Tuesday, August 11, 2015


“I can’t understand,” says Jackie, tears trickling down her cheeks. “I thought it would be so wonderful to return home, to drive through Iowa on our way out west, to look at the old farmhouse, to show my kids where Mom used to live. But it was awful. It was all broken down, dilapidated. Nothing’s the same. I remember the huge trees we used to climb when we were young. They’ve all been cut down.” 

Jackie pauses. “One thing’s for sure. Our work together has changed me. I didn’t go numb. I definitely felt my sadness.” 

I feel Jackie’s sadness as well. And my own. Although I have no attachment to my childhood New York apartment, the home I lived in on a small lake outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan during my 30s and 40s was my idea of nirvana. Leaving that home was gut-wrenching for me; seeing it again was worse. I felt as though both the house and the landscape had been defiled. The atrium had been ripped out, replaced by a slab of wood covered by a carpet and a piano. And my beautiful weeping cherry tree was no more. I couldn’t stop crying. And that was when my husband was still alive. Now when I return to the Ann Arbor area I can barely tolerate driving by the highway exit to what was once my home.

“But it is a bit silly,” Jackie continues. “I hadn’t been home for over 30 years. What did I expect? It’s not like my family’s there anymore. In fact, my Mom and sister are right here in Florida. Why isn’t this home?”  

The question of where’s home. “Well, why isn’t it?”

“It is home. My kids were born here. I feel as though I’ve lived here forever. And, as I said, most of my family is here. And when I talk about Florida right here, right now it does feel like home.”

“And your sadness lifts.”

“Yes, that’s true. But when I think about standing in front of that old farmhouse I feel lost.”

“’Lost.’ That’s a good word. Sounds like you’re saying that you lost your past, lost your home, lost your foundation. As if you were untethered, floating in space.”

“That’s exactly right.”

“And when you think about being here in Florida, about your life being here, you feel reconnected. This is home.”

“Yes. Right.” Jackie pauses. “It feels weird though. Like I’m split. If I think of being here, I feel fine. If I think of being there, I’m overcome with sadness.”

I feel shrouded with sadness myself and worry that my sadness makes me less able to be helpful to Jackie. Our stories aren’t the same. She does feel a sense of home in Florida, she does experience a sense of connection. I try to get outside myself and focus on Jackie’s feelings. 

“What about if you think of your childhood memories of that home, of, for example, climbing the trees, playing in the yard?”

“Well, right now it just feels sad. All I feel is the absence. There are no more trees to climb. But I think before I went back to Iowa it used to make me happy to remember. Not that everything in my childhood was so great, but still, I remembered the good times and it made me smile.”

“Perhaps as the memory of your present visit fades, those positive childhood feelings with come back.”

Jackie frowns slightly. “This seems like an odd conversation we’re having. It’s almost like we’ve switched places. I’m the one who’s feeling my sadness and you’re the one who’s trying to get me to stop feeling it.” 

I immediately realize the truth of Jackie’s statement. It’s as if the sadness was too much for me, not too much for Jackie; as if I wanted to escape my own sadness, not that Jackie needed to flee hers. “You’re absolutely right, Jackie. I apologize. You were feeling your sadness and doing fine with it.”

“Did you think it would be too much for me? That I’d start going numb again?”

“No, Jackie, I didn’t. Truthfully, this was more about me than about you. I think I’m the one who wanted to get away from my own sadness, so I was thinking I was being helpful by trying to get you away from yours.”

“Wow! I’m sorry I made you sad.”

“You didn’t make me sad, Jackie. We all carry sadness inside us. And when it comes to the surface we need to do just what you’re doing, feel it and feel it until you don’t feel it any more. It’s part of living life.”   

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