without them.

It's hard to see students in a situation that's already set up. As many services we provide and the support we put in, every child is not for that situation. Trying to find someplace that's the best setting for that student can be difficult sometimes. You might be seeing things that the teacher or parent doesn't see. I imagine that can be both rewarding and difficult sometimes.


That's so interesting you talk about this because my mom has been on this case. There's a documentary that was released called The Wisdom of Trauma. Have you heard of this?


I translated that into Japanese. I put Japanese subtitles. I volunteered. I had no idea how hard it was. It took me three weeks.


My mom and I watched it. They were interviewing the executive directors of the film. They put together panelists, speakers, and all sorts of interesting activities and exercises on the virtual platform where they talked about how trauma manifests itself. My mother is a substitute in schools in Alabama. She goes to different schools and works with primarily grade school to middle school-age students at different times and mostly with Spanish-speaking students.


She's there to support them and make sure that they are getting what they need. If they need a translator for something or their parents need some additional support, she's there to be an advocate. My mom likes to call herself a community advocate. She said that when she watched that film, she realized how many young people were so deeply traumatized by life. School is another place for them to either get re-traumatized or they're not able to get their needs met.


Therefore, their performance is impacted by that trauma from whatever it is at home, whether that's some family issues, health, mental illness, or all sorts of issues. She realized that there's no way that schools or teachers themselves are prepared to handle the trauma that many young people face. I'm curious about the two of you. Both of you work with young people or in school systems. You've had your traumatizing experiences. What are your thoughts on how trauma impacts how kids learn or operate, or how teachers or adults take care of these kids that they're responsible for?

There's no way that schools or teachers are prepared to handle the trauma that many young people face.

That movie is so dear to me. I watched that and was like, “This has to go to Japan.” I emailed them without even knowing but I am glad I did. In the process, I learned so much more because when you translate, you have to dig into every word. I don't know how many times I watch that movie doing that. Interestingly enough, Gabor Maté is the main person who talks about trauma. He has a book called Scattered Minds. He says ADHD is a trauma response.


I don't think it's 100% but when I was reading his book, it made sense. It's been passed on for generations. It makes sense because when I do see a kid with that challenge, chances are one of their parents is of the same challenge. A lot of parents get diagnosed after their kids are diagnosed and then they start wondering, “Do I have it?” They go through and have it. As they think about it, probably one of their parents had it. It could be genetic but it could be the trauma that keeps on rolling.


It's a huge part of what I do because I'm all about your mind. Parents or caregivers are the keys to unlocking their potential. When you face them thinking, “They can't do this,” or they have such challenges and they don't listen and sit still, that is not a very safe energy that you are carrying. When you are thinking negative thoughts like, “There's something wrong with him,” they have a bigger antenna for what people around them are thinking and feeling.

As parents or caregivers, the key is unlocking potential.

Your thoughts would get you into this physiological state of either safety or danger, in my opinion, and then they pick that up from a mile away. That would get them into a fear mode because that's one of the things that we scan for. We always have a scanner going and saying, “Am I safe?” We do that unconsciously. We look for our environment, “Is there a tiger nearby?” We look forward to what's inside, “Am I hurting, in pain, or hungry?” There is, “Are people around me feeling safe or scared?” Chances are if a person next to me is scared, that means there's a tiger behind. That's what's happening.


When you think about how much your thoughts and state of being affect them, then how much trauma do you carry within you? In my speech, I talk about my relationship with my son. He likes to play games. Whenever I tell him it's time to stop, then it becomes this daily argument. He will roll his eyes at me. That would trigger me. I want to wring his neck.


This goes on every single day. He's a teenager and was destroying our relationship. It came to a point where I was like, “This has to stop.” As I was working through these things, I learned some tricks to dig deeper into myself to see what was going on. When I did dig in like, “What's bothering me? What exactly is it,” it turns out that I feel that I'm not heard, which is the belief that I've carried ever since I was two and a half.


When I was two and a half, my little sister was born. From the beginning, she had some health issues. She wasn’t sleeping or getting enough milk and all of that. My mom had to work hard to keep her healthy. I picked that up. Although she paid a lot of attention to my well-being and then she told me that she loved me and thanked me for being so understanding and such a good girl, in my mind, I made up this story that I have to be a good girl to be loved.


