Sunday, April 26, 2009

Grieving for our Parents

This week's New York Times Magazine has a fascinating article by Christopher Buckley about the deaths of his parents, Pat ("Mum") and William F. Buckley ("Pup"). The article, excerpted from his upcoming book, is about his ambivalent relationship with them. Christopher is a wonderful and compelling writer. He tends to write in a style we clinicians call, "rambling, but goal-directed." He often digresses, but there is always a purpose to it, and returns to his main point quickly. He is an apple that didn't fall far from his parents' tree.

Christopher's mother died 11 months before his father. He relates seeing her in the ICU. At a point when she may have already been dead, he found himself saying, "I forgive you." Like so many essential things we say, his words surprised him. Then, a few months later, with his father facing death, they had this interaction:

I had planned to leave mid-July on a trip to the West Coast. One night as we watched the first of three — or was it four? — movies, he said apprehensively, “When are you leaving for California?”

“I’m not, Pup. I’m going to stay here with you.”

He began to cry. I went over and patted him on the back. He recovered his composure and said, somewhat matter-of-factly, “Well, I’d do the same for you.”

I smiled and thought, Oh, no, you wouldn’t. A year or two earlier, I might have said it out loud, initiating one of our antler-clashes. But watching him suffer had made my lingering resentments seem trivial and beside the point.

I wondered, while keeping this vigil with him, whether to bring up certain things and talk them out so that, when the end came, nothing would be left unsaid between us. But each time I hovered on the brink, I found myself shrugging and saying, Let it go. Perhaps it was another way of saying “I forgive you” — as I had to Mum that night in the hospital — on the installment plan. I felt no need for what is called, in other contexts, the “exit interview.” I was able to love him now all the more, and actually laugh (inwardly, anyway) at that “I’d do the same for you.” Oh, yeah? Ho, ho, ho.
We come to terms with a loved one's death by accepting them as they are. It is at best unnecessary, and sometimes counterproductive, to try to leave everything said, or to "talk things out." Instead, we need to understand that in the face of death, "my lingering resentments seem trivial and beside the point."

When we grieve for our parents, we grieve for them as they were, and we grieve for what we have wished they were. As we come to terms with that discrepancy, we come to terms also with our own lives. We do not have to be perfect to be valuable human beings. Our past mistakes and our current faults do not make us despicable; they make us unique and human. In some ways, Buckley is telling us, our faults are just as precious as our our assets.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Psychology of Jealousy: Guest Post

I recently had a request from Sarah Scrafford, to post on JND. As I haven't been posting lately, I welcomed her offer. Below are her thoughts on the psychology of jealousy.

The Psychology of Jealousy

Relationships are complicated, even when things are going smoothly. You never know when you’re going to be overcome by emotions like anger, sadness, and the worst of them all, jealousy. It’s an evil, green-eyed monster that makes your life miserable; it eats away at every shred of happiness you have until you’re a bundle of nerves and an emotional mess; and it makes you do things you would never do when you’re in your right senses. We only have to look at the female astronaut who put on a diaper and drove all through the night to attack a rival for her beau’s affections to see the truth of this statement.

A close friend and I were discussing a couple whose relationship had hit the doldrums. He wanted in, she wanted out; and the more she wanted out, the more he wanted in. My friend was of the opinion that that’s the way human beings are – when we know that we cannot have something, we somehow seem to want it even more. So when someone close to us withdraws and retreats into a shell, we seem to crave their company and affection in the worst possible way. It’s worse when there’s a third person involved, when you know that someone else is getting what you think you deserve. Jealousy comes rushing in and takes over your life, making you incapable of rational thought or reasoning.

While I’m no psychologist, here’s what I know about the psychology of human relationships – the best way to attract someone’s attention is to pretend to be totally unaware of them. This works really well when they know you’re interested in them and when they’ve rebuffed your advances at least once. The moment you stop hanging around them or trying to get them to show an interest in you, they’re going to wonder why you changed your mind, why you’re not as into them as you seemed to be before. And this hits their ego, the one that you helped inflate with your undivided attention.

If they’re the mature kind, they realize this hurt ego for what it is and let things go; after all, they’re really not interested in a romantic relationship with you. If not, they’re definitely going to hang around you more, check if you’re looking at them from afar, tease you a little with a text message or a mildly flirtatious email, or invite you out for a cup of coffee. But before you jump for joy at this new attention, let me warn you that this interest, the one that’s riding solely on a hurt ego, will disappear the moment you begin to reciprocate, unless your beau is really into you by this time.

Yes, as Shakespeare rightly said; it’s a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive. The psychology of relationships is complicated, more so when we have to play games to win over the people we really want.

This article is contributed by Sarah Scrafford, who regularly writes on the topic of online radiography schools. She invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address: