Young People Talk about the Enneagram and Death, Part III

From "The Enneagram of Death" by Elizabeth Wagele

From “The Enneagram of Death” by Elizabeth Wagele

Continuing what my panel of mostly young Enneagram types had to say about death at the International Enneagram Association conference last August , Max, the 6-Questioner, said, “I work in community health. One of the clients I’m seeing is drinking himself to death at age 52. He’s a pleasant drunk who acts like a 7-Adventurer and has been abusing his body. We all know that someone who refuses treatment can’t be helped. I went to his house a week or two ago. He was pissing on himself, sitting on the floor drinking his third beer at about 10:00 a.m. I told him, ‘You’re dying.’ He said, ‘Yes I know. I was taken to the hospital yesterday. The doctor told me I had one week to live.’ I sat with him that morning as he faced his death, his circumstance, and it brought me up against my own death.


“If a person is a danger to himself or others and can’t be trusted, we can do what we have to do to help them. But alcohol is in a gray area so we community health workers can’t do anything about it. Generally, the reaction of the mental health community is paranoid—to overreact. But I wasn’t told I could do anything. This man had burned all his bridges and was purposeless. Even his son didn’t want to have anything to do with him.


“I realized death is simply a transition. Most people clutch to the enjoyment of life but we don’t know what’s on the other side. It could be less difficult than life. I’ve gone through losing a father and close friends. Vicariously living through this man, I didn’t fear dying. I realized I like my attachments and friendships, but I also realized death doesn’t have to be something to be terrified of. I shared this with my supervisors and they said, if the person really wants to die….”


Bonnie, the 7-Adventurer, said, “I prefer not to think about death. I don’t like to think about negative emotions so I try to think about the good parts of death: letting go, the end of something. My own death feels more like a deadline; I only have this much time to get all the things done I want to do. It’s pressure. The only people I’ve known who have died have been very old or suffering for a long time and we knew it was coming. I’m still somewhat naïve. I don’t like thinking about the pain that would come.”


Claus, the 8-Asserter, said, “I have the sense that I’m the one in charge. I want to make sure my children and my wife are independent and capable before I die. My children aren’t old enough to take care of themselves. They have to be strong enough to be independent.


“I’ve almost never lost anyone…  I lost my former fiancée when she was very young. When I hear a story about death, it’s hard to allow that injustice. Why did that person die?


My fear is only about people around me, not me. I’m a lot more terrified of being crippled—that’s much higher on my brain than my own death. A friend’s friend’s daughter was run over by a truck that backed over her. He held her. Then she died.  She was 3. How should I ever live ever if anything happened to my daughter? When something happens to kids it freaks me out.”


Part I was Sept. 24, Part II was Oct. 8. See Part IV (more of type 8; and type 9) Oct. 29. The inspiration for this workshop was the book, “The Enneagram of Death.”



Read my blog about healing PTSD in Psychology Today Oct. 2.



Visit “Finding the Birthday Cake” on FaceBook. Check out my work on



“I Won’t Be Able to Tell My Neighbors” Part III

ImageLiving a Productive Life While Coping with AIDS

John had fierce itching nothing would stop. It would get so bad he tried to kill the bacteria on his skin by taking baths with large amounts of Clorox added to the water.


When he regained some strength, he set up his will and durable power of attorney, bought a new dishwasher though the old one still worked, and volunteered to visit men in his AIDS support group in the hospital or at home when they became ill. This gave him goals and the sense his life had hope. He found joy every day and lived by “Do not possess what you can never really own.”


John improvised on the piano to work out his complicated relationships. He photographed patterns in the sand and in eucalyptus bark. Once we took a walk deep in the woods near St. Mary’s College in Moraga, hopped on a lone picnic table, and shouted the lines of a play we made up to the attentive oak and bay trees. After John quit his job as an English teacher at Monte Vista High School in suburban Danville, he wrote me a note, “I know everyone around school is going to be talking about me in hushed tones. I’m irresistible gossip. Students too. God, what a choice bit of rare flesh to sizzle on the grill of public discussion.”


