My Year of Dying: Lessons Learned

Not only with the glorious birth of my own two children, but also as a pediatrician who has attended many a middle of the night deliveries, I can attest to the profoundly transformative power of witnessing a new life enter the world. In what I have come to refer to as my year of dying— when in less than 9 months when I saw my father, mother-in-law, and mother make the transition in the other direction —I learned the deep sense of love and connection that can come with the end of life. Or not.

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A Necessary Mourning

Our world today appears locked in the iron grip of what many refer to as generational trauma. I wonder if a more apt and descriptive term might be unprocessed and unintegrated loss. A psychoanalyst colleague often said, “All emotional suffering is about loss, and all healing is about mourning.”  The Persian poet Rumi expressed a similar sentiment in the aphorism “The cure for the pain is the pain.”

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My Father’s Story: Before the Holocaust

While I hadn’t yet mentioned the movie, my father told me of the radio announcers’ frequent refrain of “all quiet on the Western front” while “hundreds young men were slaughtered every day.” His voice trembled: his face contorted in an effort to contain the flood of emotion. He repeated the phrase in the original German.”Im Westen Nichts Neues” or “Nothing new in the West.” When I shared that we had just seen the movie, tears ran down his cheek. He opened himself to expression of feelings so deeply hidden for so long.

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Listening for Loss: My Father’s Holocaust Story

Last week my husband Joe, our two dogs, and I shared a celebratory dinner with my parents on the occasion of my father’s 98th birthday. After a festive evening filled with hope against the backdrop of a darkening second winter of Covid, Joe suggested on the car ride home that I write about it. As readers of my blog know, I am immersed in work on a new book about listening for loss. I should practice what I preach.

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Bearing Witness to Terror: Alana and the Apricots

After a few moments Kayleigh broke the silence. “This is what she does whenever we talk about food.” They now saw the fear in their daughter, but when I asked how long this fear had been present, Charese immediately thought of herself. She said softly, “Since she was born.” For Charese and Kayleigh the terror we saw in Alana connected directly to their own memory of terror that their daughter might die. The feeling now expressed in Alana’s behavior held a grip on the whole family. The therapy setting allowed us to slow the process down.

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Becoming Unstuck: Listening for Meaning in a Child’s Behavior

In my years of practice it never ceases to amaze me how effectively young children can communicate the source of a problem through their behavior. Of course Harry did not know or understand the role of unmourned loss in his parents lives and in their relationships. But he absorbed the distress and “acted out” as if to say, “I need you to deal with this so you can see me as myself.”

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