Monday, May 23, 2011

Last Post

Last post for awhile. I'll try to pick up sometime this summer. Too much to do, and believe it or not, I spend a lot of time, maybe way too much time, online. Shocking, I know.

Meanwhile, you'll have to settle for The Five Ways We Grieve, (below) chew on that a bit and read other bloggers.  I'll tweet when I can.

Can't wait to come back. Miss you already,


The Five Ways We Grieve

A friend of mine stopped by late on a Saturday afternoon.  We learn together (that's code for learning Jewish stuff). It so happens she's a psychiatrist. The soft tap on the door rouses me from an out-stretched position on the floor.

"Did I wake you?" she asks, concerned. Nobody likes waking anybody.

"No, I was reading."

"I woke you, for sure."

"Seriously. I was reading." She looks at me in disbelief.

"Look. Here's the proof. I'm reading two books at once." I point to the books on the floor.

"How can you read two books at once?" she challenges me.

"I read a half-hour of one, get bored, pick up the other, read awhile, get bored, pick up the other." I thought everyone did this. One book is a novel, the other is The Five Ways We Grieve, by Susan A. Berger. For sure a summary of her Harvard dissertation research.

"I almost didn't even start this one," I tell my friend, pointing to Berger's book. "Because I hate anything that minimizes the topic to numbers like five. But her publicist sent me the book to review, so I felt obligated to at least start it. And the work is solid qualitative work, well done, and she really did find five themes, five ways that people grieve. She summarizes the literature well enough, makes sense, and teaches with examples. Who doesn't like examples?"

She agrees, lets me steer away from the topic. "Tea?" she asks.  You have to love psychiatrists.

If she had asked me for more, I would have told her that the way of grieving that we focus upon in therapy, the emotional kind, doesn't even get top billing in the book. Grieving isn't the issue so much as the way a person manages life under the influence.

There's an assumption that there will be sadness, anger, denial, guilt, maybe acceptance at some point. The five ways of grieving are ways of marching through it all.

For example, one way is to Memorialize. When I refused to give my father's things to consignment, chose to  inventory it all with Excel, put items up on Ebay, wrap and mail them myself, participate in the neighborhood yard sale ($1600 bucks!) this was a way of Memorializing my father. With every sold chackha (sounds like got'ch'kuh, or Kafka, hard ch) I could say, He invested in this.  Now she (mom) gets something out of it.

There are other ways to grieve. FD would probably Normalize, put it all in perspective. The deceased (pick any deceased) was really old and really sick and now he's out of his pain, and he would have liked those eulogies. Or:
Everyone has to dies sometime, we should really appreciate life. 
My brother and sister-in-law, who put my father's affairs in order, a monumental, ridiculously complicated task, returned life to normal. Turned chaos into sums.

Then there are those of us who can't do that, can't Normalize, who think: Death is really not normal, nothing about it is normal except that we all will die.

If anyone in my family had spare cash, or chose to raise huge sums to cure heart disease or arthritis, or any of the other illnesses that afflicted my father in his lifetime, this would be Activism, another way of grieving. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers grieve as Activists. Many moms in this club have lost a child and crusade to protect other mothers from the same affliction-- loss.

People who turn to answering the Big Questions in Life, who find that now they need meaning, understanding, spirituality, perhaps a way to explain a sudden, untimely death, are called Seekers. They turn to the holy books, consult rabbis, even people like me, for an explanation and meaning. Their previous carnations feel transparent.

And finally, when grief isn't resolved, when it shatters the psyche, sets us pathologically adrift, shatters our world view, rips our very selves from our bodies, we become vulnerable to grieving as Nomads. Losing a parent as a young child can do this to us. It's like losing such a huge piece that we can't be in the same room with everyone else because they all have their pieces and we don't. So we literally rove without seeking, rather we coast, float through the years. The ones who turn to alcohol, sex, and drugs after a loss fall into this box, this way of grieving.