That was carried through me. “I am not heard. I have to be a good girl and a nice person to be loved.” Whenever my son would roll his eyes, that would trigger me. It attacks me. My son playing games has nothing to do with me losing it. Everything that is not feeling good for you is related to your story. When you think about the trauma on the kids and the trauma on the caregivers, parents, and teachers, that is a huge component, in my opinion.


There’s one of the things that I remember Gabor Maté mentioned. He's a retired physician and is doing all of this work. He said, “We ask the wrong question. We usually ask, ‘What's wrong with you? What's wrong with him or her?’ The real question is, ‘What happened to him, her, or them?’” That was such a meaningful reframe for me.


I work as a leadership coach who deals with all different personalities. Some people are very sensitive to some things and others don't care less. All of us have a different response to different stimuli. It's been interesting to reframe not that I necessarily work with people on a specific trauma. I don't but I'm sure I bump up against stuff when things seem to be repetitive issues. If people are particularly hurt, offended, angry, or irritated about something, it could be linked to that.


It was fascinating. I watched 3 or 4 of the talks during that space about indigenous people and the trauma that's carried from generation. Also, about gender identity and the impact that that also had not only on the individual who are identifying with a different gender than what perhaps we're born with but also the families and the impact that has on the families or the society. I also watched one about incarceration. There’s no Pixar version of this. This is hardcore.


Saundra, I want to hear from you a little bit because you were dealing with other people's trauma. You are a survivor of all these different events that happened in your life. You had some grief and trauma counseling. What has been helpful about it? What have you learned about trauma for yourself in the process or the process of grief?


Before the fire, I was in graduate school and was studying trauma in children. I'm trying to figure out how we should teach children who've been traumatized differently. We should do it with all children but I'm specifically looking at English learners. A lot of times, their trauma comes from what they were going through before they came to the United States, the horrific trip that they had coming to the United States, which is often very dangerous, or something else that happened to them since they've been here.


What I find while teaching children who have been traumatized is some of them do not want to tell you their story but some of them do want to. Teachers are not trained to listen to them or respond to them in any way. We're not part of that training. I developed my ways of hearing children's trauma stories and working with them so that they feel safer at school and can talk about whatever they want to talk about but it doesn't fit into the curriculum. That's what I was studying before the fire and my brother died.


I was in a doctoral program and was getting ready to work on my dissertation. That's what I wanted to be. Either teacher training needs to be a little bit different or they need to have teachers that specialize in working with those children in the building who know the different things that need to happen to have those kids feel successful but the curriculum doesn’t allow for that.


I've been teaching full-time since 1984. I've heard about children who come from war-torn countries or children who are coming from countries of conflict. You see that they're different and the regular things don't work with them. One of the things that both teachers and parents tend to do is to tell the child not to think about it anymore. They keep having nightmares and talking about it. They said, “Stop thinking about it.” If you know more about trauma, you know that that doesn't happen.


There have to be ways in the schools that we can deal with this issue better but first, we have to acknowledge that it's there, change our practices, and maybe put the curriculum aside a little bit until the child is ready for school. There are so many other things going on. Not feeling safe takes you out of the game. What you're learning is through this filter of not feeling safe. All these problems are coming out and you don't know why.

Not Quite Strangers | Trauma
Grief And Trauma: First, we have to acknowledge that it's there.

We even sometimes treat the children like they're ungrateful. “You're here in the United States. We have all this money, resources, and McDonald's. You're unhappy. You’re causing trouble or getting into fights. You do not want to come to school.” They're dealing with an awful lot. We have to meet them where they are and it's not happening. Once I had this big trauma in my life, everything that I read about drama triggered it so I had to put it aside for a while.


I hope to be getting back to it soon and be able to have some impact at least on my classroom and my job by being able to be a place for these kids to come and help them work through what they need to work through. We need more help from school psychologists or someone. I don't know what the position is there that we need. Maybe positions and training need to be created in schools to help these students because they're there.


That kind of trauma from living in a refugee camp is different from the kind of traumas that we usually look at with American children, in which the trauma comes from the family but a lot of times, with these other children, the trauma is coming from the environment, government, gangs, starvation, and displacement. With a lot of things that I've read and studied, I've seen them happen when you lose everything. It's very real to me.


