Excerpt From A Time to Say Good-Bye: Moving Beyond Loss
by Mary McClure Goulding, MSW,
Co-Founder of Redecision Therapy
Papier-Mache Press, Watsonville, CA, 1990
(Reprinted with permission)
At the American Academy of Psychotherapists’ annual conference in New Orleans, fifteen months after my therapy with my AAP family, I asked Al Pesso if I could be the first client in his day-long workshop. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had heard of his work and knew that he was considered an outstanding therapist. A friend described his method as a cross between a Greek chorus and psychodrama, with special emphasis on the body, and that description was intriguing.
After explaining his methods to the large audience of psychotherapists, he began with me. “I often work sitting on the floor, because when you sit on chairs, you limit your scope. Do you mind doing that?”
“Not at all.” We sat together on the floor with the audience around us.
I began: “What I want … I’m very tight-in my shoulders and neck. That’s the physical part. The other … I guess it’s just plain … I’m lonely. An example … I decided to walk on Bourbon Street last night. David Hawkins went with me. I had a wonderful time. I was bouncy, happy. And as soon as I got back to my room … Whew.” I began crying. “Basically, I’m lonely. Bob and I were always together” I added, “I ought to get over-r this. Bob’s been dead a long time.”
Pesso suggested that I choose participants to act as my internal critic, voice of truth, witness to my feelings, and contact person. The contact person was to hold me.
From the beginning I resisted the idea of a contact person. “I don’t want one. That’s my whole problem. There is no contact person in my life without Bob.”
Pesso said he thought it important that “At some point you allow yourself this help,” but we went on working without such a person. Pesso and the “Greek chorus””””” “repeated many of my words and underlined my feelings for me. I began to trust the process and especially trusted Pesso. Probing more deeply, I found myself back in my family home, when I was five years old and very ill with rheumatic fever. I reported, “My parents were young and panicky, and they didn’t know what to do. Neither did the doctor.
“There were no antibiotics then” I explained that I screamed whenever anyone tried to touch me, because their touches hurt my inflamed joints.
“You need to let someone hold you now”, Pesso said.
Again I resisted this suggestion, but finally I leaned back into the arms of the contact person. I spoke of overhearing the doctor whisper to my parents that I was dying. “I knew I could only die at night, because of that stupid ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ prayer. So I did everything I could to stay awake all night. I slept in the daytime. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. No one could have helped me anyway.”
The contact person said, “If I had been your father back then, you could have told me how terrified you were about dying. I would have held you and comforted you.”
I was stunned. I could have been helped when I was five years old. It shouldn’t have been necessary for me to figure everything out by myself and to refuse all touch. I began to appreciate that. It hadn’t been just my own pain that kept me from allowing others to touch and comfort me. Probably my parents, too, had been uncomfortable with touch, I decided, remembering that their infrequent touches had been awkward and uncertain. I told Pesso, “I’ve spent my life trying to be independent. I only let Bob in. He knew how to barge right through my resistance.”
As the contact person continued to hold me, his touch was an antidote to my childhood opposition to dependency. At Pesso’s suggestion, I chose someone from the audience to play the ideal mother, and the contact person became an ideal father. I worked on my relationship with both of my parents.
I believed that I was finished with this work, when my back suddenly began to hurt. “It’s the way I’m leaning against you,” I told the contact person.
Pesso said, “Don’t sit up. Still lean on him. Otherwise, you’ll be doing the work yourself again. Stay against him. And now with the pain you feel in your back, push against him as if to get rid of him. Push against him. Push against him with all your might. And make sounds. Louder.”
1 yelled and pushed as hard as I could, while the contact person supported me silently. I couldn’t push him away. Then, amazingly, the pain was gone. My body felt soft and relaxed. “There’s no more pain,” I said. “I feel very peaceful.’
“Stay where you are and take in the experience. Get a flavor of it. How your body would have felt back then. How the father and the mother would have felt to you back then.”
I sensed the image of myself-an HI, hurting child surrounded by knowing, responsive parents. I formed a concept of parental sufficiency and gave myself the fantasy of capable figures who understood what to do. Parents who let me have the independence I was struggling for, but in a serene way. I gathered these presences into myself. “Yes. That’s nice. Easy.”
Both ideal parents said, “If we’d been your parents back then, things would have been easier for you.”
Pesso said, “Now we are finished.”
As is often true of therapy’s effects, it wasn’t until later that I recognized how much I had accomplished. After allowing myself to be held and comforted, I stopped clinging so desperately to Bob’s memory.
Memories do not die a sudden death
nor are they born de novo all at once
but rise and fall a rolling wave of feeling muted by time
Long long shall I remember you
. William Kir-Stimon, “Of Memories”
After my work with Al Pesso, I felt ready to say good-bye to Bob.