Thursday, March 28, 2024

Unrelenting Grief II


“I scared my wife when I got home from here last week,” Scott says. “I thought I’d cried myself out, but I took one look at her and fell into her arms sobbing. She kept asking me what was wrong and all I could do was cry. She asked if I was sick, if someone else died, if Gram died. And that made me cry even more. I don’t think I’d survive if Gram died right now. I know I told you Gramps was my protector and he was, but my Grandma is an incredible woman, so warm and loving. They had a great relationship. I’m afraid she won’t make it long without him. And you were right, both my grandparents just loved me for who I am. My parents each wanted me to be how they wanted me to be. And the thing that was most crazy-making was that they wanted totally opposite things from me.”  

Scott and I have very different stories, but his intense love for his grandparents and his profound sense of loss touches me greatly. Memories of my grandparents come flooding back, like the time my grandfather and I walked for what seemed to my little girl legs to be miles and miles, looking for a record that had struck a chord with me, “I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch.”  

I bring myself back to my patient. “Sounds like you’ve been thinking a lot about your past.”

“Absolutely!” Pause. “You asked why I was so afraid of my father. That made me wonder if he had sexually abused me, but I don’t think so. I know some people forget that stuff, but I really don’t think so.”

“There are lots of reasons to feel frightened other than sexual abuse.”

He sighs. “Good. I’m glad. There are other reasons.” Pause. “He’s big. And loud. And anything can set him off. Especially in relation to me.” Pause. “I actually think he hates me.” Pause. “You didn’t rush to say you’re sure he doesn’t hate me. That’s what most people say, especially my mother, but even my wife.”

“I have no idea whether your father hates you or not, but I’m certainly interested in why that’s your perception.”

“He has such contempt for me. Even my choosing to be a nurse. He’s constantly calling me a wimp or a pussy or an almost-doctor or wondering if I chose to be a nurse so I’d see him be ashamed in front of his friends.”

“That’s awful, Scott. What do you say when he says those things?”

“Usually nothing. I gave up fighting with my father years ago. When I was little and stood up to him he’d beat the shit out of me. I feel like I remember him saying he wished I was dead rather than my brother. I don’t for sure remember that, but I seem to.”

“Perhaps whether he said it directly or not, that’s the feeling you had and that’s a terribly painful, scary feeling.”

He nods. Tears fall from his eyes. “Gramps would never let him beat me. Gramps rarely screamed except at my father to keep him from beating me. Once I thought they’d get physical, but they didn’t. Maybe my Mom intervened. I’m not sure. But if she did then my Dad would just scream at her and I’d feel scared about that too. Like I should protect her, except I was too scared. Unless Gramps was there. Then everything would be all right.” Pause. “Now nothing will ever be all right again,” he says, burying his head in his hands crying.

“You’ve carried a lot of fear and pain with you for many years, Scott. And it’s like your grandfather’s death has literally opened the floodgates.”

“But I hate my tears! It’s just proves my father is right. I’m a wimp!”

“That’s your father’s voice. That’s the voice of your father that you have taken in and that you hear beat you up when you cry and probably whenever you’re sad and sensitive or perhaps even caring. We’ll need to work on helping you moderate his voice so that you can be kind to the sensitive child you were and the man you continue to be. I suspect you have your grandparents loving voices inside you as well, and that their voices will help you to become kinder towards yourself.”

Scott sighs deeply. “Sounds like a good goal, but one not so easily reached.”

“We’ll work on it.”