Illustration by Elizabeth Wagele
This is the second part of Dr. Elayne Savage’s story, There is to be No Grieving, from The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear and Death published by the International Enneagram Association last month. Please see Part I.
Poof. They Were Gone. So I was sitting cross-legged in the overstuffed chair, staring at the cutoffs in my hands. I forced myself to concentrate on pulling the needle and embroidery thread through the thick denim. In and out, making those tiny stitches, repeating to myself, “Dad said that wasn’t the right plane.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see he was still in the kitchen on the phone.
I’ll never forget the slump of his shoulders and that awful look on his face as he walked back into the living room. “Their plane crashed. Your mother is dead. So is your grandmother.” I couldn’t believe his words. I could only stammer, “You’re kidding, aren’t you? Tell me you’re kidding.”
My uncles arrived. Uncle Joe had a handkerchief tied around his neck that smelled of Ben-Gay. Uncle Max kept repeating the story of the drive to the airport. My mother and grandmother almost didn’t take the flight because my mother left her purse at home. Uncle Max gave her a wad of cash and they boarded the plane. No wonder my dad had been so long on the phone—since my mother had no purse, she had no I.D. Finally the temporary morgue was able to identify her from the inscription in her wedding band.
My nine-year-old brother, Lee, was still sleeping. “Tomorrow will be soon enough to tell him,” the adults decided. “Let him sleep.”
The next morning Dad told Lee about the crash urging, “You have to be a brave soldier.” Then Dad bundled us off to my aunt and uncle’s. I wanted to talk to Lee about the crash, but I didn’t know how. The three of us rode across town in silence. “There are only three of us now,” kept repeating in my head.
Later that morning, we were eating pancakes at my aunt’s kitchen table. The radio was on: “Two Omaha residents were killed yesterday in a Braniff Airlines crash—Goldie Raskin and her mother, Sarah Wolfson.”
“They’re dead?” my brother gasped. “Dead?” He ran out of the kitchen, sobbing.
Lee and I didn’t go to the double funeral. Dad thought it best we stay home. “The biggest funeral Omaha has ever seen,” people bragged. “There was even a police escort!”
Nothing seemed real. There was the shock of the newspaper headlines. I was embarrassed to see my mother’s picture on the front page. I wished they’d used a better photo. It was so blurry I could hardly tell it was my mom. The TV and newspaper reporters were angling for an interview with Lee and me. Thank goodness my family kept them away.
After the funeral, big-bosomed women, smelling of talc, pulled me close, clucking, “Oh, you poor baby.” I couldn’t breathe. I overheard wisps of speculations about the cause of the crash, the condition of the bodies. I
learned some new information: almost half of the passengers survived the crash! I had thought everyone died.
That’s when my mind began playing tricks. “Maybe there’s a big mistake and they didn’t die after all,” would alternate with, “Why did they have to be the ones to die?” In the middle of this confusion, my camp counselor phoned me saying how sorry she was. Maybe she wasn’t upset with me anymore about the trouble I caused in the cabin. Camp seemed like a very long time ago.
Things stayed surreal for many years. My dad removed all photos of my mother. Lee and I thought he’d thrown them out, but when he died thirty years later, Lee found the albums hidden in the back of the highest shelf of his closet. He had moved with them four times, yet we never knew they existed. Shortly after she died he sold his business, took a job traveling, and hired a housekeeper. So we lost him much of the time as well.
The unspoken family rule was: There is to be no grieving. Our grief was to remain wrapped in silence.
There was no place to have feelings. It didn’t cross anyone’s mind that Lee and I would benefit from seeing a counselor or therapist. In those days it just wasn’t done. I was doing a lot of acting out—mostly getting kicked out of class and study hall for talking.
Illustration by Elizabeth Wagele
My middle school principal, Dr. Brown, tried to counsel me but I completely shut down. My high school English teacher, Marcia Blacker, tried as well, asking “Is everything okay at home?” I said, “Just fine,” but it wasn’t. (Years later I actually searched for and located Ms. Blacker and thanked her for caring.) I threw myself into schoolwork, socializing, school clubs and cheerleading so I didn’t have to feel the sadness or spend time in a lonely house.
For many decades I lived with this tender, unhealed wound. Every year I dreaded the arrival of August 22. I felt different from friends and professional colleagues. It has always been awkward to explain that my mother and grandmother died in a plane crash. People didn’t know how to respond. I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t cry about it.
• See Part III of There is to be No Grieving on 9-11-12: Becoming a DC-3 Groupie
• Dr. Elayne Savage is a practicing psychotherapist, workplace and relationship coach and author of Don’t Take It Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection and Breathing Room-Creating Space to Be a Couple.
• Dr. Savage’s blog: http://www.TipsFromTheQueenOfRejection.com
• See the New Look of Elizabeth’s Famous Types page on her web site.
• Please subscribe to this blog and link your web site to mine: http:www.wagele.com
• Save September 19 at 9:00 am PDT for a talk with Elizabeth Wagele and the Deep Coaching Institute on The Enneagram of Death http://www.deepcoachinginstitute.com/call-series/