A lot of things that I've read have presented themselves in a very real way in my life, whether it's been for me, my mother, or somebody else in my family. I see how disruptive it is in your life and waking up screaming every day. It affects everything. The children need a lot of help and we need to help them but we don't have it down yet as to how to do it in the classroom. That's something that I'm very interested in and would like to learn more about. I didn't know about The Wisdom of Trauma but I will look into it.


You would love it, especially in light of everything you shared, what you're committed to, and what you see that there's a need. There's an episode around child rearing I believe and I don't know if those are specific to education or parenting but that would be an interesting one. It's funny because my mom, ever since she watched it, asked, “Valerie, have you experienced any trauma when you were a child?” I was like, “Yes.” I told her specifically one example.


My dad was very expressive when he got angry. He raised his voice and was very menacing in his tone. My mom was very conflict-averse so she usually tried to pacify or blow it off and put a silver lining on it. Her style was a lot more maybe passive-aggressive. My non-aggressive mom was passive-aggressive. I was confused. My three brothers and I all have our stuff to deal with.


I didn't realize until 2021 how much anger I carry in my body. I used to have chronic back pain for years on and off. I did all sorts of things like massage, Yoga, you name it. I went to this ten treatment session of Rolf Structural Integration and all of the deep tissue stuff. I'm glad I did that because the gentleman who did it said, “You have a lot of tension in your psoas muscle.” The psoas muscle is known as an emotional muscle that carries emotion. I was like, “Massage it. Straighten it out.”


Toward the end of our session, he shared a book called The Mind-Body Connection by Dr. John Sarno. I ended up reading the version that was specifically about healing back pain. His connection is that any chronic back pain is some kind of emotion that we're avoiding or not expressing. “In this particular case, that back pain was about anger.” I was like, ”Anger? Me?” You don't know me well but do I look like a person that carries a lot of anger?

Not Quite Strangers | Trauma
Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection

I started asking friends and family. They are like, “Angry? Valerie? I've seen you frustrated or irritated but I don't know if angry would be a word I use.” I'm like, “That's a problem.” In my life, none of my close friends and family could say that I've been angry about something. There've been plenty of challenges in my life where I've had the absolute right to be angry or express anger, and I haven't. I buried it. I would rationalize it or figure out a way right inside my body and mind. I would sort it through. I would carry it. I would never express it. I want an anger tour to discover that.


I talked to my older brother because I remember him specifically. I felt that he could have stepped up more when we were younger. The story was he didn't act as an older brother when my dad would get upset and my mom wouldn't deal with it. I felt like I had to be the one to take the tension out of the room or do something. My older brothers are much more intellectual and introverted so he would go off and read a book or something. That's how I saw it.


I called him up after I discovered that. I was like, “I'm angry at you.” He was like, “Okay.” I explained. “I discovered this back pain I have is probably around some suppressed anger. Some of it was because I resented you when Dad was upset and angry and Mom wasn’t dealing with it that I had to be the one to say or do something to fix the home environment or stabilize things. You would walk away.” He was like, “That sounds about right. I am sorry.” I was like, “Yes, me too. We all got a lot of work to do.” It was ten minutes of conversation and the back pain went away.


I have the best book Metaphysical Anatomy, which talks about all of the emotions. According to this, back pain is a lack of support.


All of us as adults are traumatized too. It's no wonder we're probably raising or not addressing traumatized children or traumatizing them unwillingly. What I did tell my mom after she asked me was, “Mom, I can take responsibility for my role. The story I made up had nothing to do with you. I don't think you would have known.” I didn't. That was when I was young what was going on, how resentful I felt about it, or how I had this role that I felt had to be responsible for managing the humor or tension in the room.


I don't know if I knew that but I took that on for whatever reason. I'm dealing with it. Our job as adults is to get clear with what's going on over here. “What happened to me? How is that impacting how I'm reacting to the situation?” Is there anything else that you want to add about that? We're going to come close to wrapping up here but I want to hear any other thoughts you have or resources that would be helpful.


I'm so excited about what Saundra was all about. You have to put that all until you feel like you're ready and your mom too. I am learning movements that would send you to your cortex and get you out of your fight or flight brain, which is at your brainstem, and then get more into your thinking brain.


