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.

Recovering from Childhood Grief, Part II, Guest Blog


Illustration by Elizabeth Wagele

This is the second 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 published by the International Enneagram Association last month. Please see Part I.

Poof. They Were Gone. So I was sitting cross-legged in the overstuffed chair, staring at the cutoffs in my hands. I forced myself to concentrate on pulling the needle and embroidery thread through the thick denim. In and out, making those tiny stitches, repeating to myself, “Dad said that wasn’t the right plane.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see he was still in the kitchen on the phone.

I’ll never forget the slump of his shoulders and that awful look on his face as he walked back into the living room. “Their plane crashed. Your mother is dead. So is your grandmother.” I couldn’t believe his words. I could only stammer, “You’re kidding, aren’t you? Tell me you’re kidding.”

My uncles arrived. Uncle Joe had a handkerchief tied around his neck that smelled of Ben-Gay. Uncle Max kept repeating the story of the drive to the airport. My mother and grandmother almost didn’t take the flight because my mother left her purse at home. Uncle Max gave her a wad of cash and they boarded the plane. No wonder my dad had been so long on the phone—since my mother had no purse, she had no I.D. Finally the temporary morgue was able to identify her from the inscription in her wedding band.

My nine-year-old brother, Lee, was still sleeping. “Tomorrow will be soon enough to tell him,” the adults decided. “Let him sleep.”

The next morning Dad told Lee about the crash urging, “You have to be a brave soldier.” Then Dad bundled us off to my aunt and uncle’s. I wanted to talk to Lee about the crash, but I didn’t know how. The three of us rode across town in silence. “There are only three of us now,” kept repeating in my head.

Later that morning, we were eating pancakes at my aunt’s kitchen table. The radio was on: “Two Omaha residents were killed yesterday in a Braniff Airlines crash—Goldie Raskin and her mother, Sarah Wolfson.”

“They’re dead?” my brother gasped. “Dead?” He ran out of the kitchen, sobbing.

Lee and I didn’t go to the double funeral. Dad thought it best we stay home. “The biggest funeral Omaha has ever seen,” people bragged. “There was even a police escort!”

Nothing seemed real. There was the shock of the newspaper headlines. I was embarrassed to see my mother’s picture on the front page. I wished they’d used a better photo. It was so blurry I could hardly tell it was my mom. The TV and newspaper reporters were angling for an interview with Lee and me. Thank goodness my family kept them away.

After the funeral, big-bosomed women, smelling of talc, pulled me close, clucking, “Oh, you poor baby.” I couldn’t breathe. I overheard wisps of speculations about the cause of the crash, the condition of the bodies. I

learned some new information: almost half of the passengers survived the crash! I had thought everyone died.

That’s when my mind began playing tricks. “Maybe there’s a big mistake and they didn’t die after all,” would alternate with, “Why did they have to be the ones to die?” In the middle of this confusion, my camp counselor phoned me saying how sorry she was. Maybe she wasn’t upset with me anymore about the trouble I caused in the cabin. Camp seemed like a very long time ago.

Things stayed surreal for many years. My dad removed all photos of my mother. Lee and I thought he’d thrown them out, but when he died thirty years later, Lee found the albums hidden in the back of the highest shelf of his closet. He had moved with them four times, yet we never knew they existed. Shortly after she died he sold his business, took a job traveling, and hired a housekeeper. So we lost him much of the time as well.

The unspoken family rule was: There is to be no grieving. Our grief was to remain wrapped in silence.

There was no place to have feelings. It didn’t cross anyone’s mind that Lee and I would benefit from seeing a counselor or therapist. In those days it just wasn’t done. I was doing a lot of acting out—mostly getting kicked out of class and study hall for talking.

Elayne at school

Illustration by Elizabeth Wagele

My middle school principal, Dr. Brown, tried to counsel me but I completely shut down. My high school English teacher, Marcia Blacker, tried as well, asking “Is everything okay at home?” I said, “Just fine,” but it wasn’t. (Years later I actually searched for and located Ms. Blacker and thanked her for caring.) I threw myself into schoolwork, socializing, school clubs and cheerleading so I didn’t have to feel the sadness or spend time in a lonely house.

For many decades I lived with this tender, unhealed wound. Every year I dreaded the arrival of August 22. I felt different from friends and professional colleagues. It has always been awkward to explain that my mother and grandmother died in a plane crash. People didn’t know how to respond. I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t cry about it.

• See Part III of There is to be No Grieving on 9-11-12: Becoming a DC-3 Groupie

• 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.



• 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


Recovering from Childhood Grief – Guest Blog

Braniff DC3

A Braniff DC3

In one story in The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dying, a little girl’s father was shot and killed; her mother never spoke of her husband again and the child was not soothed or helped through the grieving process. She worked hard to transcend the experience as an adult, however, with much success. In another, a little girl and her siblings reacted to their father’s death by bullying one another. She, too, continues to surmount the difficulties of her past.

In this true story, one of seven in the chapter on Enneagram type 2, Elayne Savage lost both her mother and grandmother in an airplane disaster. Dr. Savage is a Helper type with an Achiever wing, a practicing psychotherapist, workplace and relationship coach, and author of Don’t Take It Personally! Breathing Room-Creating Space to Be a Couple. As a Helper type, she uses her life experience, including her innovative method of healing her grief, to help others.

There is to be No Grieving

On August 22, 1954 my mother was accompanying my grandmother to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. They never arrived.

During the long layover in Des Moines, my mom learned a Braniff flight would depart earlier than her scheduled flight. What she didn’t know was the Braniff flight was a “puddle jumper,” stopping at every city en route, and a fierce storm was approaching. The Mason City flight controller instructed the pilot not to land. He decided to try anyway.

The plane with sixteen passengers and three crewmembers on board crashed into a cornfield in Swaledale, Iowa, just south of Mason City. The pilot and co-pilot died. The flight hostess and six passengers survived. Debris from the crash was spread along a line of more than 500 feet.

I was twelve years old. My brother Lee was nine.

The Long Wait for News

We waited into the evening for my mom to signal us from Rochester saying they had arrived safely. I was looking forward to our little phone company trick where she’d place a person-to-person call for “Aloysius.” We’d say, “Sorry, Aloysius is not here,” then we’d giggle about how we got away with something.

But the call never came.

I was absorbed in the sewing project on my lap, not paying much attention to the TV news. I had just returned from overnight camp where all the girls except me were wearing embroidered cutoffs. My dad said they cost too much to buy, so I was embroidering my own.

I heard the announcer’s ominous voice; “A Braniff DC-3 went down during a storm … on a farm … near Mason City, Iowa.” My dad jumped up, muttering something about Braniff not being the right airline. Then he was on the phone for a long time.

I just sat there, stitching. And thinking about that morning when I had acted badly toward my mother. Overnight camp was my first time away from home. I’d missed my mom terribly and couldn’t wait to tell her about my experiences.

As soon as I arrived home she announced she’d be leaving on a plane the next day with my grandmother. So what if my grandmother needed medical tests at the Mayo Clinic? Why did it have to be my mother who took her? I wanted to hug my mom and say, “I need you, please don’t go.” Instead, as they were leaving for the airport I screamed, “I hate you—I wish you were dead.”

Crash site

Crash site.

End of Part I

Read Part II on August 28: “There was no place to have feelings.”

Dr. Savage’s blog:

Find out more about The Enneagram of Death by Elizabeth Wagele.

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Elizabeth Wagele