Finding sanity in the Year of the Rooster

Year of the Rooster: therapy talk for 2017

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 23 Comments

Year of the Rooster has me thinking about how happy I am to finally, truly appreciate my difficult parents. The two of them, plus my first shrink, now occupy the V.I.P seats in my head, reserved for my most precious ancestors.

Yup, they’re both dead. A heart attack killed Dad when I was a teenager. Mom died seven years ago, of liver failure. In between their passings, cancer took my first shrink. I used to HATE the idea of ancestors. Let me have my own life, already! But in the Year of the Rooster, I’m celebrating them — and me.

Finding sanity in the Year of the Rooster

The process of embracing the past began in my 30s, when I first met this shrink. (I now go to one of her students, who is a great shrink too, and thankfully, very much alive.)

What follows is a blog post I wrote after her death. It’ll give you an idea of how therapy helped me sort through Confucian tough love values and become my own person.  

So if you’re thinking of getting shrunk, I hope this post helps. Happy Lunar New Year and Year of the Rooster!  xo

Seeing elders with new eyes

When my first shrink died, I felt betrayed. How could she leave me? Even worse — how could she have cancer when she knew so much about healing?

Being this honest might make me look incredibly self-involved. Then again, we’re talking about therapy, which means I have to be super-honest. And in the end, this special woman remains an enduring mentor because she challenged me by her example in both life…and death.

The last time I saw her was during an unbearably hot, humid May afternoon at her beautiful Manhattan home. I’d stopped therapy a few years earlier, feeling sufficiently “cured.” But we kept in touch. Near the end, the news was terrible. The cancer had returned. A stroke had left her paralyzed on one side. Hearing all this, I felt a need to see her again.

A nurse’s aide let me in. My beloved therapist was in bed with no makeup, hair mussed — and stark naked except for a pair of giant old lady underpants. There was no air conditioning. I fed her a little soup, then laid down with my arm around her clammy, bare shoulders. She couldn’t talk much anymore. Yet, she managed to say one sentence very clearly, with that signature fire in her eyes: “I want to do this my way.”

The next week, she died. Ever since, I’ve been trying to reconcile that last image of her broken body with the petite, feisty Jewish grandma who took me through my career, the arrival of my daughter and the end of my marriage.

It would be easier to remember her as the warm-hearted diva with the coiffed blonde hair, red lipstick and cute clothes. But she had other ideas; her final gift was to let me past the powerful, professional boundaries of our relationship and share her personal despair.

To this day, I remain somewhat shocked at the memory of seeing her in such a diminished state. Then again, she was the kind of shrink who was always pushing me to find myself, to live outside the society’s boundaries. Now she was showing me how to be real.

Get lucky in Year of the Rooster 

Taken together with her other life lessons, she laid the foundation for me to truly change and make my own destiny. She also had the amazing ability to blurb her ideas in profoundly simple one-liners that eventually wove their way through our years of therapeutic conversations:

Your parents can’t give you what they never had.

If your parents didn’t give you what you needed, then you’ve got to get it from somewhere else.

How you exit a room is as important as how you enter it.

“Money” and “competition” are not dirty words.

You can be furious with your mother — and still love her. 

In times of conflict, don’t walk away with your marbles. Stay in the game! 

Ask for what you want.

I wrote blog posts based on three of her tips:

Everything you need, you already have. 

Win-win is better than win-lose.

You can be single and still have romance in your life. What a relief to get this all down in a single post. If feels like I’ve finally made peace with her passing. Guess I can let go now, and do it with affection, a smile and hopefully, some grace.

P.S. — Here is a link to one more post you might like: How to find a good shrink.”

Year of the Rooster & you

I didn’t make any resolutions on Jan. 1. But reading through my shrink’s great advice, two lucky thoughts scream out to me now. I think that this year, I’ll be focusing a lot on asking for what I want and keeping romance alive in my life as a single person.

How about you? I’d love to know if any of these lucky thoughts  any lucky thoughts speak to you. Feel free to drop a comment below. xo

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Comments 23

  1. Rose T. Ellis

    Beautiful post! And whether you believe it or not Betty, you now are the sage. The truth you share is just as valuable and therapeutic to many of your readers, … (speaking for myself, but I’m sure many others would agree) … and much cheaper too!

  2. Skye

    How touching! Your therapist would be moved to know you’ve honored her this way. She would appreciate even more that you’ve listened. She would be proud of who you are.

  3. Post
    Author
    betty ming liu

    Rose! Did I save you some money today? That’s a good thing. And thanks for giving me confidence. You hit the point exactly. I need to just make what my first shrink shared part of me and keep going.

    Yes, Skye, she was proud of me while she was alive — truly a good therapeutic mommy while I worked out all the Chinese Confucian-Confusion crap with my own biological mother.

    Another reason for writing this post is that I need to get down to business with my second shrink, a guy around my age, who is knew my first shrink very well as his teacher, therapist and friend. When I went to see him, I said that given the way my dad was, I needed to learn how to deal with guys in a healthy relationship. And we’re still working on that. This could be a long haul!

  4. J

    This is so touching to me, Betty, I want to tear up. I definitely will be saving these quotes too. Thank you so much for writing this blog entry.

  5. Jean C.

    What an extraordinary story! You’re the only person I know who has seen their therapist naked. (At least I hope so.) That must be an indelible image, a shock against the consistent selfless objectivity a good shrink embodies. You were lucky to have her!

  6. Christina

    I agree, beautiful post. Also, a beautiful relationship. I am glad you treasure the gifts she gave you, and that she was so fierce! Thank heaven for real women.

  7. Post
    Author
    betty ming liu

    Wow, I have never had so many commenters agree on the same point, all in a row. And to think I almost didn’t post this….

    Dora, you’re welcome. These quotes will indeed come in handy at some point, I’m sure of it.

    Laura, I am thrilled to have a presence at your desk! It’s me and my shrink, who was truly a good mommy.

    J, I’m glad you’re saving the quotes too. Btw, the only reason I’m not including my shrink’s name is that I’m not sure our last moments would go over well among some professionals so I want to protect her reputation.

  8. Post
    Author
    betty ming liu

    Christina, it was indeed a great relationship. I guess I was also mad at her because I felt like we were on our way to a friendship. At her shiva, her husband told me that his wife really loved me. That was so touching.

    Joel! As the book expert, you now your way around a good quote. So i’m very glad to have your input on this post. :)

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    Author
    betty ming liu

    Jean C. — missed your comment before. But yeah, seeing your shrink naked is one of those things most people just don’t think — or want to think about! Haha. It was a bit much but now that I’ve unloaded in this blog post, I am feel much better about it. :)

  10. Gerry Jacquette

    Hi Betty:
    Your blog about your therapist’s demise included a thought (how could she have cancer when she knew so much about healing?) that I wanted to comment on. From my perspective it seems like getting cancer has genetic and environmental factors, and a whole lot of bad luck involved. It feels like the breast cancer movement has made such a fetish about the mood of the patient influencing outcome — not supported by clinical study — that it makes women feel bad that they can’t completely control their disease. Barbara Ehrenreich, the social activist and feminist, gave a radio interview once that talked about this in her own personal case.

    I thought your therapist’s gift was showing that even when very little is under your control, you can make small choices that help maintain your integrity.

    Best,
    Gerry

    1. Post
      Author
      betty ming liu

      Gerry, thank you for the wisdom. And of course, you’re looking at the big picture. I was looking at the situation from my own navel and part of me still hasn’t gotten over the fact that this special woman is gone. And yes, I will always remember how she fought to maintain her personal dignity.

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