Tell us that movement.


I am not with Brain Gym but I am with a company called BrainWorx and they do an amazing job. Sometimes, they go out to school and do some movements. The effect is phenomenal.


Is there something you can show us?


There's one called Thinking Caps. What you do is get both of your ears and go from the tip of your ears. You uncurl the outer edge of your ears down. When you get to your earlobe, you can gently pull because over here is the acupressure point for the brain. You do it again. This time, you go a little inward because your ears are full of acupressure points for all of your body. As you do this, you can have an intention like, “I am present. I am calm. I am safe at school if it's true.” You do this three times. In the third time, you go even deeper and massage your ears with your intention.


I feel more peaceful already.


This gets you out of fight or flight. There are whole other movements that would calm you down and then there are simple movements. Kids love to move rather than sit still. There is one called Lazy 8. You can do the infinity sign. On both sides, they can draw or use colored pencils. That integrates both sides of the brain and they get ready for learning.


Do it if you come into a room and then you don't remember why you came here. I usually do it on my palm and it helps out. When I'm translating, sometimes I know the perfect word that translates into Japanese but I can't have it. If you have it in your brain somewhere and you do this, you can remember it. I'm saying 95% of the time I remember.


I'm sure we could continue to peel back and pull out more conversation. This is interesting. There's something to be shared. Both of you have selected topics to share with the world based on the trauma that you've experienced. I don't want to take that for granted. Trauma is also here to teach. There's an opportunity. Once we learn, understand it, see its role, and heal it, it could also be a wonderful tool and vehicle for us to teach something, which the two of you have done so beautifully in the process. I want to turn the attention inward to our experience. I’m curious. After having had this conversation on the show, sharing what you've shared, and hearing each other's stories, what are you taking away from our conversation? Let's start with you, Saundra.

Trauma is here to teach. There's an opportunity to learn once we understand it.

I want to learn more from Wakako. I'm familiar with Brain Gym, some of their ideas not everything. There's so much that you can learn from people. You never expected to have those kinds of connections that Wakako and I share. I had no idea. It's always the best idea to get to know people and ask them questions so that they feel comfortable enough to share things that are deep with them.


You're not going to get that out of just a “Hi, how are you” conversation. You have to have the intention of getting to know the person to make a connection with them. This has been a great experience for me. I've learned a lot. It was a great experience. I'm glad that I did it and I had this opportunity to get to know both of you better.


Thank you, Saundra. I'm glad that you're walking away with this positively. This fulfilled the expectation when you said yes. Wakako, what about you?


It’s pretty much the same thing. I didn't know all these things about Saundra and you. I didn't think the conversation would go this way. It's amazing. All you need is to ask questions. Sometimes, it doesn't feel comfortable but when you do, those kinds of things show up and it's beautiful. I showed up all nervous but then I was having fun. Thank you, Valerie. This has been great.


I’m curious. During our conversation, what did you feel most unedge about?


It was when I was talking about my experience because I don't do that very often.


I want to ask one more question about that, Wakako. Why don't you talk about it more often? What stops you?


Not everybody is ready to hear it. I'm not sure if I can keep my composure. I broke out when you asked me but in this conversation, I was ready for it.


It’s sad because it's very painful.


I love talking about my son and my brother but it also takes me back to that very painful and difficult time every single time. It's not like you have a past, you can go ten times, and then it stops. It seems to be limitless to what can take you back to that pain and how many times you can go you did in one day. With the part of trying to stay sane and protect yourself, you don't stop thinking about it but you’re not having it on the tip of the tongue all the time.


At the same time, if you don't talk about it, people won't learn what you have to share with them if they want to learn. There are a lot of people who have losses from COVID all around the world and very few people that I know talk about it. I do have some very good friends who shared with me about their COVID losses but it's something about COVID, and I don't know what it is, that people don't talk about it.


I don't know why there would be any feeling of anything other than loss about it. People are not talking about it with each other. We need to support everyone. When you think about how many COVID deaths there have been and how many long haulers there are, people have survived COVID but are still having severe physical issues.


