Mediation and End of Life
Joel and I spent the entire month of February in a little two bedroom condo that we rented by the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla Cove in San Diego, California. We worked remotely Monday through Thursdays and took Fridays to explore the area, hike, and spend time outdoors.
As soon as we touched down in San Diego on February 1st, my phone blew up with texts. My 88 year old high energy and extroverted (and fully vaccinated) father had tested positive for Covid. He retired from his legal career at age 85 and started a new career as a journalist. Just last year he traveled alone to Israel to conduct interviews for an article he was writing for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. I ended up travelling by red eye from San Diego to Tampa on February 11th to visit him in a Largo, Florida hospital for a few days and meet up with my siblings Bruce and Samantha. Bruce flew in from Buffalo, N.Y. and Samantha flew in from Tenafly, N.J. Dad had a rare auto immune disease, and my siblings and I did our best to advocate for him, coordinate his care, and communicate with our stepmother who was in Sarasota. He had been warned by his doctors to avoid Covid at all costs due to the auto immune disease.
I quickly recognized that my brother, who is in sales, had the people skills we needed to navigate many of the challenges we were facing in the hospital. One day, when we took a few minutes to grab Lebanese food near the hospital, my brother put the owner of the restaurant in Largo, Florida on the phone with his friend, the owner of a Lebanese retaurant in Buffalo, New York and they chatted for quite a while. Another night, when we grabbed dinner late one night on Super Bowl Sunday at a restaurant close to the hospital, my brother became best friends with our waiter. And of course he quickly learned all of the first names of the hotel staff where we stayed and their children's names. My brother used these people skills as we tried to get the attention of the various doctors treating my father, including a pulmonologist, rheumatologist, attending physician, and infectious disease doctor.
My sister, meanwhile, had an infinite amount of patience with everyone. She was also quite practical and had brought her laptop so that we could fill out endless forms to hire an aide for my father at night. I took on the role of information gatherer, detail person, and note taker as we tried to reach out to people who could help us and also determine next steps for our father's care on a daily basis. I recognized that we were a strong sibling team as we worked together on very little sleep.
My father was transferred from a hospital near his Sarasota home to a Largo hospital more than an hour away from his home on February 9th. The Largo hospital had told us that they had a drug that he needed to put his auto immune disease back in remission and staff who were certified to administer the drug. Time was of the essence. Unfortunately, the hospital did not in fact have the drug. The attending doctor promised that we would have the drug by Monday, February 13th. The infusion that we thought might save his life was scheduled for 1:00 pm that day. Mary Ellen, a nurse who was trained and certified in chemo infusion, was the nurse who was to give the infusion over a three to four hour period and monitor my father in the event he had a reaction.
The drug did not arrive, and Mary Ellen’s shift ended at 7:00 pm. No other nurses were trained and certified to give the infusion. My brother gathered the nursing supervisor, Chris, went down to the hospital pharmacy, got the attending doctor, Dr. Miller, on the phone along with the pharmacy director, and demanded in his magical way that we track down the delivery driver who had the drug. The drug finally was delivered to the hospital but there was no chemo infusion nurse to administer it. We were up in arms since this drug was the only hope to save our father's life. The drug was eventually administered the next day.
My brother then put together a plan on February 20th for an Angel medical flight to fly my father from Largo Hospital to the Cleveland Clinic. My father's rheumatologist was at the Cleveland Clinic and my father's wish for his survival was to go there. The cost was $27,000 which quickly grew to $40,000 given that he was still testing positive for Covid on February 21st. Also, his oxygen levels were decreasing in part because his lungs were damaged by Covid. He would need to fly in an isolation pod. On February 21st, the attending doctor told us that he was suddenly declining and would not be able to fly to Cleveland Clinic. Hospice care started on February 22nd at the Largo Hospital and he died after a couple of hours.
I've been reflecting on the past month and am in awe of watching my siblings do the very best that we could do to try to manage this terrible situation. One of the hardest parts of this story was watching our father have adverse side effects from the high levels of steroids that were part of his treatment.
