About the author The Hope Diamond The Healing Tree home page Hospital study guide Download the Book The discussion questions

Questions for Discussion

These questions will help you think about how the story in The Healing Tree can relate to your own life story. They will also give you ideas for discussing the book with friends and family, coworkers, and members of a book club.

Carrie Anne’s is a fictional story, but in a larger sense it is also the story of millions of people who have transformed a shattering adversity into the platform for a future miracle. But people don’t, and can’t, bring about these transforming miracles without help – lots of help. What is our collective responsibility – within our families and within society – to help those who have suffered serious misfortune? What is our individual responsibility to devote some of our resources (time as well as money) to helping others?

Patrick Franklin, the CEO of Memorial Hospital, commented on the fact that there was a lot of pain in the organization, including the daily pain experienced by employees. He could have been speaking about any organization anywhere, couldn’t he? Combining his comments with those of Pastor Andy Brennan, about how people who actively participate in support groups can heal more quickly, consider this question: what can any of us do to give our workplaces more of the qualities of a support group, in which members are there for each other, help each other, and when appropriate, pray for each other?

In her speech in the Healing Garden, Carrie Anne challenged her coworkers to make Memorial the world’s first “misery-free hospital” by transforming every complaint into either a blessing or a solution. She acknowledged that this would probably take a miracle, but added that in the years since her accident she had grown to routinely expect miracles. Discuss the climate of your own workplace – how much toxic emotional negativity is there, and what is the impact on morale, productivity, and even people’s health? What would it take to mount such a challenge in your organization?

At a time when Carrie Anne’s dreams had been shattered, several people played key roles in helping her find new dreams – Maggie, Amanda, Evelyn, and others. What is our collective responsibility to help people find new dreams from the ashes of their nightmares, and what techniques can we use to do so?

The Gallup organization has conducted studies showing that many people have strengths that they are never called upon to use at work. This could include, for example, a nurse who likes to write poetry, which is not part of the nursing job description. Should managers encourage people to find a way to bring a strength to work? Should employees look for ways to see their job description as a floor – the basic requirements upon which they add their own special touch – rather than as a ceiling – an absolute limit on what they are willing or able to do on the job?

In The Healing Tree, Dr. Paulson encourages Robbie to think about becoming a doctor. Yet in the world of today, many doctors are telling young people to avoid medicine because of the bureaucratic hindrances and income limitations. What is the responsibility of the professional (in any profession) to promote his or her profession, and/or to promote his or her organization?

Maggie told Carrie Anne that writing poems for others was as much a part of her own healing as it was the healing of the person for whom she was writing. One of the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous is that of “mutuality.” The relationship between the recovering alcoholic and his or her sponsor is a two-way street. Being a sponsor is as important for the recovery process as having a sponsor. How could adopting this philosophy of mutuality help any of us be more effective as parents, as managers, as coworkers, and as caregivers? Discuss how this philosophy pertains to your relationships – at home, at work, and in your community.

In her poem The Hope Diamond, Maggie makes the distinction between false hope and true despair. In our roles as parents, as managers, and as caregivers, how do we make the judgment as to when to encourage people to pursue their “impossible” dreams, and when to tell them to face reality? How do we strike the best balance, for ourselves and for those we are seeking to help in their own journeys through life? In discussing this question, it is useful to consider the distinction between positive thinking and wishful thinking: Positive thinking is expecting something and working to make it happen; wishful thinking is hoping for something and waiting for someone else to make it happen.

At one point, Carrie Anne uses the term “protective denial.” In his book Blindsided, Richard M. Cohen describes his experience in dealing with a devastating illness. He said that for him, “denial has been the linchpin of the determination to cope and to hope... Denial encourages anyone to test perceived limits and, as a consequence, to postpone concessions. There is nothing wrong with that.” Do you agree, and if so, what is your responsibility to allow someone else to engage in “protective denial,” even if you think they are being delusional?

For a long time, Carrie Anne rides on an emotional roller coaster. In poems like Blue Ice and Resting in Peace, she is in the pit of despair. Yet by story’s end, Carrie Anne has started a new career as a poetry therapist, learned how to ski with special paraplegic equipment, and become a grandmother. How do people find the strength and the courage to stay on the roller coaster without falling off, and what can we do to help out when it hits a downturn?

“Where was God? Why didn’t God do something?” These are inevitable questions after any sort of tragedy. They are certainly questions that Carrie Anne asked (and which Andy Brennan did his best to answer). What do you think? Where was God in this story? Where is God any time that war, natural disaster, or other tragedy strikes?

In discussing her living will with her son Robbie, Carrie Anne draws a line between life in a wheelchair, which she was willing to live with and fight for, and life as a brain-diminished human vegetable being kept alive by machines. This is a hugely controversial issue in our world today, which has enormous implications for the allocation of limited medical resources, not to mention human health and dignity. Where should the line be drawn, why should it be drawn there, and what will it take to gain public support for that line?

When Carrie Anne suggested that she would begin with an electric wheelchair, Amanda the physical therapist commented on how it would totally change the way others looked at her. To what extent has our society stigmatized people with disabilities, and what else can be done to remind all of us that these fellow human beings deserve to be treated with equal dignity?
What do you make of Bryan Hammerman’s “rant” about obese people waddling into shopping malls to stuff their faces with fast food? What do the various dramas in The Healing Tree tell us about personal responsibility and accountability in our world today?

Thank God Ahead of Time is the title of a book by Father Michael Crosby. It is also an excellent mindset for dealing with adversity, real or apparent. Many people look back on adversity as having been a blessing, in the way that Bill Terry (the wheelchair juggler) did. What can you do to internalize the “Thank God Ahead of Time” philosophy yourself – before you need it? How can you help others do the same?

 
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