Star Wars and After Dinner Stories

Star Wars and After Dinner Stories

When I was little we had family meals every evening. From my young child perspective, the kitchen felt warm, the wall paper was yellow with flowers, the wooden kitchen table was large, and there was a lot of food. I have the sense of generous dishes of rice, chicken, kebab, potatoes, Israeli salad, vegetables, pita, homemade hummus. (I do know how fortunate I am to have had this.)

I am the oldest of five and back then there was me and three of my sisters. My brother didn’t join our family until several years later. The food was always good – thanks, mom. I remember my mom saying that she learned to cook from my dad and his mother so we grew up on Middle Eastern food – yum.

After dinner, instead of helping my mom clean up (why did you let us get away with that, mom??) we sat around the dinner table and my father made up stories for us. I don’t remember the content of them now, but my favorites were his Star Wars stories. After dinner he took the Luke, Leia, and Han on adventures that had nothing to do with the movies and we absolutely loved every minute of it. There was intense suspense and he did all the voices. The good guys always won. We sat glued, on his lap and on the seats next to him, listening to every word and I imagined his story playing out in my head.

Some nights he didn’t really have any stories to tell or was probably really tired after a hard day’s work, but we begged and begged him until he gave in. He laughed and laughed and asked my mom, “You see this? Why they love it so much?” He had this way of laughing and talking at the same time in a high pitched voice that made others around him laugh too.

He always ended his stories with “And may the Force be with you!” We screamed and clapped with joy.

Dad, we loved it so much because we loved Star Wars and loved you. You paying attention to us in that way and doing something just for us. Something you created just for us. It felt special. It was a time when you weren’t angry and I wasn’t afraid of you. It was you at your best and most loving.

What It Was Like When My Dad Died

What It Was Like When My Dad Died

I don’t remember in what order things happened but here are a few things that stand out for me the weekend that he died in no particular order.

My sisters and I received word from my brother on a Friday afternoon. It was shocking, unexpected, hard to wrap my head around. I went home immediately, told my husband and daughter, and we cried for a little while. We left for Vegas that evening to help my mom and brother. I remember being in automatic mode. Pack, get gas, drive. I called some friends during the drive to let them know about my dad. “How are you doing, E?” Not sure, in shock, don’t know how to feel, hasn’t set in yet really. Have you ever had that feeling that something huge just happened and you don’t know how to feel about it? My eyes felt fixed open wide and my consciousness was hovering just above my body.

There was one night that my mom, brother, and I told stories about my dad and we laughed and laughed so hard that we were crying. My dad did some outlandish things, and this led to many funny stories over the years. My brother, Eli, and sister, Tamara, are really good at sharing these. Like the time my dad walked into Best Buy and asked to buy a Netflix. He was funny, even when he wasn’t trying to be.

That weekend we looked at old family photos, many of my mom and dad as a young couple. This was fun and sad at the same time. Is there a word for that? Something that feels good to do but also feels sad?

When I went into his home to see what kind of cleaning out we’d have to do, it was eery and felt lonely. The place smelled and his bathroom door was closed. He died in that room in an unintentional and messy way. Damn, it was sad. We were going to have to deal with that mess somehow. We wound up hiring a biohazard company to clean up the bathroom. That entire day sucked for so many reasons and when the biohazard guy came out of the bathroom to talk to my mom about how much it was going to cost, I cried. I wasn’t able to bring myself to look in the bathroom before it was cleaned but I did after. He still had his pants hanging on a hook on the back of the bathroom door.

He lived in a condo owned by someone else. We needed to move his things out asap for the owner, who by the way wasn’t the greatest throughout this process. Given all of our work schedules and that we didn’t live in the area, we only had that weekend to do most of the work.

We knew very little about what he wanted for his body after his death. He was not religious, probably atheist, and didn’t have time for ceremony and ritual. Add that to the ever-growing list of difficult and timely decisions for us to make.

He didn’t leave a valid will, and we’d have to wade through the long and arduous probate process for his meager estate.

