Saying goodbye

DESHeadshotBS-1‘On the outside the emotions are being covered?’

‘Yep, there’s a terrible risk in saying “goodbye” that something on the inside will rupture out of me.’

‘Rupture?’

‘Yes, I remember standing on stage … in my mid-20s. I was addressing the audience and was about to thank a member of my band, someone I’d been really close to since I was a child who was emigrating to Australia after the gig. I was stopped in mid-sentence … a syllable more and I would enter the rupture. I turned my face from the audience. The silence on stage was horrific. I don’t remember what next.’

‘You say “rupture”.’

‘When my mother died, I was stuck. The complex grief of losing a mother that I’d only related with well for part of my life left this dark grey block in my chest and the back of my head. I knew I needed to cry but I couldn’t bear to hear the awful sound that wanted to exit me every time I started. Eventually, I turned the music up so loud I couldn’t hear myself cry. But it’s not what I did … not what it sounded like coming out of my body. My inner ears told me what my outer ones couldn’t.’ [Silence]

‘Rupture?’ [Silence]

‘Yes … rupture. The most guttural gasp and then, and then it vomits this sound. [Silence] I’ve heard it from other people. I think it’s the actual sound of loss?’

‘Is it fearful to lose then?’

‘Isn’t … isn’t it fundamental to loving? To connection? The only way to not experience it as far as I’m wired would be by dying so you couldn’t experience loss.’

‘Do I need to worry about that last sentence?’

‘No, no … God no. Nothing like that. It’s that saying goodbye is so fundamental.’

‘So, as it’s a patient that’s brought this up for you, what do you need from supervision today?’

‘I need to say that I have a daughter. A therapy daughter, you know that. It comes from the fact that she adopted me, as a therapy dad. She led, I followed. I had the space in my life to be that figure for a while.’

‘It’s been what? Four years?’

‘Yes, four. There’s been longer, much longer, but I was “therapy uncle”, “good person”, “repairing therapist”, “the first good guy”.’

‘Never therapy dad?’

‘Never “therapy dad”. You know that bit in the training film for therapists, Gloria … the bit where Rogers says, “Gee Gloria, right now, in the moment, I think I do love you like a father”? It kills trainees. They aren’t ready for how it can work in the room. They think it’s a no-no – like he’s made a mistake. But what’s therapy without love? Isn’t it about a form of love? Safe, ethical, non-erotic love?’

And then it hits.

‘Anny is my daughter. I love her as such because she needed me to. So that the therapy could work, so that she could let go of things, discover, rediscover and then let go.’

‘You have a daughter.’ [Silence] ‘You have a daughter.’ There is another pause as the listening therapist collects himself. ’Okay, so we know you understand the process. You know how to deliver safe, therapeutic love to women and men. It’s been a particular theme for you over the last five or six years. What’s different this time?

‘This is only just in my head but … I think it’s that I have to realise that therapy dad is a foster dad. He has to let go. Fully. No matter how much he loved. He has to have played the full role, a surrogate, but when the job is done … [there is a long silence; the room charges with emotion] … when the job is done he has to make space to receive the next therapy son, daughter [niece, nephew].’

‘It’s part of our work for some patients.’

‘Yes patients – from pati – one who suffers.’

‘Imagine that everyone demanded this from us each session!’

The supervision couple laugh together. Letting go of the tension.

‘We supply what our Ps need; it’s a privilege.’

‘Honour?’

‘Yes, honour.’

‘And I wouldn’t change a moment of it, not for all those projections and transferences we have to hold.’

‘But saying goodbye!’

‘I was once given a wonderful message in a card from an “Anny” of mine.’ The supervisor reaches into a tin that is on the side of the desk. ‘There’s a whole bit before this, but here’s the bit that really showed such deep understanding of saying goodbye for me.’

There are things in this world

that even when they live in the past

and can no longer grow into the future,

retain their beauty forever.

For a moment the therapists catch each other’s eyes and each sees in the other the familiar sparkle of light when it catches water.

