Archives for August, 2010
We are just now back from a trip to England, and the last thing I saw is the first thing on my mind to write about. We visited Nunhead Cemetery, one of the Magnificent Seven Victorian-era cemeteries on the outskirts of London. For the Victorians, death was an everyday occurrence, a part of life interwoven with the rest. Loved ones of every age died slowly or suddenly, with terrible frequency. Emotional bonds were constantly being torn apart by death, lives churned again and again. I find it difficult to think how they survived being crushed over and over and over.
Here's my rendition of a joke most therapists know very well: Fred and Barney are having a few drinks in the neighborhood bar, and Fred decides it's time to go home. He says good-night and stumbles out the door towards the parking lot. Half an hour later, Barney also calls it quits and heads out the door. He's surprised to find Fred still out there on the sidewalk, searching the ground under the streetlamp directly in front of the bar's entrance. "What are you doing?" Barney asks. "I dropped my car keys! I've been looking and looking, but I can't find them!" moans Fred. Barney helps Fred scour every square inch of the ground in front of the bar, but the keys are definitely not there. "Are you sure you dropped them here, Fred?"
One of my favorite students, Joe, is working on a summer assignment towards the AP Psychology class he'll be taking as a high school senior beginning in September. Last year Joe took an extraordinary class offered at his school called Psychology and Literature, and I posted one of Joe's essays. Now Joe is writing a paper with the following guidelines: Pretend that you are an expert in learning, and that our school system has hired you to recommend effective study habits for its AP students. After doing a good bit of research, Joe concluded that motivation was one of the critical factors in effective learning. Notice that the words "motivation" and "emotion" both share the same root. Emotions are Nature's way of getting us moving, acting, doing! Certain kinds of learning, called primary learning, come with motivation built in. Children naturally want to learn to walk, talk, pick up objects, etc.
When Luna died in April, I wrote a post about how affected I was by her death. Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times then used my post as an occasion to write about the importance of taking the grief pet owners feel seriously. We are crushed by the loss and we struggle with guilt and denial feelings (Did I do "the right things"? Did I do "enough"? I can't believe he / she is gone!), no matter that our loved one was an animal and not a human being.
Very early on the morning of July 27, I finally had our precious and wonderful old cat, Malcolm, put to sleep. He had been disabled for months, after two strokes all but blinded him and reduced his mobility to a hobble. During those last days, we all knew that Malcolm might go at any time, and we did our best to emotionally prepare ourselves for his passing. I also knew "Our Pal Mal" very well; he was a true grit cat. Tough, brave, tenacious, Malcolm wasn't going to let go of life until he absolutely had to, and I braced myself for the likelihood that some day soon I might have to help him die.