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.

The_Figure_5_in_Gold_(1928_-_Charles_Demuth)

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.

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“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.

New book: “The Enneagram of Death”


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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.