As a teacher, his goal was to instill a lifelong appreciation of literature in his students. He would occasionally show them movies, too. Hopelessly playful, John threw little pieces of liver at his students one day. They were watching “The African Queen” and he wanted them to know what leeches were like.


We formed a support group of about 12 friends, AIDS volunteers, and medical volunteers to fill John’s needs. He named us the Herlinettes. My main job was to take him on adventures, the scarier the better, to cheer him up. Sometimes he surprised me by wrapping my head in a large towel and driving me around in his car, it seemed in circles. After he took the towel off, the schoolteacher in him would charge me with telling him where we were. Once we were parked on a corner facing a house about three miles south into Oakland, and I was completely disoriented. Another time we were near a reservoir in the middle of a herd of goats. Sometimes we’d take the train to San Francisco and go where we weren’t allowed in the Transamerica Pyramid Building or wander about in Chinatown’s darkest alleys.


This is Part III of an expanded story from Chapter 4, The Enneagram of Death. Part IV will appear on April 30. Read reviews of The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dying and Elizabeth’s 6 other books and CD:


Also, Elizabeth will give a talk on The Enneagram of Death May 25 at 7:30. East West Books, 324 Castro Street, Mountain View CA 650-988-9800


Using “The Enneagram of Death” for Healing

EnnDeathCover7inches copyRuthie Landis and I presented a workshop based on my book, The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear of Death, and Dying. Among other activities, actors read one story from each of the nine type-chapters as I played piano pieces suited to each story. The piece most people asked me about was Li’l Darlin’, which I used to accompany the Achiever story.  Each participant was given a copy of my book.

This is a review of the workshop by one of the participants:

“On February 9th 2013 I attended the Finding Your Way Home workshop hosted by certified Body-Psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, Enneagram teacher, life coach, and Reiki master, Ruthie Landis. Joined by about 50 fellow spiritual seekers, I was moved, entertained and educated by Ruthie, along with a variety of performers and guest musician, speaker, and renowned Enneagram author and expert, Elizabeth Wagele. While I’ve been introduced to the Enneagram personality system, I have never delved into studying it. This humorous illustration was written by one of the attendees, Reverend Liz Stout:

DE GUSTIBUS NON DISPUTANDUM (Latin Translation: No Accounting for Tastes)

ONES always chew more than they have bitten off.
TWOS offer a bite to someone else first.
THREES take a bite of the best-selling, most popular brand.
FOURS take a bite slowly and dramatically, hoping that others are watching.
FIVES hide the wrapper so no one else will know what bites they are enjoying.
SIXES check the expiration date or read the list of ingredients before taking a bite.
SEVENS do bite off more than they can chew, and proceed to chew it.
EIGHTS may take possession of someone else’s bite, putting up a fight if necessary.
NINES can’t make up their minds what to take a bite of—they take a little of everything so as not to show partiality.

To further assist you on your journey of self-reflection: Type 1: Perfectionists, Type 2: Helpers, Type 3: Achievers, Type 4: Romantics, Type 5: Observers, Type 6: Questioners, Type 7: Adventurers, Type 8: Asserters, and Type 9: Peace Seekers. When I first arrived, I was wary of labeling myself as a definitive type, however as the day progressed, I could clearly see how we each portray one of the nine dominant features. You can, in fact, be a combination of two types. For example, I am a Romantic with an Achiever wing.

As I entered the workshop hall, I was struck by a figure that stood at the front of the stage. It was life sized and wrapped in a dark and somewhat daunting black hood. It brought images of the grim reaper up from my subconscious; indeed, the theme of the workshop was death and grief. While many avoid these subjects at all costs, the attendees delved right into their own pain and fear around loss. Ruthie opened the event by honoring her recently deceased father. Her heart was wide open as she shed tears in remembrance of her beloved dad. This heartfelt memorial set the mood for the rest of the day. Laughter, tears, pain and joy were all a part of the smorgasbord of emotions that were shared throughout the event.