I used my mediator skills of summarizing, paraphrasing, and reframing so that all of us who were on daily phone calls with nurses or doctors understood the information we were receiving. I wrote everything down and kept a file because I remember and process information best that way. We had to be zealous advocates for my father rather than take the neutral position I need to take as mediator. I was aware of the emotions that we were feeling of shock, anger, fear, grief, loss, and sadness and acknowledged them. We did not sleep well or eat much during this ordeal and we knew that we had to take care of ourselves so that we could manage this situation.
Paul Rudd recently said that "when you lose a parent, the world is off its axis and it never rights itself..." and that is how I feel. Our mother died in 1992. We have lost both of our parents. We are devastated and life will never be the same.
Mediation and Shoutout SoCal
Thanks so much to Shoutout SoCal for interviewing me about my business, Little Falls Mediation, and my career as a lawyer and mediator. I am looking forward to working remotely from southern California in a couple of weeks!
Hi Ellice (Lisa), is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
One factor is kindness. The other two factors are rapid response and competence. When a potential client first contacts me, he or she is typically under great stress because there is some kind of dispute that needs to be discussed. It could be that the client needs to get divorced or is a business partner having issues with the other business partner.
I always get back to people right away, even if it’s just to say that I received the text or the email or the voicemail and I will be back in touch soon.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started off as a lawyer, working in the executive branch at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and then in the U.S. Senate for Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska. Then I became a lobbyist and Washington counsel for the American Medical Association. After I had 3 kids, I trained in 2010 to be certified in the state of Virginia as a general and family mediator. I was a mediator in D.C. Courts for many years handling court referred cases in the Small Claims Division, as well as the Family and Judge in Chambers Programs as well. I started my business in 2015 and began to teach Alternative Dispute Resolution each Fall and Mediation each Spring at George Mason University’s (GMU) Antonin Scalia Law School.
When I needed help, I reached out for it. I never took a finance class in college or law school so I knew I needed a bookkeeper and accountant. My husband is a software architect and he showed me how to build a website. I joined several entrepreneur groups — Arlington Women Entrepreneurs, Mothers of N. Arlington Business Entrepreneur Network, and Women Who Mean Business. These groups are so much fun. We are all there for each other to collaborate and support each other, share our stories, have some laughs, and learn from each other.
At first, I would agree to meet with clients when I was training to be a mediator whenever the opportunity arose. If a client wanted to meet at 8 pm 45 minutes away from my home, I would do it. Later on, when I established my own business, I liked having control over my schedule. I don’t see clients at night because I know that I get the best results when clients are high energy, well rested, and not hungry. I also know that I am at my mediator best during the day and not at night.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live in the D.C. area so there are always lots of fun places to take people. It depends on time of year. For years we belonged to a boat club so in the summer time, I would always reserve a motor boat either from the Wharf in DC or in Annapolis, Maryland and we would spend a beautiful sunny, blue sky day on the water with a picnic. I would definitely choose an itinerary tailored to a specific visitor. Most visitors love a boat ride. In the fall, I would take visitors to Shenandoah National Park (SNP), which is just 90 minutes from our home in northern Virginia. There are lots of orchards and vineyards along the way, so a beautiful waterfall hike in SNP would likely end with a little apple picking and charcuterie, as well as wine tasting on the way home. I would arrange for a tour of the Supreme Court, House, Senate, and Capitol. We would visit the National Mall/Park Service and see the beautiful Washington Monument, WWII memorial, and Lincoln Memorial, along with the Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial. If there was a great play or musical at the National Theater or Kennedy Center, I would take them there. And there is often a great outdoor concert at Nats Park or Wolftrap Center/National Park for the Performing Arts. There are many concert venues around the DC area as well, so I likely would find some great music somewhere. In the winter, we would likely watch a Buffalo Sabres/Washington Capitals game in DC at Capital One Arena and go ice skating in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art. Last, we would walk around interesting neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Shaw, Georgetown and visit farmers’ markets and holiday markets along the way. In the springtime, we would get up early to see the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin and go up to Eastern Market, a historic outdoor market open year round.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My husband, for insisting that I should start my own business. My friend C. Lee Cawley, who is a business owner herself. She was the first person I called when I was thinking about starting my business.
