Sometimes love is enduring, lifelong and beyond. Sometimes you find that love lasts just long enough for bitterness or bigotry to destroy it. When this happens you have to wonder if the love was real to begin with. Our clients come to us with many kind of distress. Some have found their love denied them by those that they feel have a duty to love them unconditionally such as the love from their parents, grandparents and other close relatives. Society and nature teaches us that the love of family is without question; a birthright, but there really is no guarantee that this love will in fact be given freely. When it is denied for any reason, hurt, confusion and disillusion often result.
Often times when this results, our clients report feeling that it must have been because of something they did, said or perhaps something they did not do but should have. They often have spent great lengths of time blaming themselves, finding a reason that they should be damned, denied and vilified. Some find themselves able to find real reasons that they “deserve” to have this happen while many times further confusion is the fruit of their labor. This is typically when they seek our services.
Therapy often starts with an exploration of the relationships in question, there development, progression and any events that lead to the ending of the relationship. At times there are clear indicators that the love was one sided or in trouble. Sometimes the client is unable to find any real milestones that hinted that the love if ever present in the past was going to cease.
As I type this, my gramma Hazel’s body rests in the funeral parlor; her service will take place in a matter of hours. Though I long to be there with the rest of my family I have elected to stay home and say goodbye in my own way. It seems that this would be what she wanted so I will respect her wishes. Like many of our clients I wish I could tell you the exact moment that I was no longer part of her life but I can’t. I, like our clients have searched through all my memories and can find no defining moment; instead I simply have conjecture.
I remember visiting gramma and grandpa Louis when we went to Maine to visit relatives. It was a good time and I felt like I was going home. Grandpa Louis would always have a kind word for us as did gramma Hazel. We would talk around the island in the kitchen for hours. In the morning I would watch children’s cartoons from a Boston station and often play around on gramma’s piano. She was talented on that piano, often playing church music. Though she was territorial, she never said anything as I played the piano, I had no idea what I was doing but so long as I didn’t bang the keys we were fine. Never one for gifts, she always sent Christmas and birthday cards. That is until she didn’t.
Grandpa Louis died years ago. I can’t tell you when as I was never notified. I found out when I was planning a trip to Maine that he has passed almost a year before. I learned then that he had died and that none of my dad’s children had been acknowledges in the obituary (while others were). I never learned why my gramma decided to write us out of his life but it was around that time that I stopped hearing from her at all. That was about 16 or so years ago, possibly more. Though I continued to send Christmas cards, I never received any. In time my cards were sent back marked “return to sender.”
My Papa died a few years ago and Gramma Hazel was at the burial. I approached her and was rebuffed. After a few cold words hurled at me, she turned her head and refused to look at me or respond. That was just her way. She had become more and more bitter as she got older. Not just to me but towards most folks, perhaps towards life itself. I learned that there were a very few folks who stayed in her good graces but more and more were written off. When my dad was on his death bed, she refused to speak to me. The tension in the room was palpable. I maintained my composure and focused on my dad. The next day when I visited my dad she spoke to me nicely, we shared some words and even her baked bean recipe before posing for a few pics. I can only imagine that my dad told her to be nice. Soon he died and I never saw her again.
When I die, I do not have my obituary written and other then having my ashes scattered at the farm, I have no plans. I do hope that my loved ones will reflect on my life with fondness and remember me as someone that did his best to help others. While I may not go down in any history books for having made an impact and once I am scattered I will likely be lost in the sands of time; no one will think of the words bigotry or bitterness if they think of me.
The core of a person can die years before their physical bodies. Bitterness and bigotry eat away like the most aggressive cancer. Lives are changed, relationships die; mourning for what could have been is all that is willed to those who were once loved and were discarded.
As we work with clients we often teach them that we have no control over the behaviors and actions of others but can control how the actions of others affect us. We can do much to help our clients stop the endless searches for answers that cannot be found and instead help them to better understand that while there are times when our actions or deeds lead us to negative consequences; other times we have nothing to be sorry about and simply must accept that the actions of others are beyond our control.
Much like healthy eating and healthy living can reduce our chances of getting physical cancer; healthy thinking can help our clients from suffering from the emotional cancers related to negativity.
I love you Gramma Hazel. I mourn what could have been. I mourn the fact that you died emotionally years ago. I mourn that I never got to say goodbye to Gampa Louis and I mourn the fact that I never learned of the death of Grammy Phyllis until long after she was buried (thankfully this was due to bad communication and not due to any ill will).
While we cannot change the past, we can help our clients change their present and future. As clinicians we can do so much but only if our clients want our help. For those who prefer to live and die in negativity there is little to be done and simply because those who “should” love us choose to write us out of their official story does little to prevent us from having a long happy and successful life.
Simply being the black sheep of the family means little. It does not prove that you are bad or undeserving of love. It can mean that you lost them through a systematic series of negative actions that you perpetrated, but it is just as likely that that is not the case. Sometimes the black sheep of the family is simply dirty from the grime they had to climb out of in order to truly find the love and the life that they deserve. Our clients often learn that blood does not make a family; connections to others do. Sometimes we may be rejected by blood kin for no fault of our own.
I can’t think of a better way to mourn the loss of a bitter life than to spend my time helping those who have suffered to find a way to happiness. With every smile and recovery comes the hope that these emotional cancers can be treated.
Our clients are counting on us. Will you answer their call?
________________________________________________________________________"Doc Warren" Corson III is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org).