We all need to get together and help and support each other. Also, ask people, “How can I help you,” mean it and do it. That also means for me, if someone says, “How can I help you,” if there's something that they can do to help me, I need to say what it is that I need. I wasn't always good at asking for help or articulating something that another person could do that would bring me comfort or make it a little bit easier for me at that moment.


My two younger brothers both have had COVID. One was vaccinated and one was not. What was interesting is that as a nuclear family, we talked about it and they talked about it with their significant spouses and kids. Their younger kids did get it as well. Three of them tested positive, although very few symptoms.


What was fascinating was when we talked about sharing it with our greater family or friends, they were like, “No.” There's something about talking about it that either gives people the impression or the idea that people weren't being responsible. “Is it real or not?” There were too many add-ons to basic health and there was so much meaning added to being ill or not being ill or being diagnosed positive or not that it was not worth the conversation with others. I prefer to get better.


That is fair. The same goes for trauma. There's so much shame that some of us withhold or avoid talking about it, asking questions about it, or keeping the space open enough for people to share. The next frontier for us as human beings is how safe we can make it for other people to express and share traumatic things with us, or at least anything that might be impacting the relationship, their performance, or the environment in ways that could support healing. I don't think that if you don't talk about it, you don't heal.


A very practical example is I injured my Achilles tendon playing tennis. I was going to heal it on my own. I stopped playing tennis for a while because, on the extreme end, I couldn't walk for three days. I had to use crutches to move around. It was so painful but I knew it wasn’t torn or anything like that. I decided to do a lot of self-care and then started playing tennis again but I noticed it was still a little bit tight.


I thought, “Let me go to my massage therapist and get some deep tissue massaging there.” He said, “Valerie, do you know how much scar tissue was here?” There were places where I was like, “How is the scar tissue up that high?” He was like, “Your body's been compensating for your gates, how you walk, your posture, and all sorts of things.” It was painful as he was working through some of the scar tissue but I realized that I was much more committed to having freedom and flexibility to enjoy my life rather than continue to compensate.


The conversation we had was about giving others to freedom to address trauma in ways that could free them and openly not only express it but also heal it. If we're not healing it and just dealing with symptoms or not creating a space where people have permission to share and talk about it, it could infringe on how people move in the world, how others perform, how well they communicate, or how resilient they are. That was a long way of saying thank you for sharing. I'm so happy that you were both comfortable enough to share with me and the audience. Any final words before we wrap up our session?


I wanted to speak to a couple of things that you mentioned. My son was not careless. He wasn't vaccinated because the vaccine wasn't out yet. He was a very healthy person. He did have one other problem but it was new. He didn't even know he had it. He was living with my mom. We talked very openly and honestly about what everybody who had anything to do with my brother had to do to keep my mother from getting COVID because as an elderly person, that would have been devastating for her.


He did the things that he was supposed to do and protecting my mother was very high on his list of things to do. Even after he got COVID and we didn't know for a while that he had it, he even shared an apartment with my mother. She didn't catch it for him. She was very conscientious. It's an illness and a virus. There's no shame in getting it. He didn't want a whole lot of attention either. I was the one that was putting the attention on him but it was to make sure that he was okay, had enough to drink, was hydrated, and was eating.


I was in a very high-risk category so I couldn't move near him. Some people over there check on them every day and that is important. Young people, especially Millennials, don't want a whole lot of fuss about stuff but you have to pay attention. One of the things I did was set a pulse oximeter over to him. I said, “You use this on these hours and write down what the numbers are. When I call you, I want to know those numbers.” That is when he knew that he needed help and when he needed to go to the emergency room.


He took that from you, taking care of other people, being responsible, and being the caretaker and provider. Thank you. Wakako, any final words?


It's been a pleasure talking to you and getting to know you two better. I can't wait to talk to you a little more.


There's more. Thank you so much to the two of you for sharing once again. It’s my pleasure. For those of you who read this episode, thanks. I'm so excited that you have the opportunity to learn something new or perhaps see things from a different perspective. I hope that you subscribe and go to so that you have access to every single episode. Have a wonderful rest of the day, everyone.


Important Links

Strangers: Meet Saundra Rogers & Wakako Wheelock

From: Maryland, USA & Japan/ Colorado, USA

Talk About: How to live on without someone you love


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Saundra Rogers


Wakako Wheelock




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