The group Arlington Women Entrepreneurs, founded by Karen Beauregard Bate, which expanded to become Awesome Women Entrepreneurs.
And all the other women entrepreneurs I have met along the way who have mentored me.
Tim Coburn Photography
Stay Calm During The Holidays!
Happy Holidays! I wanted to share this great article "A Therapist's Guide to Staying Calm During Family Holidays" written by Carolyn Steber on November 17, 2022. The article was published in Bustle.
Click on the link above to read the article.
Here are the 17 tips included in the article:
May your holidays be filled with love and light!
"Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can.” --Abraham Lincoln
This month we celebrated National Conflict Resolution Day on October 20, 2022. Mediation is a peaceful way of resolving conflict. I talk about what mediation is a lot to prospective clients and to current clients. Most people who contact me to explore mediation have never been part of a mediation before and are not sure what it is exactly. My job is to empower them with information so that they understand if mediation is right for them, what they can expect the mediation process to look like, what their role is, and what my role as mediator is.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process that empowers the parties to a dispute to (1) identify the issues, (2) brainstorm solutions to each issue, one issue at a time, (3) evaluate those solutions to that first issue by asking specific questions and reality testing, and (4) come to a joint decision on that one issue. The parties will then decide what issue to discuss next, understanding that many issues are related to each other. They have maximum control over the process and the outcome. Mediation requires that the parties compromise, communicate, and collaborate with each other.
What do you do as mediator?
My job as mediator is to ensure that the parties feel comfortable and safe. Building rapport and trust is important. Mediators also must remain neutral at all times.
I need to (1) listen carefully to each party, (2) clarify statements made and information exchanged for full understanding, (3) ask questions designed to elicit information the parties may need, (4) keep the parties on track and focused on the issues, (5) assist the parties in gathering information from each other and identify ways to gather other needed information, (6) help the parties test and examine potential agreements, (7) suggest when outside experts, such as tax consultants, financial neutrals, therapists, appraisers, and/or subject matter experts, may be needed, and (8) facilitate communication and negotiation.
After joint decisions are reached on each identified issue, I draft an agreement that reflects those decisions.
What if I can't get through a mediation session because I am so upset?
Common emotions in disputes are grief, anger, and fear. Mediation is not a therapy session. But we acknowledge emotions. As a lawyer I was not trained to address emotion; as a mediator I am. Acknowledgement empowers the parties, creates a legitimate sense of control and fairness, and creates the opportunity to restore, preserve, or enhance relationships. We validate emotions by (1) noticing the presence of emotion, (2) being present and giving all of our attention to the person who is speaking, and (3) acknowledging and naming the emotion.
I loved these messages about Rosh Hashanah from President Biden and Sheryl Sandberg. Many of my clients go through a period of reflection and renewal and look forward to a clean slate following mediation.
From President Joe Biden:
This Rosh Hashanah, Jewish communities throughout America and across the globe will celebrate the birth of the world and the beginning of a new year.
With the piercing sound of the shofar and the sweetness of apples dipped in honey, the Jewish New Year ushers in a sacred time of reflection, repentance, and renewal. A time to pause and look inward. During these Days of Awe, we have the opportunity to ask what kind of person we want to be and how we have measured up.
Just as individuals can seek renewal, so too can nations. This past year has seen encouraging progress for our nation. More Americans are securing the dignity of a good-paying job. Fewer children are living in poverty. With COVID-19 no longer the same disruptive threat it was, families can once more gather around the Rosh Hashanah dinner table and sit together in their synagogues.
At the same time, we have much more work to do to realize the values that bind us as Americans and to restore the soul of our nation. In the coming year, we must not only look inward, but also look to each other. We must rebuild our communities through empathy and acts of kindness, bridging the gap between the world we see and the future we seek.
Jill and I offer our warmest wishes to everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah in the United States, Israel, and around the world. May your prayers be heard and your faith revitalized—and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life. Shana Tovah.
