Several weeks ago I looked out my office window and noticed tell-tale signs that Fall was upon us. With all of its beauty, Fall feels bittersweet to me- the ending of summer and the beginning of crisp evening air and other harbingers of winter. Fall always makes me pensive. But this year, the ping felt deep inside has taken on extra meaning. It marks the two-year anniversary of my mother’s fatal car accident.
During the first year, I did all the right things. I accepted the fact that I would feel shocked and devastated. I “woulda, shoulda, coulda’ed” for weeks. I joined a grief group to seek much needed support. I talked, cried, meditated, poured over family photos, convened with family members and leaned on friends who knew her wonderful spirit best. I thought I was well on the way to recovery. My work with couples was going well. But then something happened. My grief took a turn for the worse.
Now, if anyone should understand this turn of events, it should be me. After all, my mother was a remarkable therapist who was Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s right hand. Many people are familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ groundbreaking book, “On Death and Dying,” which broke the taboo against talking about death and explained the stages dying people and their loved ones go through when death is imminent. For many years, my mother’s work focused on death, dying and grieving and she and I talked endlessly about her work. Death was no stranger to her and by osmosis, to me as well.
“So, why now?” I wondered. Why, when I had been making so much progress, was I finding it challenging to stay centered, to remain present in my life. Why were simple tasks sometimes feeling larger than life?
I figured out that the reasonably normal cadence of my first-year-without-mother life had been due to the fact that nature had been kind enough to anesthetize my mind, body and spirit. But now, much to my chagrin, the drug was slowly wearing off, leaving me feeling raw, off-kilter and out of sorts. My spotty meditation practice, hikes in the mountains, get-togethers with loving friends and family just haven’t been cutting it. Memories of my mom, rather than a source of pleasure and comfort, left me feeling anxious and alone. I felt compelled to do something, anything,that might shift things for me and herald me back to more solid ground.
I decided to take a trip to Amsterdam. My mother was born in Germany and was a Holocaust survivor. To escape the Nazi’s, when my mother was 12, she had been taken from her home in Germany and sent to live with relatives in Rotterdam for three years. When she left Holland to immigrate to the USA with her family, her Dutch relatives were all killed. Because her life was uprooted at an early age, she spent a good deal of her adult life trying to recapture her roots and lived and worked in Europe six months out of the year for decades. She had a vibrant career and life there. Her work touched thousands of people’s lives. I had heard stories, seen photos, and even visited several times. But something inside of me drew me back to her roots.
The first few days were spent in Amsterdam with my husband. He had never been there before. He loved the Dutch’s frenetic love affair with bicycles, the spirit of the city, the friendliness of natives, the museums, Anne Frank’s House, the frites and how our not being able to speak a word of Dutch wasn’t even a speed bump on the trip.
But in truth, the real healing part of the trip occurred when I met many of the people with whom my mother had worked. In Europe the boundaries between clients and friends is often blurred and these folks were best described as fervent fans. Although I had always known that my mother’s workshops were life-changing to so many people, to hear first-hand, story after story about the ways in which she skillfully, lovingly and artfully transformed people’s lives, well, let’s just say, it was a bit overwhelming. My mother was the veritable Johnny Appleseed of love.
But the best story of all happened over dinner with three of my mother’s clients-turned- friends. One of them was forty-five year-old, attractive German woman named Hannah. Despite her gruff smoker’s voice, there was a softness and gentleness in her eyes. She told me how she and my mother met. She attended one of my mother’s experiential workshops in Germany. With much shame and reticence, she talked to my mother about her overwhelming sense of guilt about the war. Despite the fact that Hannah was too young to have had any personal responsibility for the war atrocities, German history haunted her. She talked to my mother about the ways in which her guilt had shackled her through much of her adult life. And my mother, the woman whose childhood had been shunted by the war and anti-Semitism, reached out to help this woman find peace, forgiveness and self-love.
Although I had often heard stories about my mother’s propensity to help Germans heal their war guilt, seeing this woman’s face, watching her cry, experiencing her appreciation for all that she learned from my mom, the Jew, left me feeling blessed to have received such a magnificent gift. And as I sat across the dining room table and looked into her eyes, instead of simply feeling that profound sense of loss that accompanied me to The Netherlands, I felt gratitude for the goodness my mother brought to the world and for the people I met who love her almost as much as I.
Michele Weiner Davis is the creator of the Divorce Busting Centers, learn more on how you can solve marriage problems and stop divorce and recover from infidelity. Follow me on Twitter @divorcebusting, add my Divorce Busting Facebook Page, and subscribe to the Divorce Busting YouTube Videos for more advice and upcoming marriage saving events.