My brother cooked us dinner. After a long day of finding new homes for my dad’s belongings, that dinner was one of the most caring and delicious meals I’ve ever had. Not only did it taste good but I know my brother did it as a way of taking care of us all. Thanks, bro. It was much needed.

My family was so caring and gentle with each other. We all pitched in to clean out my dad’s place and although we needed to do it quickly for various reasons, it felt rushed. In 2-3 days most of his stuff was given away and most of his condo was empty. I had this feeling that he had been erased. That his whole life – everything he treasured – had been so easily gotten rid of. My dad really loved his things and after he was gone, those things didn’t really mean anything. What a lesson that was for me.

It was a tough few days.

Healing From My Dad’s Death

Healing From My Dad’s Death

This is the month my dad died last year – November. I can feel myself not really wanting to look at this fact and wanting to push it away as though it’s no big deal. But to lose one’s father seems like a big deal. And losing my father was confusing for me. He was a very large energetic force in my life and suddenly it was gone. He was sometimes abusive when I was younger and could be loving, funny, and generous.

It’s strange that it’s been one year since his death. It’s strange that I even wrote that sentence just now. It’s strange that we’re having to decide what to put on his grave marker right now. (How does one decide those things? Summing up a life in a few short words that will last forever? What would he want? What do we want?) It’s strange that my siblings and I now have conversations about “going to visit dad” at the cemetery. It’s strange that I don’t miss him that much.

I’m inspired today, (writing this on November 1), to acknowledge this month in some way that feels it will be healing for me and my internal relationship with my dad. When he died last year, things felt like a tornado with so much to do so quickly. So I’ve committed to spending time thinking and writing about my dad this month as a way to heal what I might not want to feel or see, positive or negative. I’m ready.

The Privilege of Seeing Pain

The Privilege of Seeing Pain

“I started sharing my pain with everyone,” is what one of my teenage clients said to me recently. What an interesting way to say this. Her words hung in the air.

They are simple and poetic. Significant.

Her words gave me a new context for what it means to “act out.”

When the pain inside became too much for her to bear, she started sharing it with others as a way of saying, “I’m here, and I need someone to care. I can’t handle this on my own.” She had a rough childhood, and she started doing all of the harmful things one can imagine a teenage girl doing to herself, including stealing and harming others.

Adults do this as well – share their pain. The person who abuses their spouse, the dad who can’t stop yelling at his children, the woman who drinks excessively and physically abuses.

We all have these moments of sharing our pain, everyone one of us. Our prisons are filled with people who were sharing a pain too great to hold in.

Is there anyone you can think of in your life that has been sharing their pain with you? Is there anyone in your life that you’ve been unconsciously sharing your pain with? Ask yourself if there’s anything that you can do or want to do about this to help. There may not be . . . and there may be.

I’m reminded of this tale that I read a long time ago. I don’t know if it’s true, but I like the essence of it. The piece that sticks out to me: “If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behaviour is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity.”

This teenager in front of me had forgotten who she was. That she had a well of good inside. After years of being given someone else’s misbeliefs and someone else’s pain, her real identity was buried.

What if we took the time to listen, care for, and show kindness to the people in front of us who share their pain instead of shame them, punish them, or incarcerate them? Might we be able to remind them of their goodness and their deep capacity for love?

Not easy, but worth a try.

Forgiveness One

Forgiveness One

When my father says to me: Don’t have as many children as I did, Elana. It’s too much.
I hear: Children are hard to raise and need a lot of attention, and having five of them has been difficult. I love my children, and I want you to have an easier time than I did. I want the best for you.

When my father says to me: Why don’t you become a real doctor? Or a lawyer?
I hear: I wanted to be a doctor and we couldn’t afford it. I think being a doctor is one of the best professions anyone can have. You are so smart, I know you would be a good one.

When my father says to me: Why do you volunteer? Stop wasting your time on things you don’t get paid for.
I hear: You are valuable and your time is valuable. You have a lot to contribute to the world, and you deserve to be paid for your work. I’ve never had the experience of service, and I don’t understand it.