After Ruthie’s introduction, we were privileged to watch one of the participants, Dr. Ann Cusak, do a somber and dramatic Death Tango with her dance partner, Peter Maslej. We then watched monologue readings from Elizabeth’s Enneagram of Death based upon the nine Enneagram types that reflected both their inner descriptions and their transformational journeys. The performers were powerful and true to their type. Most of the actors were the type they portrayed and shared anecdotes and insights on their own personal dances with death and loss. After each performance, we participants shared our own moving insights and experiences. It was evident that, while we may all have different ways of dealing with death (or not dealing with it!), we all share the mutual pain loss brings.

One of the most touching moments took place near the end of the morning. Having once been a professional dancer, Marylou Tromanhauser took to the stage and shared a chair dance that was truly inspiring. She had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; however this debilitating disease showed no signs of stopping her. She remains a magnificent creative force!

The afternoon was interactive. We broke into groups, joining with fellow Enneagram types. I supped the sweet nectar of creative expression with fellow dramatic, creative 4-Romantic types. After we each shared what our recent experiences were with grief and loss, we wrote our own private phrases on a long scroll of paper. The scroll was later read out loud as a compilation of our thoughts and feelings.

One of my favorites of the day was our final project. Ruthie spread art supplies, magazine pictures, ribbons, and fun items out on tables around the room. Each Enneagram group had a blank mural to fill in whatever ways their imaginations saw fit. The room was all a clutter with busy bodies, finding manifestations of their soul messages among the art supplies. These were placed on each blank mural, and ultimately became montages that spoke our heart and soul messages on grief and loss. After we finished the exercise, we walked around the room observing the messages of each mural. A very distinct personality emanated from each. For example, the Perfectionists’ was thoughtfully constructed—symmetric and orderly. The Adventurers’ pictures reflected faraway places in distant lands. The Romantics used few words. On the other hand, the Achievers used hand-written messages, indicative of an organized, corporate layout, award ribbons and all. The pictorials and messages of the Helpers, were about caretaking and healing, serving as they do so well.

The event was a feast of inspiration and creativity. Laughter and tears, combined with stories of joy and pain, were honored and shared, as we waded through the delicacies and delights that go hand in hand with fond farewells and new beginnings.”

Edited from  “The Monthly Aspectarian” article called All About Town… Finding Our Way Home – Ruth Landis – The Ethical Humanist Society. March 2013. By Theresa Puskar.

See for information about The Enneagram of Death and other books.

Invitation to Workshop: “Finding Our Way Home” February 9

Dear Reader,

If you or someone you know would like to start the year exploring how we Love and how we engage with Others and with Life itself… #4EnnPar

if you are looking for an adventure… #1EnnPar

or healing…


this workshop in Chicago based on my newest book may be for you and/or your friends…

I’d like to invite you to:

Finding Our Way Home


Co-presented by Ruthie Landis and

guest author, artist, and musician Elizabeth Wagele

Saturday, February 9, 2013

9:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.


Our tango with Loss, Grief, and Dying offers us a

poignant opportunity to know our True Self more fully,

explore how we Love, and how we engage with Others and with Life itself.

EnnDeathCover7inches copy

Come join us for a “happening”; a safe, playful, and provocative day of learning and connecting with others, while we find ways of looking at that which we fear and avoid, our own mortality.  As the centerpiece of the day, prolific author, artist, and pianist, Elizabeth Wagele will offer her latest book, The Enneagram of Death, as well as her live music and comic perspective to the facilitated workshop experience. Coming together, actors and dancers, people of all ages and backgrounds, with curiosity and open hearts, will share an unforgettable and truly enlivening day as we each continue to

Find Our Way Home.


at The Ethical Humanist Society, 7574 N. Lincoln Ave. Skokie, Illinois

Pre-registration-$75———Register after January 25- $85

(includes signed book and light lunch)

To register email  or PayPal at


Yours truly,

Elizabeth Wagele for information on The Enneagram of Death and other books and essays.

Guest blog by Charlotte Melleno: “If you cry, I will never tell you how I feel.” Part III



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.

When Frank was first diagnosed, I asked if Don could help him. He said, “Don has to take care of his mother, and besides, we don’t love each other.” I said, “That’s baloney. He loves you and I think your willingness to spend ten years of Saturday nights with anyone is, in some way, a love connection for you.” He never really admitted that, but the week before his death he told me how grateful he felt to Don for all his support and how surprised he was at Don’s generosity. Frank was so fearful of being encroached on by anyone and was so suspicious of people’s love for him, he barely gave it credence. He found rejection and struggle a headier and more exciting, albeit painful, experience.

