Kathy's insights from this powerful enactment of the "refusal to recover theme" ushered in a three-month period of grief work during which she demonstrated another unique aspect of her psychological process. She transformed one of her children's dreams into a creative story that enabled Kathy to do some critical grief work. Kathy worked on this story for many sessions re-writing and working through issues related to her brother's death. The first session during this sequence began with Kathy realizing that she and her entire family of origin all had been "drowning" due to their refusal to recover from Dan's death. None of them was allowed to go on with their lives or to connect with new people or even to eachother. She read me the story she had written from her daughter's dream.
In the story the girl and her big brother are walking together near the water when an earthquake hits and a tidal wave grabs them deep into the ocean. The wave knocks them unconscious and when they awaken they are separated from one another. The girl can see her brother in the distance. She focuses all her attention and hope on her brother. She sees him searching for her, calling her name. He is trying to swim to her. He could easily swim to land to his own safety, but to do so would be to let his sister drown. So he keeps his eye on her and tries to reach her. She is tired and the waves keep pulling her further out from shore. She stays focused on her brother and sees him reaching for her. She struggles to stay alive as she waits for him to save her. Other people see them and try to swim out to her to bring her in. But she is unable to see them. Her focus is absolutely attached to her brother. One by one, each of the people gives up trying to save her. If she would only reach her hand to them, swim a little bit toward them, they could grab her and swim to shore2E But she will not reach out to them. She only sees her brother. A young man finally swims to her side and tries to help her. She kicks and makes him release her, reaching her arms toward her brother and crying for him. Shocked by this, the young man screams, "Your brother is dead. His body is just floating out there. He cannot save you. He is dead. Please let me take you in." She tries to see her brother one more time but now all she sees is his body bobbing up and down on the water. "Is he really dead? Have I been waiting for my dead brother to come save me? What do I do now? Can I just leave him lying on the water like that?" Exhausted she swims to shore with the young man occassionally supporting her when she tires. She reaches the shore and rests looking out onto the water where she sees her brother's body as it is swept off into the sea..
Over the sessions we analyzed many aspects of this story. Of course, the predominant aspect was that Kathy finally began to accept her brother's death with deep pain and sorrow expressed through her tears.. In addition, Kathy likened the feeling of "refusing to recover" to her refusal to accept help in the story. She refused to let anyone else attach to her. Kathy once again brought up the moral dilemma in Sophie's Choice where a mother in a concentration camp had to decide which of her two children would go to the gas chamber. Kathy argued that her story should end with both of them drowning and washing out to sea. I questioned why and suggested that this idea implied she felt responsible for her brother's death. In her story the brother was dead but she clung to her denial perhaps because she believed that even accepting his death might actually kill him. Suddenly, Kathy had a vivid memory of actually disregarding the idea that she had something to do with Dan's death. It was the night after his funeral. She was in the bedroom alone and said to herself, "Did I do this by wishing he would disappear? - by wishing he would leave and I would be the only child?" Terrified by this thought, she quickly told herself, "No, these things don't happen that way."
The next session Kathy could not remember what we were talking about. She felt "uninspired" to deal with the issues and even dread in coming to this particular session which was just before Christmas. As she began to speak of actually not feeling responsible for Dan's death, suddenly her eyes welled up with tears and she began sobbing." In shock, she said, "What is happening? I don't know why I'm crying. I don't feel anything. All I see is this vivid image of Dan saying goodbye to me. It's just before Christmas. He's so happy. And I'm thinking 'Get out of here and leave me alone. Maybe I can get some attention.' Now I feel such deep regret about that. I wish I'd known that would be the last time I saw him." She cried some, but then seemed to drain all emotion out of her as she listed the events that occurred immediately following Dan's death. She had almost forgotten them. After the funeral she and her mother stayed in a motel near Kathy's grandmother's home and Kathy became fascinated with hearing of a little girl who had recently died falling off a cliff. Swimming in the motel pool the next day, Kathy almost drowned. The boy who was with Dan when he died was there and rescued her. Kathy next spoke of another near drowning she experienced much later in life. It was during her "crazy period" when she was on that wonderful date with the man-about-town. She went swimming in dangerous water that even he refused to go into and she almost drowned then too. She seemed dazed at the end of the session as she said, "Drowning is the worst way to die."
Several hours after our session I received a panicked phone call from Kathy, filled with emotion. She suddenly had the shocking thought that maybe she tried to kill herself in that near drowning after Dan's death. She'd been thinking about the story she wrote after her daughter's dream and it seemed to be a condensation of this near-drowning incident she described plus Dan's death. As she said in the story, they both should've died and washed out to sea. Although she remembered being obsessed by that little girl's death after Dan died, she hadn't realized at the time that she might have been trying to kill herself. Now she remembers that she could have just swam to the edge or even just reached out to the edge, but she didn't. She had been in the shallow end and swam to the deep end. After the boy rescued her she felt humiliated and embarassed. She feared her mother finding out but wasn't sure if she feared burdening her mother or feared that her mother might not care if she drowned. She had never described this incident to anyone before and it frightened her. She wondered if perhaps she had thought she should disappear like Dan had disappeared. She calmed down as we talked.
By the next session Kathy reflected on how many deaths occurred at the time of Dan's death: her godparents, great grandmother, this little girl2E She remembered noting that she knew more people to die than other people. She wondered if she felt she caused deaths somehow or had some evil power to kill. Then she remembered earlier in the treatment raising the "moral dilemma" of how she could take the spotlight that was for Dan. She wondered, "It's possible I thought I should disappear like Dan disappeared so I wouldn't feel so guilty or ashamed for wishing he would disappear."
At this point Kathy began to describe her therapy as a book. Earlier she had seen it as a puzzle, but now she was filling in many of the pieces of the puzzle. Soon Kathy began to understand how her feelings of responsibility for Dan's death could explain her powerful reaction to her abortions. She could see that she wanted punishment for killing and had been angry when people were lenient with her. Her other near-drowning experience occurred just before the second abortion and she remembered behaving wrecklessly at the time. She began to realize that her deep feelings of not deserving more in life might well stem from these ideas that she had evil powers and could harm others.