Recovering from Childhood Grief, Part III, Guest Blog

Inside a DC-3

Inside a DC-3

This is the third part of Dr. Elayne Savage’s story, There is to be No Grieving, from The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear and Death by Elizabeth Wagele, published by the International Enneagram Association in July of 2012. Please see Part I and Part II.

Thank goodness I was required to start therapy as part of my Psychology Master’s program in my mid thirties. Luckily I found a therapist who understood unresolved grief and abandonment fears.

I worked for many years to move past this childhood double loss.

I began to recognize my feelings of sadness and hurt and anger. I began to understand I don’t have to be a scared child any longer.

Yet something more needed to be done. Fortunately a grief counselor reminded me: in order to grieve a loss and move on we need to make it real. You’d think as a psychotherapist and relationship coach I would have known that. But we so often miss our own issues and solutions until someone else points them out.

I woke up one morning knowing the best way to make this loss real would be to arrange a private visit to the kind of plane my mother and grandmother died in—a DC-3.

Becoming a DC-3 Groupie

Finally, I gathered the courage to track one down and found a DC-3 in pristine condition in Van Nuys: the private plane of Clay Lacy, a major aviation figure. I flew from Berkeley to Los Angeles for the adventure, taking along my yellowing newspaper clippings of the crash, and brought photos of Lee, me, and our children. I carried two long-stemmed coral roses.

Elayne and a DC-3

Elayne and a DC-3

DC-3’s are really quite adorable. The plane was waiting for me on the tarmac, it’s nose high in the air and it’s tail almost touching the ground. When the door swings down it reveals the steps on its backside. I was so excited as I climbed the steps and peered into the plane. Then my heart sank: “What happened? This is not the passenger plane I was expecting.” I had no idea many DC-3’s were built solely as executive planes. This one was built for the president of United Airlines and later used by Governor Jimmy Carter. There were large, comfy chairs, burl wood cocktail tables, a sofa, and a long open bar. I thought: “Well here I am. I’ll just make the most of it.”

I ended up spending most of the time in the cockpit because I knew it would be identical to the one on the plane my mother and grandmother were on.

Their plane would have had two rows of seats on one side of the narrow aisle, and one row on the other. What a narrow, confined space it is! I understood for the first time how difficult that flight must have been for my claustrophobic mom. Taking off and landing several times along the route must have been miserable for her.

I could sense the essences of my mother and grandmother. I imagined tucking these essences into the blue pouch I brought with me. I had never used the pouch before. Now I know it was waiting for just the right time to be the guardian of something precious. I could feel my mother’s presence. We could laugh together, sharing memories.

I got up the courage to talk with her about her experience of the plane falling from the sky. I imagined her telling me her last thoughts before she died.

As I was sitting on the plane the shackles that had confined me for so many years fell away. I could feel myself rebalancing and realigning. I experienced the healing and liberation that had eluded me for so long.

I guess you could say I’m becoming a DC-3 groupie! Jason Gore, a colleague and executive coach located another DC-3 for me to visit. He brought his camcorder and videotaped me as we sat on the plane. Thanks to Jason’s sensitive coaching I had a long talk with my mother that day. We were able to say things to each other that we could not say when she was alive and I was twelve years old.

I told her how her death influenced both Lee and me in the paths our lives have taken; how much I miss her and what I appreciate about her. She told me about her dreams for us and how proud she was of our successes. She assured me she would always be present in our lives, watching over us . . . and our children . . . and our grandchildren.

My visits to the DC-3s have been life changing. The best part is how this profound experience has been captured on video to share with others who are grieving.

My college roommate has reminded me over the years of my inability to grieve in those days. She thought it odd how I never talked about my mother dying in a plane crash. Recently we watched the DC-3 video together. Bette made a powerful observation: how much I’ve matured in my ability to grieve and how I have allowed my mother to mature as well. My mother and I were having an adult-to-adult conversation on the DC-3! And we could at long last develop understanding and compassion toward each other. 

Dr. Elayne Savage is a practicing psychotherapist, workplace and relationship coach, and author of Don’t Take It Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection and Breathing Room-Creating Space to Be a Couple.

Part IV will be September 25.



• Dr. Savage’s blog:

• See the New Look of Elizabeth’s Famous Types page on her web site.

• Please subscribe to this blog and link your web site to mine:

• Save September 19 at 9:00 am  PDT for  a talk with Elizabeth Wagele and the Deep Coaching Institute on The Enneagram of Death.

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