“My son told me yesterday he’s not coming for Thanksgiving,” she says, barely holding back tears.
Although I’m not surprised - Cynthia has been disappointed by her son many times before – I do feel badfor her. “I’m so sorry,” I say. “What happened?”
“He said it’s too expensive to bring the whole family.” Pause. “I know it is expensive to travel during the holidays. I wish I could help him, but I’m just not in a position to do so.” Pause. “I wonder if he was waiting for me to offer. But he should know my circumstances. He knows his father left me next to nothing. I’m not even 65. I have to be sure I have money to last my whole life.” Tears run down her cheeks. “I don’t want to spend Thanksgiving alone. It’s supposed to be a family holiday.”
I can feel myself wanting to go into “helper” mode – making suggestions, asking why she has to be
alone. It’s a place I have been many times before with Cynthia, usually ending in frustration for both of us. Her helplessness is hard for me. I want her to do something. She wants someone to do it for her, to take care of her.
“It is hard to be alone for the holidays,” I say, empathically.
“But what should I do?” she asks, crying harder. “What alternative do I have?”
Feeling as though she is unconsciously setting a trap for me I say, “It sounds, Cynthia, that you’re asking me for suggestions, but usually when I make suggestions you reject them, always finding a reason they’re undoable.”
“But there isn’t anything I can do. Paul isn’t coming. I can’t change that. I have no other family here. So I’m alone.”
“Sounds like you’re feeling angry at Paul.”
“Okay, so I’m angry. What does that get me?”
“Sounds like you’re angry with me too.”
“I just don’t see where this is getting me anyplace.”
I hear that almost as a positive statement, a desire for movement. “Where would you like to get, Cynthia?”
“Not alone again.”
“So what might you do to not be alone again?”
“You think I have control over this, don’t you?”
“You know, Cynthia, you feel more angry than sad to me right at this moment and I wonder if that’s
helpful to you. Maybe it can give you the push to figure out what you might do to not be alone again.”
“You sit there so smug. You’re probably surrounded by family – kids, grandkids – all getting together and having a great time. You don’t care that I’m alone,” she says crossing her arms in front of her.
Although this is definitely not my reality, it is clearly Cynthia’s fantasy about me. “So you’re envious of the life you see me as having.”
“Yes!” she practically spits at me, with venom. “You’re just like all of them. You have it all. You gloat while I suffer!”
“All of whom, Cynthia?”
“My sisters, my mother. They were prettier, smarter, able to get it all, while I was the shmuck who
married an even bigger schmuck who left me in the position I’m in today.”
“So you felt lousy about yourself, felt you couldn’t compete, couldn’t do as well. You gave up. Also, and I’d really like you to think about what I’m going to say, I think you now unconsciously punish them – and me – but remaining the “schmuck,” as you say. It’s as though you’re getting back at them by saying, see what you did to me, I’m miserable and it’s all your fault.”
“So what do you think I should I do?”
“You could fight back. You could do things that would make you feel better, make your life more fulfilling.”
“A little late, isn’t it?”
“I don’t think so. You said yourself you’re not yet 65. You still have a lot of living to do. And I’m not
talking about become a millionaire or discovering a cure for cancer, I’m talking about not needing to
keep yourself in a one down position.”
“What about Thanksgiving?” she asks.
“What about Thanksgiving?” I reply. “You still want me to make suggestions. But I know you can come up with your own suggestions, you could thrive, if you could allow yourself not to punish yourself as a way of getting back at the people who have hurt you.”
She shrugs. “We’ll see.”
“Yes,” I reply, “we’ll see.”