Therapists see a lot of Nomads. Some call what we see unresolved grieving, others call it complicated.

Cheryl represents the classic Nomad. She lost her brother Allan in the North Tower 9-11 terrorist attack. Twenty years his senior, having parented him since his birth (I can't recall the details in the book, maybe they were orphans), the news of Allan's death hit her as if she had lost a child.

But because Allan had married Judy just the year before, authorities contacted her, not Cheryl, with tidbits of news.  Judy would be the one to hear that a bone matched Cheryl's DNA, for example. As his sister, not his wife, certainly not the mother of Allan's fatherless newborn child, Cheryl fell into the last to know about anything Allan-related category. Similarly, condolences, letters, settlements, media interviews-- all attention escaped her. Disenfranchised, this is called.

Disenfranchisement is quite common according to grief researchers. The disenfranchised are lovers, very close friends, colleagues, nieces and nephews, siblings. They are unacknowledged, sometimes even avoided after the death of a loved one. In Cheryl's case, perceived as independent, not needy, nobody visited her. No one took care of her in her grief.

This used to happen fairly regularly when sexual minority persons lost a partner. The deceased's parents called dibs on grieving and burial rights, relegating a partner to persona non gratis for lack of a marriage license.  Perhaps this is changing.

What moves me most about the topic of loss is the idea of attention. A part of grieving is wanting to isolate, to be left alone; and a part finds the loneliness, the isolation, unbearable. And there is a need to be nurtured, cared for, even fed.  A need for hands-on attention.  The Nomad, Cheryl, needed that,

Another way of grieving, not mentioned specifically in the big five, is ritual.  Ritual grieving that lasts longer than a few days, or one week.

A few weeks ago my rabbi lost his mother.  The following week, after the shiva,* he delivered a public eulogy, talked about his mother and what it was like for him to be a mourner.  He told us that during usually during shiva people visit and some bring food,  not just a Jewish thing I understand. Then the official week of sitting shiva passes and you have to follow a litany of rules (certainly a Jewish thing), mainly things you cannot do for a full year, and things you must do for a full year, like praising the One who took your loved one, three times a day.  Some of us ask someone else to go to the synagogue, to pray by proxy, to be sure it is done, the Kaddish, the prayer of praise.

And while everyone else is dancing at weddings, buying new clothes, listening to music, living, you stay home and putter around the house. It feels right, separating yourself, but you do feel alone. And that, the Rav says, is the point.


P.S.  This post has absolutely nothing to do with my break from blogging!  It just occurred to me that some people might think so.  

*Shiva marks the seven days following the burial of a Jewish person. During this time the children of the person who has passed away, the siblings and spouse, aren't supposed to go to work, or cook for themselves.  Rather they stay home and are comforted by visitors.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Snapshots: Obama and 1967

Obama and Netanyahu will be discussing return policies. 
1. It's been a long time since I wrote anything about Israel. I think it was the missiles that bothered me then, the ones aimed at Jewish towns not far from my family's homestead, just across the border from the Gaza strip.

Two heads of state, Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu will meet this afternoon. In his speech yesterday Mr. Obama supported an imminent Palestinian state and a divided Jerusalem. States, as you may know, have the right to bear arms, to aim missiles, to aim them wherever they want.

Thus Mr. Netanyahu reportedly wasn't happy with the speech, and neither am I.

Forget the rock throwing.  It will be missile launches over the Western Wall.

Mr. Obama, people might remember, ran on a platform of an undivided Jerusalem.  Israelis didn't trust him, not from what I read during that crucial election year, and the people in my velt didn't vote for him because they didn't trust him, either.  And yesterday, as if to confirm their fears, he declared that Israel should return to the 1967 borders, return land that serves as a buffer, protects Israel from terrorist aggressors.

Return land!  What is the return policy on most things? 

How about returning 6 million lives?