When my father says to me: Elana, if you ever need a lawyer, find the most crooked one you can. He will do whatever it takes to win.
I hear: I’ve been taken advantage of by many people, and I’ve lost a lot of money. I don’t want others to take advantage of you.

When my father says to me: Why don’t you marry someone from your own culture?
I hear: My marriage was not easy, and I think it was because we were from different countries. You deserve to be happy in your marriage, and this is how I think you can.

When my father says to me: Forget about your passion, and make as much money as you can so you can be happy. Making money is most important.
I hear: I grew up very poor, and my life was very hard in a very poor country. I don’t want that for you. You live in a rich country with a lot of opportunity and money means an easier life, which I want you to have.

When my father says to me all of the things that I used to judge and become angry about in my youth, I can now hear what he was really saying:

Elana, I love you.

Healing Doesn’t Happen To Us

Healing Doesn’t Happen To Us

As a therapist, I’ve heard the phrase “Therapy doesn’t work” (or some version of this – it’s ineffective, takes too long) many times.

I wonder if some people go in to see a therapist thinking that the therapist can heal them in some instant, magical way. This was often the case in my work with foster and adopted children when parents and foster parents told me to “just fix” their child.

But healing doesn’t just happen to us. It happens because of us.

Each person needs to be an active participant in their own healing.

I strongly believe that the source of healing – anyone’s source of healing – doesn’t rest with the therapist. (The consciousness of the therapist is important, so please do find a competent one who continually does their own inner work.) But healing is a verb – own it. Healing requires conscious action, commitment, courage, and willingness.

You may be asking, “Then what’s a therapist for?”

A therapist shines a light on blindspots. A therapist is a guide and (hopefully) a loving and safe presence, which is needed when someone’s experiencing pain. A therapist can often symbolize the loving parent we may not have had but wanted.

A therapist holds the space for healing to take place and that healing comes from within the client.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, tell them. If it’s not a match, don’t give up on therapy – find a new therapist.

My dear friend and very talented TMJ and sleep specialist Dr. Dave Shirazi encourages his patients to take ownership of their own healing by having them sign a form which states the following:

“We understand you have come to us seeking help in resolution of the issues and problems you have been facing for considerable time now. We want to be clear on how the healing process works for everyone. At all times, and with no exceptions to this rule, you are always in control of your own healing and are even doing your own healing. All healthcare providers, at best, can only facilitate your well being, that is why there are no guarantees in medicine. It is 100% your responsibility to follow the directions, recommendations, referrals, care of appliances, office visits and treatment given by your healthcare provider(s), as well as to give feedback and inform us of any challenges and wins along the way. . . But we cannot heal for you. Please be clear on this point. To that end, and for this process to continue, we ask that you acknowledge your responsibility of your own health and well being. Responsibility is yours to have, and responsibility is your power of healing.

“I, (client name), understand that I am responsible for my own health and well being. I am fully aware that the doctors and staff and referred doctors at the TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Conejo Valley are here to facilitate my wellness, but do not heal for me. My healing occurs by me and for me. . .”

This is brilliant. This kind of active healing requires being vulnerable and not just saying what one thinks they want their therapist to hear. It requires being honest with oneself and the therapist when things aren’t going right and giving that therapist feedback – and it requires doing the work.

 

Honesty & Vulnerability

Honesty & Vulnerability

One of the issues I see frequently in therapy with my clients is an overwhelming fear of being vulnerable – with me and with others. This can make moving forward in therapy tricky.

I’ve struggled with being vulnerable as well. In the past, it’s felt unsafe.

We live in a culture where we are afraid of our fear and our feelings, and vulnerability is mistakenly associated with weakness. It can feel uncomfortable, because we are afraid of what others will think of us or afraid of being hurt.

One of the best ways to connect with those we love and the only way that true healing can happen is if we are brave enough to be honest with ourselves and vulnerable with others.

This requires not hiding behind anger (which can feel powerful) or not hiding behind a wall of perceived strength built by the ego.

Brené Brown says is best in Daring Greatly: vulnerability is life’s greatest dare.