I am slowly working my way through watching the television series Six Feet Under. I never saw this HBO series at the time it was released. It just never came to my attention and I was living in the UK at the time.
It has really Plutonian themes which appeal to me. Set around a family who own a funeral business it deals with themes of death, relationships, interconnections between people, emotions that we all struggle with around connection and need for separateness, the thorny problems of emotional intimacy and entanglement and many other issues.
At this point I have just finished watching the third series within which one of the central characters that I most identify with, Nate has had to deal with the emotions surrounding the disappearance of his wife, Lisa, who left to go on a trip to see her sister, leaving him with his small daughter at home in the funeral directors home which they share with other members of the family.
He speaks to Lisa a few hours into her trip while she is sitting by the ocean. Later when he tries to contact her there is no reply. She hasn’t arrived at her sister and is just not answering calls. It doesn’t take long for Nate to descent into a self destructive cycle of despair as he struggles with not knowing what has become of his wife.
The beautifully evocative way in which peoples inner struggles are portrayed both through dream and imaginative sequences (never fully apparent at first) shows the sense a mind will try to make of painful things which occur in people’s lives. And its a kind of torment to watch Nate as he runs through different scenarios as he struggles with the painful state of not yet knowing what has happened.
Did Lisa meet up with an old lover who persuaded her to leave Nate? Has she just kept her phone off? Was she torn apart by the fight they had had about their inability to meet each other’s needs and therefore decided to run away?
In the end none of these scenarios is true. Lisa’s body is eventually found and Nate goes into an emotional meltdown.
I just watched the episode in which he takes Lisa’s body into the wilderness to bury it in the earth, with no coffin, just as Lisa wished she could be buried. The entire painful episode takes Nate all night. At the end he screams out his pain in the early morning, giving full expression to his grief.
Watching this it has occurred to me to make comparisons between someone going missing and the difficult conundrum of trying to deal as a child with the emotional absence of a ‘missing’ parent. There is an emotional void where we hoped for connection, within which we struggle to make sense of why the parent is not there. We struggle also with ways in which we could get the parent to notice us. It is painful to know the parent cannot respond to us, but as a child where can we go with this?
These are some of the issues I am dealing with in my therapy at present. I have decided not to initiate contact with my Mother since the last painful episode I shared about in my last blog Those Painful Voices. And even though I am having no contact with my mother, I am still longing to hear from her. I am aware that this longing for my mother’s presence (and my fathers’ too) have been underground themes for me for most of my adult life. My longing has been transferred onto other relationships, many with people who were not capable of showing empathy or understanding (and this was a repeat of what I met in childhood.)
This morning while having my coffee I was thinking about the last painful relationship in which my ex broke it off for some refusal to do what he wanted me to do, something that did not suit me but only met his own needs. I think of the times he cut me off with the silent treatment because I showed emotions he could not bear, such as grief and sadness or anger. I am saddened and sickened to see how I buckled under and pleaded for him to come back, twisting myself out of shape.
To be given the silent treatment, to be cut off was an exact repeat of what happened in childhood and left me with overpowering feelings of abandonment that I could not contain on my own. At the time I was with him I so badly needed to be in therapy but I was not. I was living isolated and alone and that was a ripe situation for someone like my ex partner to enter and find a willing victim who was so hungry for love, she was willing to do almost anything not to be abandoned. It hurts me to remember how much abuse I allowed myself to suffer. How little I loved and cared for and protected myself while with him, and how after the last painful emotional discard (the fifth to take place over four years) I still struggled to win love from someone who could never love me.
I know my situation is not the same as Nate’s but the emotional pain of abandonment was similar and witnessing that last night in the Six Feet Under drama brought so much awareness for me.
There is a saying in a book by the Jungian analyst Murray Stein In Midllife that the psychological work of our later adulthood consists of a burying of the corpse of our past pain from childhood and resulting relationships. It is a protracted mourning for what we lost out of as a result and of what could never be due to the fact we could not know or have done any better at that time. In feeling and grieving the pain we learn what hurt, what we longed for, what had most value for our emotional soul self.
This it seems to me is the work that has been going on for me over the past 12 or so years. Its a work of consciousness building that involves so many mixed emotions. And watching dramas which unfold through mediums such as films and television can help with this process.
We see how others struggle with similar issues and how we are connected through our pain, for we are human, life is never perfect and we can come to know ourselves once we can become aware of what was missing and what was longed for. Most important is to understand how we may be unconsciously replaying a drama from long ago that no longer serves us but keeps causing us pain. That we are adults now and must be there for our child self and not abandon that child or inner self as our parents did, unconsciously replaying their own childhood.
This may feel lonely, painful and so hard and yet it is the work that is asked of us if we really want to mature and become a person who is capable of self love, self reflection, self awareness and self compassion. In facing and mourning what was lost we free trapped life energy to move forward and find ways of self care and self nurture that serve us.