From Sheryl Sandberg:
Rosh Hashanah reminds us of the power of new beginnings. It's a chance to reflect on the past year and to turn toward the future with hope. It’s a time to recommit to doing our part to make the world a kinder, more equal place. Regardless of faith, I hope all of us take a moment to give thanks today and try to be better to each other in the new year.
May our days ahead be sweeter, healthier, and brighter. From my family to yours, Shana Tova.
Guest blogger Harold Halpern is a lawyer who grew up in Buffalo, retired at age 85, and traveled by himself from Sarasota, Florida to Tel Aviv, Israel at age 88 in May, He is a board member of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. He also writes a column for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. He is currently planning a trip to Abu Dhabi for February, 2023. Here is his story of his recent May trip to Israel.
I was delighted to accept my daughter Lisa’s invitation to be a guest blogger. In mid-May I went to Israel with four legal colleagues for a week of informal meetings with judges, lawyers, think tanks, members of the government, and opinion makers to learn about legal, political, and social matters. I met up with my colleagues at the Newark airport on May 14th.
After meeting with retired Supreme Court Justice Ely Rubenstein on May 19th, I missed a step as we were leaving the Supreme Court Building in Jerusalem. I went flying into the wall and floor with my right foot splayed out perpendicular to my body. I could not move it, nor could I get up. One of my colleagues was able to help me sit up, which enabled me to slide my back against the wall.
From that moment I was physically unable to care for myself without help. Soon a wheelchair was procured into which I was physically lifted. Now what do I do? I called my good friend Stuart Fischman, originally from Buffalo, who made Aliyah to Israel about 20 years ago. We had made plans for lunch together with a group of his Israeli friends.
“Stuart,” I said, “change of plans.” I told him what had happened, and he directed me to a clinic where he would meet me. I could do nothing on my own. My friends hailed me a taxi, lifted me into it without twisting my leg or foot, and the leader of our small mission, Steve Greenwald, went with me. He went into the clinic and found a wheelchair. It was a hard push and a long walk.
I pointed to a young man wearing a kippah; a head covering worn by traditional Jews. Steve asked him to push me, a stranger, to the 2nd floor clinic. He did so without hesitation and refused to accept any money. He was fulfilling a mitzvah to help a person in need.
I had fractured my hip. I decided to go back to my hotel and then later was taken by ambulance to Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv. I was there from May 19th to May 29th. I was unable to do anything to help myself or even get out of bed until the last couple of days. After some uncertainty, the doctors decided not to operate but to let normal healing to take place, as the fractured bone had not been displaced. I was totally dependent on the nurses and attendants each day.
My daughters, Lisa and Samantha, took over the mysteries of my travel insurance to have me flown home. This task was not easy. I had bought a travel insurance policy on my own before I left for my trip in case something went wrong. Pursuant to the provisions of my policy, I was promised 24/7 emergency assistance services.
But Lisa was not able to get anyone from the travel insurance company to pick up the phone or respond to emails. She and Samantha spent hours calling the company and holding on the phone each day, hoping that someone would answer, as well as emailing the company. They finally sent messages via LinkedIn to the CEO, COO, Counsel, and Executive Assistant to the CEO of the company asking for help on my behalf. Five long days after the fall, someone returned Lisa's call. Lisa used her dispute resolution skills to persuade the insurance company’s representatives to give her their personal cell numbers so that she could easily communicate with them.
