Recovering from Childhood Grief, Part IV, Guest blog


DC3

DC-3 and Elayne

This is the conclusion 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. Parts I-III are on this blog site.

 

Out of the Ashes — A Community of Survivors

Truth be told, each time I’ve told my story, I’ve fantasized someone will recognize the circumstances of the crash and contact me: “I knew someone who survived that crash” or “I know a family who lost someone on that plane.”

 

And then it happened. The editor of the Mason City Globe Gazette interviewed Lee and me. One by one, members of the Swaledale community stepped forward to share their stories and to describe how deeply affected they are by memories of the day the DC-3 crashed in the cornfield. How neighbors volunteered for search and rescue to save the injured and protect the dead. How their farm tractors pulled ambulances through muddy fields. How they pulled down barn doors to use as stretchers.

 

I was stunned to learn how this community has been dealing with their own unresolved grief all these years. Just like us! Even the newspaper editor wrote, “Thank you for the opportunity to tell your story and to open another door in my life.” He reflected how our reminiscences are a reminder that people heal at different speeds.

 

Passing Down Fears

For some of us it is a struggle to move on. And some of us pass our unresolved grief along to our children. I had developed massive fears that loved ones might die and I’d be left alone. And I was passing these fears along to my daughter.

 

One Mother’s Day brunch when Jocelyn was about twenty-one, we were recalling how she would sob uncontrollably whenever her dad or I were late picking her up from after-school care. She remembers how she agonized that we had died in an accident.

 

Jocelyn and I made an amazing discovery that day. She remembers outgrowing her fears about death when she was around nine years old. I‘d been working on my own abandonment fears in therapy for two years! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that once my anxiety abated, her fears lessened as well.

 

My fear of abandonment affected my daughter in another way: I sometimes held back from showing my love for her. I guess I felt if I showed too much love I might lose her, just as I had lost my mother and grandmother.

Overcoming Fears

3 girl photo

Three girl photo

Now I’m the grandmother, Jocelyn is the mother and Cora is the child.

I’ve been working hard to create in my life what I lost in that Iowa cornfield. I’ve been trying to do for my family what my father could not do for his—searching for ways to address our fears and overcome them together.

 

Because we live so many miles apart, we have created the ritual of “The Three-Girl-Photos.” Ever since Cora was born I insist on taking a photo of the three of us when we are together. After all, we are the surviving women of the family now! The photos are a reminder that each of us has an inherited potential that is unimpeded by the tragedies and limitations of the past.

 

We can fly—even soar. And carry our dreams into the world.

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.

• elayne@QueenofRejection.com

* http://www.QueenofRejection.com

• Dr. Savage’s blog: http://www.TipsFromTheQueenOfRejection.com

• 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: http:www.wagele.com

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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.

• elayne@QueenofRejection.com

* http://www.QueenofRejection.com

• Dr. Savage’s blog: http://www.TipsFromTheQueenOfRejection.com

• 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: http:www.wagele.com

• Save September 19 at 9:00 am  PDT for  a talk with Elizabeth Wagele and the Deep Coaching Institute on The Enneagram of Death. http://www.deepcoachinginstitute.com/elizabeth-wagele-interview-registration/

Recovering from Childhood Grief, Part II, Guest Blog


Whoosh!

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.

• elayne@QueenofRejection.com

* http://www.QueenofRejection.com

• Dr. Savage’s blog:  http://www.TipsFromTheQueenOfRejection.com

• 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: http:www.wagele.com

• Save September 19 at 9:00 am  PDT  for  a talk with Elizabeth Wagele and the Deep Coaching Institute on The Enneagram of Death http://www.deepcoachinginstitute.com/elizabeth-wagele-interview-registration/

 

New book: “The Enneagram of Death”


Image

When people ask me how I got the idea to write about death, I tell them I wanted to explore the differences in the ways the 9 Enneagram personality types feel and express their deep emotions. I was interested in the intensity of our feelings when we’re confronted with our own fear of death or when we’re  grieving or dying ourself, or close to someone who is dying.

Probably the first time I really understood the word death was when I was 5 or 6 and tried to save a tiny baby bird that had fallen out of a nest. I loved this little bird. I nursed it, hoping it would grow big and strong enough to release. But it died and I was devastated.

Death became a mystery to ponder, to fear, and to grapple with. My father and I discussed it together. My mother hated the subject. I couldn’t talk about it with her. How could she not be curious about death?

So early on, I found out death affects people in different ways. When the stories, essay, and poems for my book started coming in, some of the contributors had successfully healed great fear or grief and they did so by plunging themselves deeply into their feelings and coming out the other side. Some at first had taken refuge in defense mechanisms, but with the help of the Enneagram were able to perceive these defenses and change course. I found out the key to being less frightened is to let yourself feel deeply.

Many of us are afraid of our own demise and the loss of loved ones, though some of us may not realize it because we avoid thinking about the end of life. But neither fear nor avoidance changes death’s reality. A third relationship to death, however, exemplified in many of the contributions in this book, is to engage with it to the extent we overcome the fear. Then a precious new beginning is possible and we can release the energy previously held back by fear.

Some of the signs of resisting true feelings are:

• spacing out (taking drugs, excessive drinking, eating, TV, etc., so as to not feel anything),

• restlessness of the mind (distracting oneself by excessive worrying, fretting, pessimism, or inner torment), and

• excessive doing (keeping busy to avoid pain).

In a few cases, the subjects of the stories never do recognize they are avoiding feeling their true feelings; these stories are helpful, too.

This press release tells about the International Enneagram Association publishing The Enneagram of Death and includes some short reviews of the book. There’s also more information to the left of this blog.