He talked with us about his funeral arrangements and intended to look into Hospice and make a will. All of this was normal Frank, tried and true.

What surprised me was the person who emerged after he was given the news—an open and unguarded man—one I had rarely seen since we first met him thirty-six years prior in an encounter group at San Francisco State. His father, a high-ranking officer, who didn’t meet Frank until his second birthday, had denigrated his early, loving relationship to his mother, and called him a sissy when Frank showed more interest in books and music than sports. Since his father put down self-expression and his mother took any expression of negative feelings personally, he had developed a poker face by the time he was six. Then, the fledgling human potential movement opened Frank briefly to a beautiful vulnerability that I fell in love with. Now, these two Franks braided together in an unusual manner. Once unwilling to express his needs for fear of indicating weakness, he now drew up a list of simple house rules for visitors, beginning with a brief explanation of his illness. He asked for help in an assertive and direct manner:

Please put food back in the refrigerator exactly where you found it.

Please hang up any clothes, books, or items you may have moved during your visit.

Please take down the trash when you leave.


At the time, I’d been ill for almost four years and many household chores had become difficult, but I never thought to hand out a list to my friends asking them to be mindful in order to ease my physical suffering. He was teaching me something about being entitled to ask for help.

More surprising was how the news shook the starch out of him and loosened his tongue. He began to talk with other people in an easy, eager, and comfortable manner. Our mutual friends had never seen him so easy-going nor heard him disclose his feelings in such a vulnerable manner, accompanied by dark humor.

He had never cared much about money nor saved for retirement and only began to make more than a living wage in the last ten years of his life. His main ride at sixty-six was still a motorcycle. He didn’t own property and had feared that once he grew old he’d have to depend on the kindness of friends or move into a senior residence like the one he had managed as a facilities director in his early forties. It would take more than his social security to feed his love of travel, learning, and adventure. He had retired as a young man—having adventures, visiting exotic countries—and only buckled down when our son was born shortly before his fortieth birthday. “There’s a certain relief in going out before I have to worry about how I’ll support my old age.”

I realized I had passed his test when I didn’t cry after he told me his diagnosis. Over the next month, he called me more often than he had in the previous six. Sometimes, just to give me the news of the day; the family member he had told, how different it felt to connect with other people, the internal freedom he had never known. The watchfulness deep in the back of his skull was gone.

“I spoke to Mary Lou yesterday,” he said, referring to his closest Aunt, who had, herself, been living and dying with lung cancer over the past year. “After she got sick, I began to call less and less. I didn’t know what to say. Poor Mary Lou.” They had been so close when he was small. She was only twelve years older, his father’s little sister. “Now, we’re like Chatty Kathy,” a talking doll from the nineteen-fifties, “We don’t want to stop.”

I heard the pleasure in his voice and realized he was also talking about us. “No one else knows what to do with me,” he said. “They’re all giving me advice. I’m just delighted with you.” Shortly after, I received a text, “…a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” These acts of tender openness meant the world to me. It was as if his dying had opened a vault, a safety deposit box.


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

Read Part IV of on this blog, the last installment, on December 25.

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

Read What I Learned about Prisons at My School Reunion and “The Enneagram as a Standard for the DSM” in Elizabeth’s recent Psychology Today blogs.

Save the date for  FINDING OUR WAY HOME February 9, 2013 in Chicago with Elizabeth and Ruthie Landis. A day long workshop. Please see

On May 25, Memorial Day weekend, Saturday at 7:30, Elizabeth will speak in the South Bay Area in California. Save that date too.

“Two Guns” Part III (final) – Guest Blog by Mario Sikora

Mario's sons

Mario’s sons

Mario Sikora is an Enneagram 8, an Asserter type. This is one of the stories in Chapter 8 on Asserters in “The Enneagram of Death– Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear and Dying” by Elizabeth Wagele. In parts I & II on this site, we found out Mario’s cardiologist had said, “It could be no big deal, or it could be something like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

I often travel on business. Once, toward the end of a three-week trip, Alexei, son number three, said, “Mommy, I’m starting to forget what Daddy looks like a little.” Alexei is five now but he was only three during those twelve days. After three weeks the memory gets a little fuzzy; what happens in three years, or ten?

