Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Missing

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 13, 2011

Missing You

   Leslie, twenty-four, “misses” her parents being married to each other, even though she was two years old when they split up. Susan, sixty, “misses” her husband who died from cancer ten years ago, even though she reports that she had a terrible marriage, and they would have gotten divorced if he did not pass away. Rachel, fifty, “misses” her adult children who live far away from home. She can’t seem to focus on anything else. Sharene, fifty-five, “misses” the way her marriage was before she had children. She muses about “the good ole days” with a feeling of loss and cherished memories. For each of these women, I think about their inner hole, along with ways in which they can partly, although never completely, fill that hole back up.

     The passage of time creates change in ourselves and in those we love. Change creates loss and so it is hard to ride the wave of loss while appreciating the inevitability of change. Holding on to memories, while at the same time, allowing the feelings to percolate while accessing those memories is a challenge. Some folks, like Rachel, become obsessed with their past. Their memories become a preoccupation. Other folks, like Leslie, hone in on one aspect of her past, in a way which seems to oversimplify why she suffers the way she does now. Still other folks, like Susan, deal with their ambivalent feelings by taking the loss of her husband as an opportunity to deny her negative feelings. Sharene uses the past as a way to avoid making her life better now. She can never go back to a marriage without children; a metaphor for how life changes and how some decisions become one-way streets.

   Sharing the “missing” feeling helps, since a lonely “missing” is infinitely more painful than a bonded “missing.” Friends who can relate over aging, growing children, losing friends, through interpersonal problems, geographical change or through death, can deepen their friendship over sharing these feelings. At the same time, relationships often break when there cannot be a shared feeling of loss. Therapists help both broaden and deepen the understanding of the “missing” both in terms of the present and the past. For this to happen, the patient/therapist dyad needs to enter the zone of feeling the inner hole. The zone can be very dark, but exploring the zone, like going in a cave, is both fascinating and enhancing.

4 Responses to “Missing”

  1. Jon said

    Yes, change is inevitable. As Heraclitus noted long ago, you cannot set into the same river twice. Everything flows – the river has changed, and so have you.

    Many changes can be painful – especially losses. As you have noted, there can be much to be gained in sharing the loss and the feeling of “missing.” I agree with the modern thinker (and speculative fiction writer) Spider Robinson that pain shared is pain lessened; pleasure shared is pleasure gained. This gives further conviction to your final statement that such sharing of “missing” with a good partner can be, “like going in a cave, is both fascinating and enhancing.” I can see how this might be an important and rewarding aspect of your work.

    • Shirah said

      Thanks, Jon, as always for your thoughtful and articulate response. I would add that sharing pain is a complicated endeavor, fraught with misunderstandings and “empathic failures” as Kohut would say. Thanks Again!

  2. Shelly said

    Wow, Shirah. What a fantastic blog. I just loved how you articulated all of these shared feelings and made sense of the experiences. I particularly enjoyed how you explained the therapist’s role in all of it. Thanks so much!

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