Duncan recounts from a therapy daughter …

“I feel able to fly, but I am sad to leave”

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Mother Nature

Portrait_002It’s pretty snug in the back of the café on the high street. Soft fried eggs are being popped by chips on most tables, washed down with builders’ strength teas while unapologetic white bread – spread with margarine – is busy mopping up baked bean sauce.

Across the aisle, to my right, a table of five sit talking – three young women in their mid-twenties, a giant of a man (probably thirty) and an angelic blonde child of about fifteen months who is sat in a high chair with her back towards me.

I’m not quite sure what first draws my attention to the group but I’m suddenly aware of something completely chilling. The woman closest to the child (who appears to be her mother) displays open anger and disgust, for no apparent reason, towards the child, who is finger feeding herself.

I am so tightly aligned with the mother’s eyes that I can’t believe she hasn’t seen me looking directly at their dyad. I’m unsettled. Here in the friendly atmosphere of my favourite greasy spoon, where I have never heard cross words spoken or seen tension displayed. Here in this friendly high street enclave I am deeply disconcerted at some momentary flashed expressions.

And now I’m no longer enjoying the acidic bite of the tinned tomatoes that accompany my eggs, chips and beans. My human ability to read two of the six universal emotions purported by Ekman and Friesen* have seen to that.

Mother is looking blankly at the child. Across the table engaged with her friends and partner she appears inconsistent: sometimes smiling and engaging but then turning to her child with poison and what I see as resentment. Father strokes the child’s head for a moment. Mother, checking to see the others are engaged away from her, flashes more disgust at her child. Mother’s upper lip is raised, the bridge of her nose wrinkles and her cheeks are high.

I think I raise my right hand to my mouth to try to cover the words I’d like to shout across the room. I want to stand up in the back of the café and address my fellow regular patrons. ‘Am I the only one who can see this?’ I’d shout. I want to race across the room and ask what is wrong with this friendship group that they do not challenge this mother, their friend. Why do they not want to protect the Angel from this storm?

I’ve lost my hunger and I am left in a universe of uncertainty. Did my own mother feel these emotions towards me when I was a child?

Angel, who has been so calm and contained for one this young, reaches over her plastic feeding bar and attempts to get to more food. Her father strokes her head gently once more. Mother stretches to the food, breaks off a crust of toast and drives it in the air past her daughter’s eyes to her own mouth, and drops it in. Every gesture aimed at Angel says, ‘I hate you; you disgust me.’

I deploy my inner therapist as my own referee against demonising this young mother.

Thankfully, mother and friends are ahead in their meals and don’t look as though they will sit and talk after they finish. Dad produces hand wipes for mum to clean Angel’s hands. The three engage, and Angel is allowed to witness and absorb more of her mother’s bile. Mother’s eyes dart around her friends and partner. She places the first wipe, now dirty, on Angel’s head; it looks like she wants to humiliate Angel, turn her into a rubbish dump. She begins to roughly clean her other hand. Father’s long arm reaches over and removes the wipe from Angel’s head and places it on the table. Mother smiles at her partner in a sarcastically petulant manner, then turns a disgusted face once more towards Angel – dismissing her.

My inner therapist has decided he is watching the acting out of an envious attack from mother to the child who has stolen her lover. It is dangerous, raw and uncomfortable to see. How have I been able to be this voyeur? How have I not been seen watching in plain sight?

Father rises from the table, stoops and picks up Angel from her chair. He holds her lovingly in an embrace and I see, as they twist around, the brightest of faces, a smile and a giggle. Now moments later mother is manoeuvring the empty pushchair through the café. She looks depressed, abandoned, weighted by the world.

The observation is over. I am unsettled: ‘What could I have done?’

I so hope I will not read of a mother and child killed on the nearby railway crossing or of Angel battered and abused, then removed into care.

This breakfast has left me feeling empty; I’ll not forget it for a long time yet.

* Ekman, P. and Friesen, W.V. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17(2), 124–129.

Duncan suggests …

… reading D. W. Winnicott’s classic text on this subject area – Babies and Their Mothers.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.