Guest blog by Charlotte Melleno: “If You Cry, I Will Never Tell You How I Feel.” Part II


Death Quote 21

This story about an Enneagram 5-Observer type from The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dying, is infused by the feelings and style if its Enneagram 4-Romantic author.

I watched him approach the car door, his grimace expressing the awful effort of each step. He looked like both a baby and a very old man, his face almost skeletal, his skull completely bald. This man once reveled in his muscles, his forearms strong and furred with blond hair, the blue veins roping them like a package. More than once he’d said, I am short but I carry myself like a big man. Frank was the most alive and vital man I’d ever known. Now he sat in the passenger seat and lifted his right leg into the car with both hands. Then he leaned out and pulled the door closed.

A week later, carrying a shopping bag with the ingredients for dinner in one hand and holding the banister in the other, I climbed the two steep flights to Frank’s apartment with difficulty. When he answered the door, Frank ‘s hug was more affectionate than usual—a two-armed embrace rather than the one-armed casual lean-in. He hobbled through his narrow hall, its walls covered with religious art and artifacts—a crown of thorns, paintings of Mary holding the infant Jesus and the Sacred Heart of Christ. After he reached his kitchen chair, I began taking dinner out of the bag—comfort food from New York, where I grew up—fixin’s for a Reuben sandwich and knishes imported from Coney Island -and looked around for cooking utensils. He began to stand, to try and help, but I recognized the grimace around his mouth and forehead. He was in bad pain. My usual dose of morphine was doing its job of blunting my own and I could manage without him.

“Sit, just sit.  It’s okay.  You don’t have to do anything,” I said, looking into his eyes.

I felt as though he was looking at a stranger. He sank back in his chair. “I was thinking today,” he began slowly, “I bite my tongue for every evil thought I ever had about your illness.”

I felt stunned and allowed myself a moment to take it in. “I have lived to hear those words,” I laughed. He did, too.

Death Quote 20

Bending hurts my trunk and makes the nerves in my ribs and abs fire like an AK47 ripping through the center of my body. I remembered how, two months ago at Christmas, he had rolled his eyes when I asked him to fetch a platter for me from a low shelf. I had flared, “I pray to God you never have to know the strength it takes to live with a chronic illness.” Now, I understood that my prayer was half a curse, which both failed and succeeded. I don’t remember what he said next, but it was strange enough that I asked him to stop and repeat it.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?  These drugs make me forget. I have lung cancer,” he said, with a casualness that telegraphed exactly the kind of response he wanted. My eyes filled as a thousand cars collided in a tiny part of my brain, but his message was as clear as if he’d spoken, “Don’t cry. If you cry, I will never tell you how I feel.”

A few days later, his doctor diagnosed his cancer at stage 4 and told him it had metastasized to the bone and was inoperable. He gave him three to six months to live. An Air-force brat, and later, Captain in Viet Nam, Frank’s first tendency in any crisis was to make lists centered on details and delegation. He focused on issues like whether he’d stay in his apartment and, if so, how, during daily radiation treatments, he’d manage the stairs. An experienced manager, he immediately created several support networks to deal with issues of daily living, i.e., grocery shopping, cooking and housekeeping. Beside myself, two people were his closest support system; our son, Daniel, and Frank’s lover, Don.

Charlotte Melleno is a Marriage and Family Therapist living in San Francisco CA.

Visit Elizabeth’s updated web site to check out her books, CD, articles on Beethoven and introverts, her cartoons  and videos, and her Famous Types page. See the new review of THE ENNEAGRAM OF DEATH in the recent Enneagram Monthy by Courtney Behm!

Read about Petreus’ and Broadwells’ types, Problems with our prisons, Genes and Achiever types, the Helper type and more in Elizabeth’s recent blogs on Psychology Today.

“If You Cry, I Will Never Tell You How I Feel.” Guest blog by Charlotte Melleno, Part I


Frank and House have something in common.

This story about an Enneagram 5-Observer type from The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dying,  is infused by the feelings and style if its Enneagram 4-Romantic author.

 

Three years ago, when I got a rare lung disease, we bought a glass-faced niche large enough to hold two urns in the San Francisco Columbarium, a copper-domed masterpiece of neo-classical architecture. We wrangled over whose ashes would go on the top and whose would go on the bottom—a classic power struggle in the history of our thirty-seven year old relationship, including a thirteen-year marriage in the middle. Finally, another niche became available in a sunlit room where our urns could sit side by side, so, to Frank’s displeasure, we traded up. He let me know if only I knew my place and would stay on the bottom, everything would be fine. I never thought he’d die first. A portion of the life insurance policy he left our son paid for the balance of the niche and I’m sure he would have been relieved that he, at least, didn’t have to spend money on something he found so unreasonable.

San Francisco Columbarium

One year ago Saturday, while a January storm thundered outside my window, I reclined in bed, reading a New Yorker about Haiti’s earthquake and a young woman who became an uncommon leader. After a lifetime of loss and failure, she had found the courage to fight and bring relief to her community. She foraged bags of rice and beans, drums of clean water, medical supplies, and bedding and trucked them back to the rock-strewn ravine where a few hundred residents of her town lived under tin roofs, cooking and sleeping among the devastation and the dead. Suddenly, I felt so grateful for my life and prayed, Thank you God for keeping me safe, for keeping the storm outside, and easing the pain when I lie down, for helping me to see that I am surrounded by love and friendship.

Slowing my breathing, I relaxed and, still holding the magazine in my hand, I fell asleep to the sound of the rain and a feeling of peace in my breast. The phone woke me an hour later.

“Hi, little lady,” Frank said.

“Frank, how are you?” I asked, glad to hear from him.

“Not so good.”

I caught my breath.  Frank doesn’t say things like this.

“Tell me.”

“You know the doctor took a CT scan on Tuesday? He called yesterday to tell me it’s not degenerative arthritis, as he thought. It’s in my pelvis and my ribs. He’s saying things like cancer and lymphoma, maybe a bad infection. I can’t remember everything he said. I wrote it down somewhere. I have to have a pelvic biopsy next Tuesday.”

Time stretched and tumbled.  I felt a dark sadness in my throat and behind my eyes. I told him so, but mostly, we talked facts and logistics, which we do well together. During our marriage, Frank told me that my strong feelings overwhelmed him so he couldn’t find his own. While a quiet standoff prolonged the marriage, our connection shriveled because I kept myself apart from him. He is the strong, silent type whose mantra goes, “I can handle it.” Over the years, I had learned to hold my feelings close and keep them to myself or suffer. And ultimately I found closeness elsewhere.

I picked Frank up from his apartment to take him to a pelvic biopsy at Kaiser on my way to my own therapy appointment. I called a block from his house to give him a heads up. He said it might take a while to get downstairs. When he walked through the front door, leaning on his cane (which strengthened his identification with the irascible Dr. House, his TV hero), my throat closed.

Read Part II November 27.

Charlotte Melleno is a Marriage and Family Therapist living in San Francisco CA.

Visit Elizabeth’s updated web site to check out her books, CD, articles on Beethoven and introverts, her cartoons  and videos, and her Famous Types page.

Read What I Learned about Prisons at My School Reunion in Elizabeth’s recent Psychology Today blog.