Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 8, 2013
Bethany, fifty-six, just came back from a memorial service for Zach, a sixty-one year old male friend/acquaintance that she has not had contact with for over five years. Bethany’s ambivalent relationship with Zach tortured her at the service. ” I know I am not supposed to speak ill of the dead, and I know that Zach and I had some really good times over the twenty years that I knew him, but when I think about him, I think that he made me feel bad, so much of the time, that it is hard for me to grieve for him and his family.” Bethany describes her struggle to mourn, to “show up” to a place where her feelings are mixed, and her honest comments would have been negative and inappropriate. Bethany maintained the double life of sympathy and antipathy. “Clearly you went because you felt your presence was important-for you and maybe for Zach’s loved ones,” I say, highlighting the mixture of emotions that Bethany was feeling. “Oh yes. I really liked his wife, and of course, that is who is left, so it made sense for me to show up, but I had to bite my tongue and that was hard.” Bethany says, describing how her internal dialogue weighed on her, as people spoke about Zach and all of the wonderful things he had done for others. “Grieving is hard, but it is even harder if your feelings are so mixed,” I say, repeating an old theory, that the more ambivalent the relationship, the harder the grief. “Yes, in my fantasy life, I wish I could have stood up and told the story of how he hurt my feelings, so very deeply.” Bethany says, inviting me to ask her about that story. “When I had a large loss in my life, Zach, seemingly uncomfortable, kept telling me how I should feel bad for a mutual friend of ours, who was struggling with his elderly mother. I thought Zach was painfully insensitive at that moment, and it really hurt.” Bethany says with tears, as she calls up this memory. “It is interesting that that insensitive moment stood out so strongly for you.” I say, wondering why Zach’s response was so penetrating for her. ” I just wanted him to ask how he could be there for me, and not tell me how I should be there for our mutual friend,” Bethany says, knowing now that she can never have that discussion with him. “This is a hard session,” I say. “We have never spoken about Zach before, but I get the sense he was a very important person in your life,”. “I guess I just found that out,” Bethany says, with a touch of humor in this heavy visit.
This entry was posted on July 8, 2013 at 3:53 PM and is filed under Death and Dying, Psychotherapy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.