Some of us remember the Six Day War, the one that secured what we think of as Israel today.  In May of 1967, one hundred thousand Egyptians threatened Israel from the south and Iraqis poured into Jordan to the east.  The Syrians, up north, did what they could to amass an army. Rather than wait for the inevitable, Israel began an offensive that lasted only six days.

We know who won.  And now Mr. Obama wants Mr. Netanyahu to give it back, that land.

My suggestion is that Mr. Obama spend some time in Israel in a town near Gaza. Then talk about it some more.

2.  Remembering the Holocaust

I don't usually post videos, don't even watch too many, but FD forwarded me this one and he tends to be right about this sort of thing. It's a touching kids story, an award-winning short.  A little over three minutes.  No regrets.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Moms Don't Have to Be Sherpas-- Or Do They?

A Sherpa
Versus Lenore Skenazy

Oh how I wish I hadn't taken down that post on skipping school. 

What's a Sherpa?  A Himalayan navigator, a guide, one who leads, checks the path ahead.

What are Sherpa parents?  Those who shepherd children, protect, probably don't push strollers lest their children think they are being pushed away.
I'm out of town, Los Angeles, and some people are telling me the story of the disappearance of their two year old. This two year old is my grandson.

The little guy follows the dog outside, isn't missed until someone's Spidey sense tingles. All hell breaks loose, but they find him down the street. He's in a very good mood and can't understand what the big fuss is all about.

His point of view is well-taken.  Why the fuss? He's two.
He can handle a walk.

His attitude proves what we say about healthy kids needing space to grow, room to operate independently. If parents hover, children miss golden opportunities to stretch their limits, to gain confidence. They never feel the thrill of I can! in a thousand different ways.

When she's there, mommy, she kisses the boo-boos. When she isn't, the boo-boos are minor annoyances, interruptions in healthy play.  Lacking watchful attention, kids find independent, alternative solutions. We hold them back when we are the only thing they see.

The self is truly the self when tested alone.

This is my argument against the family bed, by the way, something I've wanted to rant about for a long time.  Allowing a child in the sack sabotages his confidence, if protects from competition, not unlike the  menopause of breast-feeding.  Kids need to be alone at dawn, the sun shining through the window, the birds chirping outside, to truly sense that life is beautiful and good, all alone, no large human buffers to buff against ghosts and invisible boogie men.

In the same way, we shouldn't be shielding our progeny from life's many disappointments in the name of love.  Children need disappointment, they need to fail, need to do badly in school, mess up an art project.  At least once.  Failure keeps us humble.

And running to Mommy for help reinforces . . .  running to Mommy for help.  There is a fine line between healthy help-seeking and dependency.  Let them call their friends to figure it out.  Mom won't be there forever.

But parents panic, worry that their kids won't get into college or kindergarten.  It's a cruel, competitive world, hence the help with papers, math, making sure they get to school on time. The consequence is a generation of pampered little people who don’t need to learn how to use a GPS because they have a chauffeur.  I have patients who drive their teenagers to schools less than a mile away.  The kids are lucky if they see a rabbit or a squirrel in their lifetimes. 

Somewhere in this Bible of True Parental Love it apparently says that we're not supposed to let our kids get bored, either.  The idle mind, devil's playground, heroin addiction, surely.  But kids are electronically drugged until they fall bleary-eyed from their chairs, three screens blazing with G-chat, Facebook and lastly, homework.  Still time for teev.   It's a miracle they learn anything.

The good news is that there is a resistance movement to quash helicopter parenting.  Hovering soccer moms come to therapy announcing that they are no longer cursing referees, throwing tomatoes, purses.  They are finding this embarrasses their children. 

Fifty years ago mothers like mine either went to work or made dinner.  Either way, children played hide and seek-- outside-- and baseball, unsupervised, in the park  Can you imagine letting little kids do that now, have free reign over an entire block, the whole neighborhood?  

Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, can. She's made a well-deserved splash joking about the redefinition of motherhood.  Her family executive committee made a conscious decision to let their nine-year old son take the train alone because he wanted to be a big boy.  Well, all right then!  The world is yours to explore, dear.  Just be safe.

And the committee taught him how to do just that.

According to Skenazy, what fuels the mishigas is the media (mishigas is Yiddish for craziness, my word not hers, rhymes with dish-wig-floss).  News anchors seize upon missing-persons stories, encourage responsible parents to buy tracking devices.

She has a point about the industry.  But just because people make money off of fear doesn't mean that there is nothing to fear.  Crime is down, as she points out, but some crimes are up, namely child pornography.  States Attorneys offices, the people who train people like me, don't think that the fear of child abduction is an inordinately irrational fear at all.

Sherpa parents knew it all along!

Over-protective, but not blind. They are out there, sorry, the no-good-niks, although they are usually people we know.  But there is stranger danger, it does happen (watch the CNN show  Issues with Jane Velez Mitchell).  Last year a teenager in my neighborhood fought off a man outside the library who tried to throw her into the trunk of his car, and little kids walking home from the bus corner were approached by a man in a car offering candy.


So Sherpa parents aren't over-protective, necessarily.  And they're the ones who attend relationship safety workshops, who worry about the school-yard creeps without knowing that the real threats are working inside.

In schools, working for day camps, and online.  Predators and "business people"* troll for unhappy kids who make themselves vulnerable on the Internet. They are the ones whose Facebook settings are set to Friends with Everyone. Problems at home, needing to vent, lonely, kids write and blog bout their depression. A predator, usually a pornographer, finds it, comments, slowly grooms the child.  
You're so pretty, didn't you know that? Ever think about modeling? 
No hurry to meet.  The cameras are in our homes.

These are not good people.  They are people who have seized upon a billion dollar industry-- the child pornography industry-- and they are looking for their fair share of the pie.

So being the your child's friend (and knowing the babysitter) is the true prime directive, not being a sherpa, and not being too cavalier on the subject, either.  The traditional relationship-violence protection methods are still relevant: teaching kids that not everyone is a friend, that people who tell them to keep secrets might be concealing illegal acts.  Maybe sending them to akido will help, but talking with them about our very different world, one more dangerous than the world that their parents and grandparents reined, is more to the point.

If they worry too much, we can treat that.

And as long as I'm ranting, sorry, one more thing.  You people in Los Angeles?  My first degrees, the ones with the confident baby?  Would you kindly keep an eye on him? Or do I have to move out there?


Thursday, May 05, 2011

Mother's Day

My friends and I are about to start watching a movie (Country Strong, Gwyneth is fantastic, and the faces of these actors, so gorgeous, and I am such a sucker for a good country song) when the phone interrupts.

So I pick up.  Everyone else seems to be on the phone, too. There should be a rule, but okay.

It's my daughter-in-law asking me to come for a Mother's Day brunch.  This takes me by surprise, because usually it's my generation making the brunches, the dinners for Hallmark holidays.  And Mother's Day is a bear because so many people, believe it or not, want to see their therapist on Mother's Day.  My people.

I'll do Father's Day, is my reaction, and will knock off by 10:30 on Sunday morning to make it to the lox and bagels, hopefully there will be quiche.  What can I bring, has to be a part of that conversation, but I forget, in a hurry to watch the movie.

Later on I begin to think about the gifts, because there have to be gifts, and it occurs to me that the better you know someone, the easier this is. And if you don't know someone very well, it's almost impossible to get the right gift.  But your mother-- you know her.  How hard can this be?

This is why it's so funny that we buy for our mothers-in-law, too, because really, their first degrees should be doing that, they know them better.  But okay.  Over the years, we know them, too.

