This is Holy Week for many Christians who are anticipating the celebration of Easter next Sunday. Below is an article of mine that was published ten years ago in the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly. I describe a meeting with one of my clients that happened on Good Friday, which also that year coincided with Passover.
During this meeting, so many things started to converge and cross over that I was nearly overtaken by them. This story revolves around the converging life paths of my client and myself, and how we both ended up traveling long distances to witness and help guide our grandmothers towards their imminent death.
“It’s been a week of Passion,” Paula’s voice quivered as she dropped down into the chair in front of me. She had already emailed to say that her grandmother was dying and she couldn’t decide whether to go home. Paula had a long history of not being able to decide. We had been meeting for nearly 2-1/2 years, I as her psychosynthesis guide and she as my client. Together, we had explored her feelings of never being good enough and her consequent control of and search for illusive perfection in everything from shoes to menu items to true love. We had attempted to unravel and unbind her never-ending endings. And we had spent hours peeling away Paula’s habitual lateness to discover the face of cold fear of having to wait for the other and relive a surge of emotions around abandonment.
Her week of Passion was literal and figurative. It had been Holy Week and the day we met in 2011 was not only Good Friday, but also Jewish Passover. The word Pasque for Easter actually comes from the Hebrew word which means to “go through.” This week of ‘crossing over’, of leaving slavery for freedom, of moving from this world to the next, from death to everlasting life, seemed to reflect Paula’s own inner and outer struggle.
Since our last meeting, Paula had been confronted with death, an encounter that cannot be controlled or perfected or tricked into arriving before you or never at all. Her grandmother was dying of cancer and was finally surrendering to its call. Paula’s Nonna, an Italian as well as a private icon, no longer held the energy to sustain the Milanese family as she had for all of Paula’s 30 years.
Nonna had been the family pillar, the Corinthian column of strength and integrity around whom Christmas and birthdays and Holy Communions had been celebrated. This grandmother had finally decided to crumble, leaving everyone else to deal with their feelings of loss and painful loneliness. Grandmother, lucid and detached, was quietly slipping away. Her husband was angry that she had given up and stopped fighting, her family felt in many ways that she was already dead.
Three days earlier, Paula’s mother had called to prepare her daughter for the worst. While insisting that Paula not travel home from the Netherlands to Italy, her mother had wanted Paula to prepare for the imminent funeral. “Don’t come,” said Paula’s mother crying into the phone. “It’s better you remember her as she was. Your brother and sister go in to hug her and she does nothing. Nonna doesn’t care anymore. She doesn’t care if you are there are not. You are lucky not to see her this way. Besides, you will only have to fly back for the funeral. Get ready for that instead. It’s better this way.”
Paula recounted all this in tears. Throughout her childhood, her mother’s mother had been the one to comfort Paula, the one to take care of her while Paula’s mother fretted over Paula’s sickly younger brother, cooed over his comical antics.
Nonna had always told Paula that she was her favorite grandchild, and Paula wanted to go home and see her. But she struggled with her own mother’s wishes along with the fact that another ending was looming in front of her—her PhD thesis which was already late and had to be finished in less than three weeks. Logic and reason, Paula’s major accomplices throughout most of her lifetime, told her not to go home, and yet her heart was telling her otherwise…
You can continue reading this story below. Happy Easter!