Remembering with Love Rather than Pain…

I have seen many striking examples of what can happen when clients noticed that as we changed their physical stance, they had also unknowingly changed their emotional stance. Sometimes after a dramatic session, they will come back for the next one and tell me that a funny thing has happened in their life… They will describe finally being able to stand up to their spouse or boss, being able to control their anger in situations where they had not been able to before, feeling more able to cope with the their grief over a loved ones cancer or finally finding the courage to leave a bad relationship. Sometimes the change is so dramatic that it literally changes a person’s stance in life…

It can be breathtaking how wounds that once cut so deep, that circumscribed someone’s life for so long that they seemed beyond any hope of healing can suddenly, in a day or an hour shift and be recognized as a source of strength. There is a woman I have been working on for 15 years; she was born in Germany and moved to the U.S. after World War II. We have become quite close over the years, my daughter spent several weekends at her house when she was young, she keeps our dog when we go away. When I first worked on her she was so grateful as I was able to help her with terrible leg cramps that would make her bolt out of bed at night, with her breathing which would sometimes seize up on her like an asthma attack, and with her migraines… She once let me work on an exquisitely painful scar left over from a surgery on a cancerous tumor in her right breast which, with a little patience and an amount of pressure that was more suggestion than touch magically seemed to melt in minutes (I actually had no idea what I had done to make that happen, but the pain simply vanished…). She thanked me profusely many times for the help I had been able to give her – but there was one thing I could barely touch.

She mentioned her parents in Germany once during one of our first sessions together and I innocently asked her about her experience of living through the war. She began to speak but was not able to finish the first sentence when a look of sheer panic washed over her and she whispered something about how it was still hard for her to talk about the war. I decided to change the subject. The subject came up more or less by accident years later and again she was gasping for breath.

Then one day last year she asked me how my youngest daughter was doing and before I knew it I was telling her about some difficult struggle with her that felt quite distressing as both of us had blown it all out of proportion, but she just sat there smiling, with the wisdom of someone who has already been through that and told me what a wonderful daughter I had and how much she enjoyed her. She said that Sofia really reminded her of herself at that age and began to tell me stories of her childhood and how her mother was very strict but she had been very close to the neighbors downstairs. He was a pharmacist and had saved her leg when it was badly infected and she could not get antibiotics because of the war but gave her arnica until it got better. She talked for a while but never mentioned her father and I was a little afraid to ask about him – I thought that perhaps something terrible had happened to him. But I finally asked gently about him and she got very quiet and then said quietly, “My father was a saint…”

She went on to describe him and told me of how he comforted her when the bombs were falling all around and how one day the bombers hit her building and destroyed the top floor where their apartment was. They spent the next week moving what was left of their furniture 5 miles to a different apartment with only a little cart and how their feet were bleeding by the end. She described how one day she went to visit her sister who lived in the country and would supply them with fresh vegetables, which they could not get in the city because of rationing. Halfway there, the allies bombed the train and destroyed the locomotive so she had to walk the last 15 miles.

She told me that after the war times were hard and she married an Englishman and went with him to the U.S. She felt guilty about leaving her family for years but did it because she felt someone had to make some money to keep her family from starving. She did not return for 6 years because she felt it was selfish to waste the money on airfare for herself when her family needed it to eat. She described how her husband went back to England for what started as a 2 month work assignment and turned into 2 years and about all the excuses he gave her before finally admitting that he had remarried and had a child and would not be coming back.

She also told me of a kind woman in Texas who promoted her to be the manager of a fine restaurant and how she met her second husband and how her life got better after that and finally she stopped and said, “Oh my God, did I speak through the whole hour!?” There was a pause and I asked her if she realized what she had just done – that she had told her story for over an hour without seizing up…? She said she had just realized that, and that it was the first time she had been able to do this since she came to this country. I asked her if she had any idea what had made the difference for her. She said, “I think it is because I told my story from the point of view of what I love rather than what I was afraid of…”

…..

“Every great loss demands that we choose life again. We need to grieve in order to do this. The pain we have not grieved over will stand between us and life. When we don’t grieve, a part of us gets caught in the past, like Lot’s wife who, because she looked back, was turned into a pillar of salt. Grieving is not about forgetting. Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain. It is a sorting process. One by one you let go of the things that are gone and mourn for them. One by one you take hold of the things that have become part of who you are and build again.”

Rachel Remen, “Kitchen Table Wisdom”

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