Holiday Post 3: Remembering and Xmas

I was thinking about my grandfather and how we used to write letters back and forth when I was in college. If he were alive today he would be 112.

But he's been gone 32 years.

The story goes that Fam Doc, my spouse (a.k.a. "G.D." or "S." in previous posts, here-to-fore "F.D" or Fam Doc) had never been to a funeral until the year he asked me to marry him. F.D. had a high fever that day, the day we were walking in the rain and he asked me, and he claims that he was delirious. But since I accepted the proposal he felt he couldn't take it back. At the time he was a funeral virgin.

Until six months into our engagement when Zaide' (my grandfather) passed away. The wedding had been planned for the following summer just so that he and Bubbie could come in from Florida during a warm month in Chicago. There were other plans.

I always thought it cute that my Zaide' referred to the Almighty as the Old Mighty. I had never heard this expression before we started our correspondence, and on occasion, generally when I'm thinking of him, it comes to mind and I use it.

Why he called the Master of the Universe the Old Mighty is unclear to me. It could have been that he was hard of hearing, which he was, but most probably this was a pun, his idea of a joke. Old guys like him mainly made little jokes and hummed when they weren't walking around in tallis and tephillin (prayer shawl and phylacteries) or feeding cats.

So one of the ways I keep Zaide' current is to refer to Him as the Old Mighty. Doing that sort of thing is


a deliberate reminder that the parents of my parents had much to do with the person that I am today.

So what we're going to talk about today is keeping memories current. Keeping them live.

I've talked a bit about loss in previous posts, but this time of year the subject comes back in spades.

It is really why therapy docs are so busy at holiday time. In practice we're dealing with loss, primarily, thoughts of others who are no longer with us, and then there's the ultimate misery, dealing with people who are. This busy season for therapy docs is why people who are close to me hear from me a little less often. Birthday presents, anniversaries, cards, all kinds of things aren't shelved, but might get post-poned until after Xmas.

I could have titled the post, Passing On or Coping with the End of Life as We Know It. Loss is something that rallies the stuff of coping. No matter how old a person is at the time of death, those who survive have to integrate the change into a new way of seeing things. One less present, one less card, one less plate on the table, one less everything.

So patients come to see me this time of year to make sense out of it and to shore up. They come back if they haven’t been around during the year. We family therapists tell people that your therapist is the person you hook back into when the family moves into a new developmental stage (read that, crisis) that rocks the senses. So I get people before the weddings, after the births of babies, launching children to preschool or college, etc. all year long. Events spawn crises.

Holidays can feel like crises.

Last week, one of my favorite people came by and told me about four (read that four) losses she suffered this year. I’ll change the events so that you can’t possibly identify her. She could be a He for all you know, too.

Let’s call her Elizabeth. In January Elizabeth she lost her father. In March she lost a child. In July the dog was hit by a car, and in August her husband, who was only in his forties and had minimal health problems, keeled over behind his desk on the job.

Elizabeth was doing very well in spite of it, but felt a little down. That was why she reconnected. Her past therapy was about childhood issues and we had done a little family therapy to clean up some blended family issues. I couldn’t believe she waited this long, truthfully, to reconnect, considering. Any two of those losses would have knocked the wind out of most people who had previously suffered from major depression.

She said she hadn’t called sooner because she was doing all right and had lots of family support (always therapeutic, friends, be there if you can for others). Now she wanted to touch base because she was feeling very sad. She was still able to work and take care of the little things in life like shopping, hygiene, the things that slide when folks are really depressed.

We talked about a half hour, neither of us wanting to take away the umbrella before it stopped raining. Thank you Baruch Levine, wherever you are, for that metaphor about defenses. The metaphor means that unless a person can handle feeling bad, therapists shouldn’t MAKE them feel bad by deliberately drawing out things that make them sad. The umbrella is a defense. (Make a note, budding therapy docs, please.)

Rather than wrap up the visit prematurely I asked, innocently (not so innocently), “And what about Christmas?”

The floodgates let loose, but I knew she had a decent dam (her umbrella is pretty good, in other words, so I could risk asking the question), not that many tears, just a few, because she has a good dam. We looked at one another with understanding.
“I haven’t put up the tree,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, you
know. It’s emotional and it’s physical and I only have my one daughter at
home with me to help.”

Uh, huh, I concurred.

“But he would have wanted one. He loved Xmas trees.”

Uh, huh.

Pregnant pause. I’m waiting. I know she has to do this. She has to put up the tree. She looks at me, guilty. Then, with determination:

“So I’m going to do it. I’m going to get it up. I’ll have some of my nephews help me.”
She brightened.

That’s what you do, friends. That’s exactly what you do to remember someone. You do things they would have wanted you to do, or you talk about things they would have talked about. Or you talk in the language that they used (which is why if there is any yiddish still spoken these days, the language still exists).

The job this time of year is to make a memory a living memory.

That’s what you do. Way to go "Elizabeth". Get up the tree.

Links to previous holiday posts:

Holiday Post #1: About feeling bad about the SPENDING it takes to spread holiday cheer.

Holiday Post #2 A first narrative on remembering.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


k├»rstin said…
i havent been here in a bit, so i had much reading to do. but i really found it rewarding, and helpful. the 'affection speak' post was really enlightening.

i wont sta away so long next time ... ;)
kaylee said…
nice postenjoyed reading it
Andy said…
As I was reading and writing tonight, I've been thinking about my grandparents who have passed away recently. I miss them, and it was hard to lose three of my four (my last grandmother is still alive) in less than six months. Both my grandpas died in the same month!

It's sad to think about not being able to make new memories with them, but pleasant to think back on the good times we had together. The holidays are a time when you really do miss them a lot.