She also persuaded the company to send a medical escort from the United States to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv so that I could travel home since I had missed my flight scheduled for May 21st. This win was accomplished after many required forms were filled out by the clinic in Jerusalem and the hospital staff in Tel Aviv to convey the need for a medical escort. I was scheduled to travel from Tel Aviv to Sarasota, connecting through Newark, New Jersey. The escort was a medical doctor who helped me to pack up, check in for the flights, be transported by ambulance to the Tel Aviv airport, obtain a wheelchair, and transfer me from wheelchair to airplane seat. He stayed with me throughout the change of plane and stop over in Newark, the plane ride to Sarasota, and the ambulance transport to Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Lisa reinforced my opinion that interest based negotiation and mediation are effective tools for dispute resolution. I initially had concluded that the insurance company was a scam due to the complete lack of response and was ready to fight. I had contacted my own personal lawyer back in Buffalo from my Tel Aviv hospital bed and asked him to run a global check to see if the company was legitimate. Before he had a chance to do so, my daughters were able to establish a very friendly relationship with a wonderful representative of the insurance company. They all worked together for days to ensure that I was able to fly home safely. At present, we are still sorting out all of the medical bills with Medicare, my supplemental health insurance plan, and my travel insurance plan.
I spent two weeks at Sarasota Memorial Hospital as I slowly began rehabilitation. Now, two months after my fall in Jerusalem, I am walking with an appreciated sense of freedom which disability inhibits. So, I marvel at those who struggle to overcome greater disabilities. We must do all that we can to help to enable everyone who is physically or mentally impaired to cope and to succeed in our complex society.
A final word. I am appreciative of Stuart staying with me at the clinic, my daughter Samantha’s in-laws, Yossi and Netta Kantor, who guided me through Israel’s medical systems, and my colleagues and friends who visited regularly. My wife, Susan, kept up my spirits with her love and devotion. And our children and grandchildren’s love touched my soul.
Excited to share that the book Grief and Fatigue: Families & the Pandemic, Stories of Struggle and Hope has just been published thanks to the work of Michael Lang and Peter Nicholson. This is the third book in a series on the pandemic with the goal of providing advice, support, compassion, and hope from mediators and professionals from around the world. I was happy to contribute my story Four Graduations and a Surprise Wedding in March of 2022 to the book. Here is the unedited version.
Our family had a big year in 2021 -- we celebrated four graduations and threw a surprise wedding!
To recap: our five children embarked on new phases in their lives in 2021. Katherine graduated from college and moved to Houston with her boyfriend; she is working in sales and marketing. Will graduated from military college and is in northern Virginia working in cybersecurity. Julia graduated from graduate school with a Master's degree in Journalism and relocated back to Arlington with her boyfriend; she is working as a writer in D.C. John graduated from high school and went off to college, continuing his work for PBS. Katie started a new job consulting in D.C. and bought her first home.
Education and work for our children during the pandemic was very difficult for John, a high energy extrovert, who spent much of his junior and senior years of high school at home learning and working remotely. Katherine and Will, however, adjusted nicely to attending college online for many months. Julia adapted well to working on her graduate degree remotely, and Katie had no problem starting a new job working remotely from home.
It is not easy to throw a surprise wedding, but Joel and I figured that having met over fifty-five years ago in kindergarten in Buffalo, N.Y., dating for the past eleven years, and being engaged for the past six years, the time was right. We were suddenly empty nesters. We thought a surprise wedding just before the holidays would be wonderful for everyone. We knew that the children would be very happy and excited for us. In addition, their lives would not be impacted in any way from our marriage. We had blended our two families very slowly and gradually over the past eleven years. Most people assumed we were already married.
It was challenging to accomplish the goal of having our children gather in one place on time, and we were worried that maybe their jobs would interfere or that they would not be punctual or that they would not be dressed appropriately for wedding pictures. We had told them weeks before that we were having a family gathering at 11:30 a.m. on December 19th. They kept forgetting. So, we told them the day before that there was going to be a wedding.
The night before the wedding, December 18th, the photographer canceled abruptly after I emailed her to confirm details for the wedding day. She said in an email that we were not a good fit for her because she was not vaccinated at all. We felt stressed, angry, and defeated. It would have been nice to relax the night before our wedding. John found a replacement photographer who was vaccinated, always wears a mask when he photographs weddings, and was available last minute.
Katherine’s Saturday morning flight from Houston had been delayed for hours, and she finally arrived home Sunday morning, the day of the wedding, at 3:30 a.m. I had a nagging thought in the back of my mind that she could be Covid positive, given she had spent the entire day and night at the airport with throngs of holiday travelers.
