January 29, 2017
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.
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
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.
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.”
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