Sure, I could make one of those “dying-dad” videos, but I always imagine they end up in a closet somewhere, unwatched, or watched as something obligatory and oddly historical. My wife would tell them fond stories for a while, but life would go on and the stories would become less and less frequent and eventually stop. What terrified me was that I had not had enough time with them to leave my mark on these four little boys who I cherished, that I wouldn’t be there to guide them and shape them, to pick them up and dust them off when they fell, to hold them when they needed it or push them when they didn’t think they could go on.

One afternoon Warren Zevon’s Keep Me in Your Heart shuffled onto my iPod in the car. At the line, “If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less,” the dam broke. They wouldn’t understand and I feared they would hate me for not being there.

I feared my kami would wander alone, unbeckoned and unnoticed.

When the diagnosis arrived, it too was anti-climactic: enlarged lymph nodes, non-cancerous, consistent with sarcoidosis. I had a condition with no known cause and no known cure. “It can be fatal in African-Americans,” my pulmonologist said, “but typically it just shows up in some people and in a year or two it goes away. You’ll be fine. Stay away from saw dust and talcum powder.”

I have a scar at the base of my throat (which I jokingly tell people was from a knife fight if they ask). I saw the hospital bill that my insurance company paid. A quarter of a million dollars.

“Stay away from talcum powder.”

Six months later, the symptoms were gone.

I wish I could say something was different, that having stared into the abyss and survived I had some profound insight or made a significant change in the way I live my life. But life goes on pretty much as it did before.

My one aim, my one straight and true goal, is to last long enough to matter to my sons. I don’t feel an urgency to mold them like clay (St Paul’s potter I am not), but I’m acutely aware that every inadvertent moment leaves a mark, and gives the kami breath.

The quartet

The quartet

So every once in a while in the midst of the chaos when everyone is yelling and we’re in a hurry to get them out the door to school and son number one can’t find his shoes and son number four is flailing on the floor because he wants the car that son number three is playing with and son number two realizes he forgot to do his homework and says you know I don’t like jelly on my sandwiches, I take a moment to remember Sisyphus. I feel my muscles brought alive by the weight of the rock and my heels digging in to the dirt so as not to lose traction. I take a slow breath and I press my cheek against the cool, rough surface, losing awareness of where the rock stops and I start. In such moments all sounds are muffled, and everything happens—briefly—in slow motion. I look down the hill and see a long way to the bottom; I look ahead and see a long way to the top.

Feeling momentarily in on the joke, I raise my face to the gods and I smile.

Mario Sikora is an executive coach. He is the 2011-2012 president of the International Enneagram Association and he has an Enneagram certification program for professional users. Visit him at and

Please visit Elizabeth’s improved Famous types page and subscribe to this and her Psychology Today blog.

“Two Guns,” Part II, Guest Blog by Mario Sikora

Mario's sons

Mario’s sons

Mario Sikora is an Enneagram 8, an Asserter type.

This is one of the stories in Chapter 8 on Asserters in The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear and Dying by Elizabeth Wagele.

I hadn’t gotten used to the fact that there was someone in the world who I was calling “my cardiologist;” by Saturday afternoon I had an oncologist and a pulmonologist as well.

Five days in the hospital and seven more waiting for the results of the biopsy of the nodes scraped from my chest through an incision at the base of my neck. This provided a lot of time to think. Twelve days is a long time when you’re waiting for that kind of news.

My thoughts didn’t turn to the afterlife; I’d long ago stopped speculating on such things. The threat of hell and enticement of heaven had lost their efficacy when I was twenty. There is a certain appeal to Eastern notions of the dance of Shiva or recycling through continuing stages or of somehow becoming one with some universal consciousness, but we’re adults, right? So let’s be serious.

