Friday, August 14, 2015

Sometimes You Just Get It Right

It was August 30, 1975.  We were going to see the Rolling Stones.  I was accompanied by my college roommate, Jim, and two wonderful women who went with me to SUNY @ Geneseo.  The concert was at Rich Stadium, where the Buffalo Bills play football.   We were all totally excited.  We were in the stadium by the early afternoon.  It was a beautiful, warm, sunny summer day,  a perfect day for an outdoor concert!  I don’t remember who was the first warm up band, but I remember Sheryl Crow being the second act.  She was still not well known.  When we heard her, we knew she was going to be a great star.  
The Stones were incredible that night.  The music was amazing.  Jagger was outstanding as he danced across the stage.  He was Jumping Jack Flash, the Midnight Rambler and an unsympathetic devil all in one.  Keith Richards’ on lead guitar was brilliant.  Hearing him live, you came to appreciate all that he added to the sound.  Billy Preston was playing keyboard for this tour which just added to the fullness.  There was a frenzy that ignited when they performed Midnight Rambler.  This had to have been before the Altamont disaster.  Jagger took off this big, white belt that he was wearing and he repeatedly whipped it on the stage in time with the music.  It had a dark eroticism to it.  It totally electified the audience.  Later, they sang “Wild Horses” acappella.  They all grouped around Jagger and sang back up to his lead.  It was beautiful, powerful and impressive. 
The 1975 concert ended close to midnight.  Fireworks marked the finale.  Then there were 100,000 people exiting the stadium at the same time.  It was the only time in my life where I was in such a tight crowd of people that you literally couldn’t move other than to go with the flow of the mass.  It was scary.  By the time I got home and to my car, it was almost 3 AM.  
In the fall of 1975 I was lucky enough to be driving a copper-colored Ford Mustang hatchback.  It had 360 hp and was gorgeous.  I had spent the day before filling the car with my most important possessions.  At 4 AM, I got in my little Mustang and drove off to Connecticut.  On Monday I started an internship at Elmcrest Psychiatric Hospital in Portland, Connecticut.  I was 25 years old and I would never again live in New York State.  This was farewell to my childhood home.  It was a wonderful way to leave.  In my way of thinking, the Rolling Stones gave me a send off to my new life.  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

When Does Grief End?

My wife Catherine, taught me an important lesson about grief.  It was the fall after our daughter was born.  She had a very serious look on her face when we sat down to talk.
“Every year during the fall, you get sick.  Now that we have our daughter that has to change.”  I really didn’t understand what she was talking about.  She could see it in my face.  “William, every year at this time, you get sick.  When you get sick, I get sick, and the baby will get sick and we’ll have a miserable Christmas.  It has to change.”  I was still confused about what she wanted from me.  “Let me put it this way, your mother is here in our marriage and she’s fucking with us.  Get her out.”    
This was a challenge.  At this point, my mother had been dead over ten years. I was sent to the basement (exile) to “work” on this issue.  At first I didn’t think she knew what she was talking about.  But she knew me well and I knew she believed it.   
My mother died in late September.  The anniversary of her death was always a powerful time for me.  My parent’s wedding anniversary was in October, my mother’s birthday was around Thanksgiving and Christmas was our big holiday.  Fall was filled with emotional anniversaries.  In September I would start to avoid my feelings.  Clearly, the cork was put in the bottle with the anniversary of her murder.  As Fall proceeded I would get more and more depresssed.  I bottled up the sadness I had from all those family times that I used to celebrate.    I would get more and more depressed and numb, until I would get sick.  Catherine was right.
Then I had a memory of an experience I had shortly after her death.  My brother and I had decided to rent out our farmhouse in Rochester.  We should have sold it then, but neither of us could consider parting with it.  I was given the job of going up to the house, cleaning it and preparing it for sale.  
I knew that this was going to be tough.  I knew I would have to clean up blood.  When I arrived at the house, I steeled myself to the task at hand.  If I allowed myself to feel the sadness, I would never be able to complete the job.  So I turned off all my feelings and went about my cleaning.  By the time I left there, 8 hours later, I was sick as a dog.  I felt like I was coming down with a flu.  But I needed to get back to Connecticut, so I jumped in my car and started driving.  I was outside of Albany, when I finally had to pull over.  Once again, I felt the hurt.  It was the familiar pain that accompanied losing my mother.  It was excrutiating.  I believe I sobbed for over 15 minutes.  It was deep and cleansing.  It took me a while, before I could regroup and get back on the road.  But by the time I reached Massachusetts, I was totally healthy.  My body had washed away whatever it needed to.  
I knew what I had to do.  In order to get my mother out of our family, I had to spend some time with her.  Each Fall, I had to allow myself to mourn my mother.  I needed to cry and feel the loss.  Some years I would pull out pictures of her and that would open me up.  Some years I would write her a letter and tell her about my life.  To this day, I can still find tears if I think about how much my kids would have loved their grandparents and vice versa.  That thought will always be a trigger for me.  
For several years as fall would approach, my wife would remind me that my mother was sneeking back into our lives.  Would I kindly get her out?  For more than a decade, this was our ritual every year.  In fall, I would start taking time to think about my family, my childhood, my mom and dad.  Eventually, I would open the flood gates and have a good cry.  Once I opened up to the tears, I wouldn’t get sick.  
I don’t know when I noticed that Catherine stopped bringing it up.  Eventually, it was no longer necessary.  While the pain will always be there, as time and my family healed me, my mom’s death lost its power over me.  

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Great Mothers

Sometimes great mothers end up in my office.  I call them "Great Mothers."  Great mothers are the ones that can juggle their responsibilities to the children, the husband, the home and a job.  They don’t question their duties, but go about them effectively and with love.  They are comfortable making dinner, while feeding the baby, kissing their husband hello and checking their schedule for the next day.  You wouldn’t think that great mothers would end up talking to a therapist. 
It has to do with the development of the family.  Juggling everything for everybody works when the kids are small.  But we all need to learn to do things for ourselves.   The more you do for maturing children what they can do for themselves, the more you handicap them.   Adolescents need to learn how to take care of themselves.  This is a slow process that continues until the child is launched.  When problems occur during teen years, great mothers revert back to doing the things that worked before, namely fixing things.  Now, these efforts backfire.  What the child really needs is enough support to handle the problem themselves if they can.  The message the child gets is that they can't handle their own life, so parents will control them.  Parenting requires that the adult continually be changing as to how they raise their child.  This is a difficult shift for some mothers to make.  It requires that the parent watch their child fail, hurt, face disappointment and generally struggle through the chaos.  As parents, we hurt when our kids are hurting, so we want to spare them.  Further, adolescents are now much more capable of doing permanent damage to themselves or others.   Now matter what the age of the child, parents will want to protect them.  The basic job of parenting is to teach the child to take care of themselves.  This means that mom needs to change how she does things.  In order to change this pattern, mothers can start by finding one thing a week, that they are doing, that their child could do for themselves and give it up.  When the pattern is broken for the first time, parents tend to apply the process to other issues.  As they learn to adapt, great mothers again become great mothers.