Sometimes there's a theme of the week in therapy, to change the subject for a minute.  Like last week the song, I Will Always Love You, popped up twice.  The Whitney Houston song!  Different reasons, different people, same concept.  People become separate, move in different directions, but that attachment isn't going anywhere, or so says the song.  The song is wrong, though.  If you wait long enough, actually, it does dissipate, even for mothers. That can be good or bad, depending.

The theme this week, not by coincidence, seems to be about giving, and how that's so easy for some people, and yet these same people can't take a gift graciously. This is communicated with clarity:

Don't spend money!
Don't waste your money!
Please, I don't need anything!
Please, I'll just return it!
I won't like it. Whatever it is, I won't like it.  Not my taste.

I had to beat more than one person up over this, not wanting to take gifts, not giving someone else the opportunity even to do anything for them.  Why is this so bad?  Independence is a good thing!

Because the joy in life, for many people, and you don't know who these people are, is in the verbs, the action.  Giving is an emotional exercise for them.   They need to give.  And they're not co-dependent, they're just nice.   People who don't let them do this are denying the use of that muscle, the one that feels really good when it gets a giving-doing work out. 

It's a feel-good workout for everyone, imho.  For a few moments, under the influence of giving, a person feels selfless.  At least in those moments we're not engaged in our everyday selfish behavior.  And we know, come on, how far that can go.

Don't forget, whether giving or receiving, that the gift itself is symbolic, it will be remembered.  If you're the one giving, this is you, this gift.  Be it a vacuum cleaner or a Swarovski figurine, this thing has your name all over it.  He gave it to me.  She gave it to me. His taste.  Her taste.  The gift has fingerprints-- touch, attention --all wrapped up in a little box.

Little gifts, little boxes are a good idea, if you're unsure about what to give.  (My kids give me winder toys-- why didn't I ever mention Swarovsky!-- just kidding, kids, don't you dare spend the money)  Little is good in case the gift misses the mark.  Some of us won't throw a single gift away, even if they have long outlived their usefulness or we never like them.  How hard that is, throwing gifts away, even cards.  Those boxes in the basement!  We pray for a flood.  I've started sticking a post-it in my cards to other people, writing on it:
I love you, please reuse this card.
So it's a crazy day, full of emotion for a lot of people, and probably if you get invited to brunch, you should totally go.  Check out the whole gestalt of the gift giving thing.

And when it comes to a gift for mom, if you still have one, I know it can be hard sometimes.  Not everyone can, not everyone even wants to give a gift, or even a card, certainly not a call. That's how it can be when people don't treat us right.  We avoid them.  It's not being selfish, either, believe it or not, rather it is what it is.  Staying disengaged can preserve sanity for certain sensitive souls.  And somebody has to stay sane.

Those of us lucky enough to know that we have to get something for Mom, whether we want to or not, had better get going on it.  Brunch is coming right up, and it's going to be good.

Just one last thing.  Moms, when you open them up, those cards, those presents--  smile and say thank you.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Technorati is a site that features technology writers, bloggers of all sorts, and the news. When I started blogging back in 2006 my daughter suggested I toss a Technorati cookie into one of my posts, let them monitor my traffic. Let me know how cool I am.

So for awhile, like some of you, maybe, I checked once a week to see how Everyone Needs Therapy ranked. And over time, like most of my fancies, my attention diminished.  My numbers did, too, probably because these depend upon posting often, at least a few times a week.

Anyway, they wrote to me last week, the folks at Technorati, asked if I wanted to write for them! Maybe everyone gets an invitation, I don't know, they do have hundreds of writers.  But it's so easy to flatter me, seriously, pathetically easy. (You do know why some of us are more prone to that, right? Something to do with veiled narcissism.)

So I shot off an opinion piece about a favorite topic, Kids and Sex, a response to a Yahoo story about second-graders performing sex acts in class -- they're wearing their birthday suits in class, learning about things definitely not in the curriculum.  

I pray it isn't true.  And if it is true, you have to wonder:  How does such a thing happen?

The teacher is suspended, if that makes anyone feel any better.  Somehow I don't.