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele

I can’t count the times I’ve read Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus.” Camus takes what others see as the bleakest of fates—Sisyphus condemned to endlessly push a rock up a hill only to let it roll back down and do it again—and turns it into something noble. Like each of us must do, Camus’ Sisyphus has come to terms with his fate, and thus “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

My view of the life after death had settled into what I like to think of as a mildly Shinto-istic existentialism: that we leave a mark on those things and people we interact with; they carry our memory, they are reshaped by our having come into contact. While our lights may go out when that last electrical spark emits from the brain, others carry us with them and the way we shaped them lingers on, and thus do we. Like Shinto’s “kami,” or spirits, the memory of us lurks in those we have touched, longing to be seen.

I met a man once who was wearing the shoes of his son who had died five years prior. I always thought of those shoes as the most sacred of shrines, an intimacy beyond the comprehension of most of us. Speculations on the afterlife feel hollow in the face of such acts.

On the occasion or two that thoughts about what happens next did cross my mind over the course of those twelve days, they passed quickly. Pascal’s Wager had always seemed a coward’s ploy to me and I wasn’t going to blink now.

So here were the choices–it could be no big deal, or I could be in for a long sickness and unpleasant treatment or I could be dying. The pain in my chest and shortness of breath that sent me to the doctor in the first place were real. They weren’t stress—sure I have stress, I’m self-employed, our fourth son had been born a few months earlier, but I’m not that way. So maybe it was no big deal, but it was something.

For the most part, I put it out of my mind. It seems like they shouldn’t, but the events of the day go on–and it is surprisingly easy to fill up the time and be distracted.

But I’ll let you in on something; I’ll tell you what woke me up at night, what filled me with terror and heartache and despair, what made me get in the car by myself and drive fast and scream until nothing more would come out and I thought my throat would bleed: the knowledge that my sons would forget me.

Read Part III (the final) of Two Guns Tuesday October 30.

Mario Sikora is an executive coach and the 2011-2012 president of the International Enneagram Association, and he has an Enneagram certification program for professional users. Visit him at and


Please visit Elizabeth’s improved Famous types page and subscribe to this and her Psychology Today blog.

“Two Guns,” Part I Guest Blog by Mario Sikora

Mario Now

Mario twenty years after the first gun incident.
Photo by Tanya Sikora.



This is one of the stories in Chapter 8 on Asserters in The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear and Dying by Elizabeth Wagele. Among other things Mario can’t control he copes with the possibility his sons will not be old enough to remember him if he dies now. Mario Sikora is an Enneagram 8, an Asserter type.

It sticks in your mind, I can tell you, the first time someone points a gun at you in anger.

More than twenty years ago but it feels like last night; the feel of the carpet under my bare feet, and smell of the bourbon on his breath. John, my housemate’s brother who was sleeping on the sofa until he got back on his feet, had been on the short-end of a bar fight and came back for his brother’s gun with the intention of settling the score. Roused from bed by his girlfriend’s screams, I went downstairs to see what was going on. When I got between him and the door he pointed the Browning Hi-Power 9 mm, a gun I well knew to be loaded, directly at my nose.

As I said, it sticks in your mind.

I wish I could say I had a more profound thought at that moment. Oddly enough, I’m writing this at an outdoor cafe off Boulevard des Philosophes in Geneva, home of Rousseau and Calvin, a long way from that Southwest Philly row home. Perhaps an insight on civility and society in honor of Rousseau, or more apropos, something on the perseverance of the saints or the ramifications of God’s hand in human affairs in honor of Calvin. (“Hath not the potter power over the clay…” as St. Paul wrote to the Romans.)

But all I could think at the time was: I refuse to die at the hands of this idiot.

I was younger then, of course. Fast and good with my hands. John was drunk so his reactions would be a little slow, maybe giving me a slight edge. But he was a bad drunk and I didn’t know how much time I had and I wasn’t waiting around to see which way things would go. I had coiled my legs just a little to get some spring and I was trying to shift my angle ever so slightly to see whether John had released the safety when he lowered the gun and eventually calmed down.

Anti-climactic, perhaps, but not when it’s you. I went to bed a little dizzy and wondering if I would have felt the impact of the bullet or if the lights just would have gone out.

