Excerpt from Seven Choices:
Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World by Elizabeth Harper
(Warner Books, New York)
Armand DiMele was the therapist I had visited when I was in New York just a few weeks after Greg’s death. After a friend in the city had recommended him to me—“Have you thought about seeing someone who can help you through this?…I know a man who is excellent and who has worked a lot with people who are grieving”—I had gone to see Armand several times during those early critical weeks.
It had been Armand who had told me about the phonograph album that I played night after night when I could not go to sleep. “Jean-Michel Jarre’s ‘Oxygene,’” he said. “Buy it. Perhaps the sound of that music can give you some sense of life in another dimension.”
It was Armand who had given me a special present. The last time I had seen him before returning to Tennessee, he held out a small object. “See, Elizabeth,” he said as he showed me the tiny glass figurine, “we have to be whatever we are at any given time in our lives, even when we are wounded. We have to live that moment on the way to other moments.” He handed me a beautiful crystal bird. One wing had been broken.
I suppose I expected something similar from Armand when I saw him this time—wisdom offered with gentleness and indirection. But today he did not speak the way he had in the past. His words were sharp and straight.
I began by speaking of my feeling lost and without direction, of loss and tragedy; Armand responded by speaking of the limits of human perception.
“How do you know death is a tragedy?” he asked me. “For people who die, it may not be a tragedy at all. They may be far happier than they were here on earth—who can say? Those of us left here certainly don’t know. It may well be,” he concluded, “that tragedy is something only the living imagine.”
When I spoke of my desperate desire to find something or someone that would make me happy, Armand spoke of the futility of my efforts:
“You will never be so happy again,” he warned me. “You will never be so innocent and trusting. You will never know anyone else who will love you the way Greg did. You may,” he said, “meet someone to love and be loved by, but you will then be a different person. You will never be able to repeat what you had with Greg. You might as well stop looking. The only place you are going to find happiness is within you.”
When I spoke of the impossibility of living without Greg, Armand spoke of actions to be taken:
“Invite a friend to go to dinner tonight. And have this as a rule: Don’t mention Greg once during the evening.”
I spoke of the emptiness and loneliness of every day, and Armand challenged:
“Well, Elizabeth, what are you going to do about that?”
When I said I wanted my life the way it used to be, he asked:
“Are you going to be like the person I met the other day whose husband has been dead twenty-eight years and she has never taken one item of his clothing from the closet or changed one item in their bedroom? It would be amusing if it weren't so tragic. Because she keeps wondering why she can’t get over her sadness. She’s such a lonely and unhappy person.”
“Oh, I could tell you stories, Elizabeth,” Armand went on to say, “of grieving people who attempted to lose themselves in causes—or in excessive care of others. Of those who have retreated to a safe environment and settled for so much less than they had dreamed of for their lives. People who have given up their zest for living and exist in resignation. Many avoid new relationships; if they don’t care for anyone, perhaps they will never be hurt again. Some give up all their ideals and beliefs, some withdraw from life, some—“
“But I can’t see that I have done any of those things,” I said defensively. “What am I hiding behind in order not to have to get on with living?”
“What do you think?” he asked me.
We sat in silence for several seconds. I knew it was time for an honest appraisal.
“Well,” I began tentatively, “I have tried to run away from the loss—to try to find something or someone to substitute for Greg so that my life would have meaning again. I have also tried to become a different person, perhaps so I wouldn’t have to solve the problems that plagued the person I used to be.”
“But were these activities also beneficial?” Armand asked.
“Well, yes, at the beginning. I suppose, they were a way to stay alive. But I think now they are walls I hide behind. I wanted to show that I could overcome any loss.”
“But you haven’t, have you?”
“No,” I answered quietly.
“What is the next step?” I asked after we sat a few moments in silence.
Armand did not answer right away. Then he began to read from a paper in his hand. It was something another grieving woman had written which began: “There is a time to stop traveling…A time to refuel yourself…A time where the only number you dial is your own.” He gave me a copy to take back with me to Texas, and I read the words every day for many weeks.
Excerpt from Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World by Elizabeth Harper Neeld
I saw Armand DiMele, the grief therapist in New York, a few months after he had given me the “only number you dial is your own” piece of writing. This time I told him, “I have something for you.” It was Richard Brautigan’s short poem called Karma Repair Kit: Items 1-4. After listing silence, sleep, and food, the poet gives his final instruction.
4. Seeing Armand smile at this wordless instruction for how to repair one’s life, I said, “This is to let you know that I got the message.”
When we are Linking Past to Present, such is the wisdom of our experiences.
Copyright Elizabeth Harper Neeld www.elizabethharperneeld.com
Excerpts printed by permission to Armand DiMele