This is the last in a series. The 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 of its Enneagram 4-Romantic author.
Thirty-six years ago, Frank somersaulted from a seated position into the middle of the circle after a month of silence in our encounter group. He had previously avoided contact with any of us. He took a small bow and extended his arms to take us all in and said, “The ice has thawed.” By that time, I was convinced I’d never get to know him, although, just like everyone else in the group, I was drawn to him. He was like Brando—magnetic in his nonchalance. His pose was one of passionate disinterest. A one-to-one subtype, while sitting in the outermost part of the room, he’d pull the attention of others towards him as if his silence was a rope.
Years later, he told me that, from his earliest memories, when his father was displeased with him, he would withdraw and freeze him out. They would sit in their living rooms on numerous Air Force bases, the tension thick as quicksand, while his father played a game of power designed to humiliate him. His father continually demonstrated his strength and invulnerability in contrast to Frank’s feelings and dependency. He learned to hide his emotions as soon as he was capable. During our marriage, I discovered that Frank had learned from a master. When he wanted to win or control, he became a refrigerator, capable of sitting out any argument or debate in unfeeling silence. When he wanted to hurt me, he became emotionally cruel, signaling displeasure and occasionally the kind of contempt his father had demonstrated towards him. As my own therapy helped me to grow and stop taking his behavior so personally, I became intimately aware of how it felt to be Frank when he was a child. Psychotherapy threatened him. The idea that he would have to reveal parts of himself he’d kept secret since childhood made him feel too exposed—open to the kind of invasive abuse his father had casually dealt out as if he were interacting with an object rather than a person.
A year before, he’d shared a novel with me, Something to Tell You, about a psychoanalyst who had experienced a similar childhood to his and felt like an outsider. “I wish I’d read this sooner,” he said with some regret. “It’s the first book I’ve ever read about therapy that made me wish I’d done it.” I was sad, too, because I knew what Frank had lost by keeping himself at such a distance from others, including me.
Less than a week before his death, we shared dinner in his apartment. I had brought a video, Sweet and Lowdown, and we stretched out on his bed, facing the large screen TV, which loomed over us on the opposite wall. We smoked a joint, laughed and ate, took our pain pills, and occasionally stopped the movie to talk about our lives. We agreed that, although our marriage and divorce had been hard, we had no regrets because, somehow, our relationship seemed meant to be. Our son, Daniel, had been the joy of Frank’s life from the moment of his birth, which he had experienced as a golden glow. I have never known a father, or any parent for that matter, to love a child as much as Frank loved Daniel—his face open and beaming, laughing and attuned, his posture relaxed and easy, where, with most people, he carried a kind of alert tension. That night, I asked how he’d been able to love our Daniel so openly when he was so guarded with others. He responded without hesitation, “Daniel was a chance for a completely new beginning—a blank slate, someone without judgment or preconditions. Loving him was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”
When we parted that night, I had no idea it would be our last time together, although I looked back just before he closed the door, to hold him in my eyes and my memory. The following Friday, he completed two weeks of radiation to reduce the pain. We had a tentative date to get together and had spoken in the afternoon, but we were both too exhausted and promised to reschedule soon. That night, he spiked a fever and became delirious. At Kaiser Hospital, he told Don that his cousin, Brenda, who died twenty-five years ago, was in the next room and that they were coming to take him. Those were his last words. He died the following evening, after receiving extreme unction (last rites) and surrounded by many people who loved him, five weeks after his initial phone call on that stormy afternoon. He never had enough time to meditate on his dying—to light the candles and incense, or throw the I-Ching, as he had wanted to do—but he was changed and finally at peace.
Charlotte Melleno is a Marriage and Family Therapist living in San Francisco CA.
Next week, January 1, see Elizabeth’s Psychology Today blog for an article on recovering from the loss of a child. Blogs there now include Cell Phones and the Rising Tide of Noise and The Enneagram as a Standard for the DSM.