We had a wonderful wedding day on Sunday, December 19th. There were a total of ten people at our wedding at home: five kids and a boyfriend, one rabbi, one photographer, and a bride and groom. Our long time friend and rabbi Jeff played two beautiful songs on his guitar. Afterwards, our family went to brunch on the Georgetown waterfront and then returned home to exchange holiday gifts and trim the tree. While we would have loved to have had our families and friends with us, we did not consider having a bigger wedding due to the current Omicron variant. It was fun to share pictures and the video of our wedding later that night. We loved hearing that our happy news surprised everyone, made people smile, and was a bright spot in a long hard year.
Katherine flew back to Houston on December 20th, received her booster vaccine the following day, and the next day, December 22nd, she texted to say she had tested positive for Covid. We could not believe this news. We all tried to remain calm. Luckily, she did not feel sick and never developed any symptoms. We notified the rabbi and photographer immediately. These calls were tough to make right before the holidays. It was impossible at first to find Covid home tests in the stores just before Christmas Day. The lines for PCR tests were eight hours long outside at the testing kiosk we had used previously. Drop-ins were not allowed, and appointments were not available anywhere. We finally were able to purchase rapid home tests on Christmas Eve day after a lot of driving around and searching. We were relieved that we all tested negative.
Several friends and relatives were in touch those last days of December to congratulate us and to say that they had come down with Omicron after months of avoiding Covid. Knowing that their symptoms were manageable and mild helped us to work through the fear and anxiety we had about being directly exposed to Covid. We felt that we had done the right things for so long – getting vaccinated and boosted, wearing masks, washing hands, staying at home, avoiding crowds. We knew we needed to continue to take those precautions. Our decision to remain vigilant and careful was strengthened because we know two people suffering with long Covid.
Long walks in nature on sunny days have helped us to cope with the exhaustion of dealing with Covid. With spring approaching, we are looking forward to getting back out into the world at our own pace after a long two years of staying inside and being careful. We don’t plan to throw caution to the wind, but we do feel ready to get out of the house, and do the things we used to love to do, all while continuing to protect our health.
Photo by JB Elliott photography
Shaken Ground, Steady Breaths
Guest blogger, educator, community leader, and friend Annie Moyer is Co-Founder and President of Awakening Yoga Spaces, as well as Co-Owner and Director of Sun and Moon Yoga Studio in Arlington, Virginia.
Recent rulings from the Supreme Court, revelations on Capitol Hill, and the ongoing pandemic have shaken loose the constitutional, institutional, and biological ground we stand on. And like an earthquake that affects those closest to the fault line, the aftershocks of far-reaching events rattle the fiercest for those whose suffering is already heightened by any form of marginalization.
But everyone's feet are fastened to the same earth, so when it shakes for some, it shakes for all, regardless of our views. Yoga scholar Dr. Shyam Ranganathan (@yogaphilosophy_com) characterizes the yoga tradition as a force for personal and social transformation that “renders our activity appropriate for the challenges we face now.” It’s a call that echoes at once morally inward and ethically outward, asking what’s our next move? The first step is inevitably universal and arguably simplistic: take a breath, and note your place on the literal ground. Orienting to our present moment’s truth is the only way we can know which direction to aim our next steps.
If something hurts, feel the pain. If something confuses, ask questions. If something angers, trace the anger’s source. If something is untenable, reach out to what you can reliably touch: a friend to give a comforting hug, a donation button to give material support, or the earth where you’ve planted – with eternal optimism – your summer tomatoes.
And if conversations about hot-button issues leave you shaken, choose a practice that calms, balances, and primes you for the actions you deem most wise. If you choose to do that with us here at Sun & Moon, know that our ground is steady and our arms are open.
Modern Jones and Me on Mediation
Right before the pandemic began, my friend and colleague Heidi Ellenberger Jones of Modern Jones Real Estate asked if she could interview me to understand how the mediation process works. When the pandemic hit, I forgot all about this interview. The other day, Heidi posted the video on her Instagram, and I am sharing it below.
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.