Mario and his family

Mario and his family

The second gun pointed at me was metaphorical.

“It could be no big deal, or it could be something like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” my cardiologist said. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. On Monday I’ll call a pulmonologist I know–he’s very good–and we’ll get you in to see him as soon as we can.”

It was late on a Friday afternoon. Five minutes after I hung up I called him back.

“Doc, I’m not a sit-and-wait kind of guy. I won’t make it through the weekend just waiting. I need to do something today. Right now. This hour.”

I had gotten to know him over the preceding weeks, as one test after another had shown nothing to be wrong with my heart. But my symptoms were “troubling” to him and he kept looking. A CAT scan the previous day had proved irregular. Probably an Asserter himself, my cardiologist said, “Okay, go to the hospital, I’ll admit you. We’ll get some tests done over the weekend.”

Read Part II of Two Guns here Tuesday October 23.

Mario Sikora is an executive coach and the 2011-2012 president of the International Enneagram Association, and he has an Enneagram certification program for professional users. Visit him at and

Please visit Elizabeth’s improved Famous People page and subscribe to this and her other blog on Psychology Today.

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.



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When Heroes Die

Embracing Death

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele

I visited my sister shortly after Marilyn Monroe died. A neighbor of hers in her twenties was a fan of Marilyn’s. The neighbor had long blond hair, was quite pretty, and had a husband and a small son. Within a week or so after Marilyn died, this young woman killed herself. I don’t know whether she was imitating Marilyn or couldn’t bear life without her hero. This death freaked me out. MM was a Romantic Enneagram type. The young mother probably was, too. My fantasy of what went on with this woman is that her dream of becoming Marilyn died when Marilyn died. I wonder…

When did you first learn what death was? When you heard about someone you knew who died – someone in your family or an acquaintance? Someone famous? When you witnessed the death of an animal or a person? From TV? Or did you intuit what the word meant without any experience of knowing something or someone who ceased to exist?

We had goldfish and turtles that died. Of course, flies died in our house, too. My mother showed those flies no mercy. Then Raid came out and we sometimes got caught in the crossfire. I gathered up a baby bird fallen out of its nest when I was around 5. No other bird could be seen anywhere around. I fed the tiny bird, made it a nest in a box, and tried my best to nurture it so it would grow strong and I could release it to nature again. But in a few days it died. I was crushed. Around the same time, my grandfather died 700 miles away. I had known him, but I don’t remember him. My father left as soon as he could but he couldn’t get there soon enough to attend the funeral.

I must have been only three years old when I saw the movie Bambi. It was the most awful experience I had had and I cried. Bambi ran really fast with his mother to escape monstrous hunters and she told him to hide, then she disappeared. This movie was tailor made to torture little children. I felt as sad about Bambi losing his mother as if I had lost my own mother. Maybe that’s why I felt like not growing up for a couple of years after that. I remember being more clingy than I wanted to be in those years, acting young while I really wanted to grow up. Maybe I was still afraid of losing my mother and didn’t quite know it. Maybe my confidence in nurturing myself weakened with the defeat of nurturing the bird. I wonder…

I introduced my new book, The Enneagram of Death, at the International Enneagram Association conference last weekend. I think people are interested in having conversations about death, bringing it out of the shadows as much as possible, trying to spread healthy attitudes about a subject our culture tries to deny.

At the end of Bambi he becomes a hero by fighting off dogs and saving his girlfriend. Then he gets shot by Man while jumping over a ravine. Eventually he escapes a terrible fire and goes to an island to take refuge with the other animals. He stands watch on a hill while his girlfriend gives birth to twins and the “Great Prince” man slinks away.

Our heroes inspire us to accomplish things. to practice succeeding, and to feel strong by identifying with them. Any type can be a hero, but the Asserter has probably internalized the archetype of hero more than most types and might try harder than most to be one. The Perfectionist, the Achiever, the Questioner, and the Adventurer would be heroes if given the opportunity. The Helper would love to be a hero. So would the Romantic and even the Observer could be a hero, not to mention the Peace Seeker. We’d all like to be a hero but have different fantasies of our favorite context for our heroism.