What are the Advantages of Using the Enneagram When Grieving?

The Enneagram of Death

The Enneagram of Death

         A NYC Death Café member kindly brought to my attention that I have posted blogs about the Enneagram with little explanation of what the Enneagram is. The Enneagram personality system holds there are 9 ways (plus variations) of being in the world. When you find your own type you soon realize the other 8 types are equally important, legitimate, and necessary. This leads to the invaluable concept that there are many ways to grieve—there’s no one right way. The Enneagram is used all over the world for self-growth, relationships, getting along in the workplace, child-raising, and careers. It fosters acceptance and teaches us who we are. It is a useful tool for anyone who is struggling with grief, fear of death, or dying.


         The word “Enneagram” (pronounced “An’y-a-gram”), comes from the Greek word, Ennea, for nine, and gram, meaning a drawing:


Enneagram figure

The Enneagram (“Any-a-gram”)


         The Enneagram is increasingly used and recommended by psychologists and coaches. You can profit from knowing a little about it, but it’s complex enough to become a life-long study. It shows us in a positive light by highlighting our gifts. Since it is based on real people it points out our defects as well. The Enneagram models change and growth and helps us become better inner observers and more keenly aware of others. We don’t use it to point fingers but to reveal our habits of behaving and to become more mindful of our strengths, needs, and likely pitfalls. Families, love relationships, work situations, and teacher-pupil relationships improve from using the Enneagram. The best introduction is my book, The Enneagram Made Easy, followed by Are You My Type, Am I Yours?  I’ve drawn cartoons in all my Enneagram books and in my book on introversion (The Happy Introvert) to increase accessibility, to help readers feel relaxed, and to add complexities not found in words.


         The Enneagram system describes these nine personality types or archetypes: Perfectionist, Helper, Achiever, Romantic, Observer, Questioner, Adventurer, Asserter, and Peace Seeker. The types to the sides of each type (“wings”) influence our personalities as do the two types at the end of the lines attached to them within the circle (“arrows”).


         While we relate to all nine Enneagram, types in varying degrees, we indentify as only one. For example, Asserters are natural leaders who tend to be decisive, strong, confident, and dominating. Someone of this type can’t at the same time be a gentle Peace Seeker, who wishes to avoid conflict. We’re all familiar with the skeptical Questioner, the ever-harmonizing Helper, and the upbeat Adventurer. 


         I once had a request on my Face Book home page to join a group called “Knowing the Difference Between ‘Their,’ ‘There,’ and ‘They’re.’” Of all the types, Perfectionists are the most likely to be so interested in correct spelling and grammar—in getting things right. A good example of this type is Hillary Clinton due to her idealism, the measured way she speaks, and the careful way she dresses and carries herself. We all probably had this type as a teacher somewhere along the line.


Each chapter of The Enneagram of Death (see reviews here) is made up of contributions by a different Enneagram type—stories, poems, and essays I have chosen and lightly edited. Their defenses against grief and fear range from spacing out to over-worrying to over-doing. These are healthy and natural reactions unless they go on too long. You’ll distinguish how people with characteristics similar to and different from yours cope with the shock of a loved one’s death, end-of-life care giving situations, and more. You’ll see how some other cultures deal with death. You’ll especially resonate with your own type. The Enneagram of Death (available here) isa more individualized way of looking at death and dying than many other books on this subject. Stories of types different from yours will offer you new perspectives.


        The Enneagram system provides tools, models, soothing, and inspiration. 


Check out Finding the Birthday Cake – Helping Children Raise Their Self-esteem – for teaching the Enneagram to children.


Read my Psychology Today blog: Why Studying Music is a Good Thing Part I


Visit The Enneagram of Parenting on Face Book.


Young People Talk about the Enneagram and Death, Part IV (final)


Death gets some attention, from “The Enneagram of Death.”

Death gets some attention, from “The Enneagram of Death.”


Continuing what Claus, the 8-Asserter on my panel of mostly young Enneagram types had to say about death, “I freaked out when I was a child and my mother and father were about to get divorced. I had a bad relationship with my father. I was afraid and wanted them to stay together. I said if they get divorced I would find a way. But I wanted so badly for them to wait until my younger sister was older.


“My worst case senario is if someone had a funeral and there was only a priest, the undertaker, and the photographer. What kind of life did I have if no one showed up? I’d rather be dead. When I die I want it to be spectacular.”


Brita, the 9-Peace Seeker, said, “Death was always a present thought, not necessarily a fear. I always loved staring at the stars. I see myself floating around them after I die, in and out. I remember thinking when I was little I wanted to be buried in an Egyptian sarcophagus. If I were to lose anyone so close to me—it’s okay if it’s me, but if it were one of my siblings, it would leave such a hole in my heart. It’s okay to talk about it and I do with friends.


“I was filling out a life insurance thing and my dad was a cosigner. This was a good opportunity to approach my death with him. My dad said, ‘Do you think they make those Egyptian urns?’ I didn’t know but I said, ‘Make it happen.’”




Mark Epstein (in his article, “The Trauma of Being Alive,” New York Times 8-4-13), “In resisting trauma and in defending ourselves from feeling its full impact, we deprive ourselves of its truth.” The young people on my Enneagram panel were willing, however, to tackle the subject of death and to discuss the defenses they use. Some said they’re likely to worry about something else rather than what’s really bothering them; others said they get busy doing as a defense.


Brita, the 9-Peace Seeker, has the defense of spacing out to avoid the unpleasant. “Part of what I struggle with is narcotization. I can see myself having warning signs, like chest pains or something, and ignoring them. Being here and speaking about it, I can call myself out on it. I don’t want to space out. As a 9, I work on showing up and having deep heart connections. If I allow myself to be numb to the world, isolate, and withdraw, when I do pass on I won’t have experience life and touched the lives around me. It will be as if I was never here. I’ll be damned if I’ll let that happen.”


Defense mechanisms are normal and useful, Epstein says. His article ends: “The willingness to face traumas—be they large, small, primitive or fresh—is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don’t need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it.” An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence.”


That we all share in these mysteries brings us together as humans.


A Peace Seeker talks to Death from “The Enneagragram of Death”

A Peace Seeker talks to Death from “The Enneagragram of Death”




 End of series. See part I Sept. 24, Part II Oct. 8, Part III Oct. 22.


Read my blog about healing psychotherapy’s image in Psychology Today Oct. 15. 


Visit “The Beethoven Enneagram” on FaceBook.



Visit http://wagele.com to check out my books, CD, cartoons, and essays, and Famous Enneagram Types.


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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-WpXUvsSOk  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 http://www.wagele.com for information about The Enneagram of Death and other books.

Charlotte Melleno Guest Blog: “If you cry, I will never tell you how I feel.” Part IV

Charlotte Melleno

Charlotte Melleno

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.

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.

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.

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 https://ewagele.wordpress.com/about/

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

“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.

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.

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• 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/