The first time he attempted suicide, he was ten years old. His parents had divorced. His father was a classic hippie. His mother was more reserved. He came from an Orthodox yeshiva-going family but his mother and aunt chose a different path and disappointed his father terribly.
This father is still alive in his nineties. He’s outlived two of his kids.
He once looked at me in the eyes and he said, ‘Those of us in the camps who were nice, didn’t survive.’
I heard him loud and clear. He was not one of the nice ones.
He married into a tight family. Several sisters survived the Holocaust together and formed a community. His wife was the most quiet. They raised two daughters. No one was close. The kids thought they raised themselves. By the time they were teens, the parents had divorced. The family was devastated and embarrassed.
Everyone married for the wrong reasons, such as to please grandpa. No one found love. From grandpa, there wasn’t much love, just a lot of strict love. The younger generation didn’t want all the rules. They wanted the love and the meals and the conversation. That was something he couldn’t do. His wife was so depressed that she would often show up to the table and not say a word. The daughters were raised with a mentally ill mother and a father who survived the Holocaust and at age 94 is still doing everything himself, going to shul three times a day and saying the mourner’s kaddish.
One of his daughters had no kids. She’s in her sixties. I don’t know if she’s gay or straight.
My client’s mother died around age 50 to cancer. That was the same year he married his wife and everything went against them. He didn’t have training to be married. He was a yeshiva bachur (student). She was a baal teshuva from another country. A beautiful woman. They had great intentions but little in common.
When his mother died, she left an inheritance. They bought a house and tried to create a home and failed. They tried for seven years to have children. They tried for seven years to find things of common interest. The husband was unable to find employment so he sat around with time on his hands. She got several teaching jobs. She was exhausted when she came home and looking for his support. And it wasn’t there.
So when he was driving across country with the little he had collected after his divorce, she kept the house, he stopped at his grandfather’s house to unload the van. His father and grandfather with their strong accents said, ‘This is all you have? Your mother left you an inheritance and this is all you have? You’re going to let her keep the house.’
My client felt guilty. He felt he took her child-bearing years and there was no way to pay for it. He still struggles with it. Perhaps he deserves some of his inheritance back?
As he grows, he decides who he is. He develops backbone. He’s not grandpa. He’s not an ultra-Orthodox Jew. He keeps the Sabbath and the dietary laws. That’s more than enough for him.
I’m often asked by young couples, what happens when I go through a journey and my husband goes through a different journey? Does that mean our marriage is threatened? If you don’t let your spouse grow, you’ll have an unhappy marriage because they won’t reach their potential.
If his growth is watching online porn and putting personal ads out there, clearly that is not in the best interests of the marriage. Let’s say one person develops an interest in astronomy and the other in cooking. If they don’t go with each other to the classes, maybe they will find other people in those classes that they have more in common with. Will this threaten the marriage? They’ll have to work that out together.
As my client spoke to me, he poked and pulled at the hairs in his beard and ate them. He’s unable to defecate like a regular person. He has to go to the hospital. He holds everything in.
It’s taken a long time for him to trust me.
We work together two or three times a week on a reduced scale. When I met him, the thought of working was incomprehensible. He got a respectable job.
Last Yom Kippur was the last day he wanted to be on earth. He boxed up and gave away everything he had. Then he rethought and kept living.
That was six months ago.
On another note, I have a client who when he sees me, he folds his hands in prayer position and says, “Teacher!” And I fold my hands in prayer position and say, “Teacher!”
I know it is not popular in today’s age to have equality with one’s therapist but I feel comfortable with it. I’m comfortable with being a mirror, hearing the things people say and throwing it back at them and seeing if it makes sense for them.
I meet a new teacher every day. I am open to being open. I thought I was for many years and I was not. It’s not as easy as it sounds.