Guest Blog Series, Part 3: Big C and little c

Dawn Sully Pile is an author, speaker and hybrid coach/consultant whose passion is people. Whether working with children or adults, her intention is to be a catalyst for imagining new perspectives and possibilities and to step into them with courage. 

Dawn is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach and also holds a Master of Arts in Ministry. After 35 years in the education world she established her own business, Dawn Sully Pile, MA, CPCC, which is a wonderful potpourri.

For the sake of this writing, her most valued credential is that at 72 years old she is passionate about facilitating intergenerational conversations within families, whatever the family configuration, about end-of-life details and what matters most. To do so before it is too late is one of the greatest gifts to give and to receive. 

Her book is Baby Boomers +: A Guide to Designing These Years, Honoring the Full Circle of Life, and Creating Life-Giving Conversations. It is available through Amazon in paperback and on Kindle. You may be in touch with Dawn at

Part 3: Big C and little c

I am passionate about what some might think is a tiny niche in the bigger picture of life, death and legal documents. It is, however, a sliver that is one of the most important…small but mighty. At the top of the list.

We often shy away from this important sliver, that of not only the “Big C,” legal document communication, but also of all the “small c’s.” The “small c’s” are simply being in conversation about anything, sharing thoughts and answering questions that want to be asked about life. In many families, this dynamic sometimes calls forth the most from us, that of being willing to reveal parts of who we are that are not yet known.

Two stories of my own from the perspective of how I would love a “Big C” to resolve and reflections on a “little c”:

A “Big C” story:

One person in my extended family continues to be “in process” of completing legal documents. Papers get lost. It’s for another day. Or choices still need to be made. The reality is that the timeline might possibly extend into “too late.”

I am the one delegated to make decisions on this family member’s behalf. I have asked, nudged and encouraged completion so I am prepared, but you see, there is a stubborn factor over which I have little influence. I am, however, committed to continue nudging, going for the “Big C” because I know it will lift a weight for both of us.

Please do the work. The time is now, no matter how challenging it feels. When you step over the threshold of procrastination it ushers you into a lovely clearing, I promise.

A “small c” story:

My childhood family was perfectly imperfect when it came to communication, a pattern I continue to redesign. The weather, the cats, compliments about my oboe and piano practice, and all things easy about life made for happy conversation. There was appreciation and kindness, always, and generosity of spirit and heart.

At the same time, it did not feel like there were open windows into knowing my parents at a deeper level, as in more of their lives before me and insights into what they “really” thought and felt. I do not believe the omission was purposeful. I suspect it connected to similar practiced patterns handed down from their families, the focus perhaps on living through the Depression, World Wars, the 1918 flu and more.

I longed to hear about all I do not know, to know their lives better. If I had those years to live again, I would “pluck up my courage,” as the old-fashioned expression goes, and ask. It wasn’t even about big things… just knowing them more.

A couple of years ago we sold the property that belonged to our family since 1875. As I walked every inch of the land over the few days before the closing, I realized I was honoring the land on which my father (and his father) grew up, land that he, too, knew by heart, even more deeply than I. It was his home from birth until the night at 91 when he went peacefully to sleep forever.

I never asked him what his favorite places were and why…when he was a child…when he was a young adult…when he was a man in his 20s…and all the years after. As I walked and drank in my most treasured haunts for those last times, I wondered. What a simple question it would have been to ask.

Or a crazy question such as, “How in the world do you know all the words to fill in in a NY Times Crossword Puzzle when you are either at work or gardening and taking care of the property? How do you know them?”

Known for being a quiet man, I think I assumed he wanted to keep things to himself. Instead, I might have missed an opportunity to invite openness on his part and created an even stronger bond.

As an aside, I think of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. One of the agreements is to not make assumptions. That ties in beautifully with this topic of how we engage life-giving conversations together.

And here’s the thing…the communication pattern in my childhood family carried over into my own. I now step over thresholds I need and want to step over to sit and chat with my daughter about both of our lives, who I was, who we are and who we are becoming, to create a different “little c” paradigm.

I leave you with an absolute favorite quote of mine. I believe it opens a door to life-giving conversations when we remember it.

Madeleine L’Engle, in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, writes:

I am not an isolated, chronological statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and…and…and. If we lose any part of ourselves, we are thereby diminished. If I cannot be thirteen and sixty-one simultaneously, part of me has been taken away.”

May we relish all that we have been and are, and create exquisite times of shared conversation that fill us up, even the sad times, and leave with each one of our “families” a story that while perfectly imperfect is more deeply known.

Imagine. Reimagine. Be present. Share the “Big C” and “little c” and then… celebrate.

P.S. Any generation can initiate life-giving conversations!