Mind Matters: A solstice message

Hanukkah, Christmas, whatever festival of light is celebrated, is a push against the dark. Our northern hemisphere experiences solstice when we reach the darkest day of the year and we respond to this by celebrating the Light with lots of lights.

Nevertheless, we can’t deny the darkness or death. Just as the solstice is part of the cycle of the seasons, so too is death a part of the cycle of life. The reality of that fact does not make it any easier to accept, and holiday times seem to make it even harder.

I write this having just found that my cousin died. Margie had been ill and suffering for the last few years, so, yes, it may come to her as a release from her pain. But her pain is not her totality. She leaves behind many who mourn the loss of her loving presence — her son, her sister and two brothers, one of whom donated a kidney to her years ago. That brother did indeed give her life for a while. She also leaves behind lots of extended family who love her: those younger than she, who know her as aunt and loving mentor; those older than she, cousins like myself, who remember her as the sweet little cousin who was always kind.

The ripple of death is large and continuous. My son connected with her partly because they shared the same birthday and because her son and my son are the same age.

Growing up in a small town where most of my extended family lived within its borders of one square mile, I felt very attached to all my cousins and aunts and uncles. However, because Margie and her family shared a house with my maternal grandparents, my cousins and I may all have had a special connection to her and her siblings.

Perhaps then, the theme here is more about family than it is about grief itself. If we don’t have family, we need to create one — an intentional community when we are not born into one.

There is a downside to family and community to be sure. Everybody knows everybody else’s business and sometimes boundaries are blurred and autonomy is misunderstood. Monica McGoldrick, a family therapist who has studied various ethnicities, talks about how families with Polish roots often have a “Greek chorus” murmuring in the background. I laughed out loud when I read this in her book, “Ethnicity and Family Therapy,” 40 years ago, recalling the Greek chorus of my mother’s family. It seemed to me that when anyone in the extended family was about to do anything a little different, there was a stir of voices. “Oh, they shouldn’t do that,” or “Do you think that is wise (or safe or proper or whatever)?” this was a way I think of keeping the wagons in a circle, doing things different from the family’s mode of operation — stepping out, differentiating oneself, was considered risky business.

Of course, the upside of this cohesiveness and wish to keep the circle tight is that it does feel safe when it doesn’t feel smothering. The delicate balance is holding the tension between the polarities of wanting to be held in the security of the group while at the same time wanting to be an autonomous individual.

Having moved away many years ago from the circle of the square mile of my hometown, I all the more appreciate the benefits of family connection.

My cousin Margie lived with one of her brothers and his wife, her sister, and all their children—until they were adults. They are there for each other even though they may not share political views. Her younger brother noted how their older brother helped her live by donating his kidney, but that their older sister was also instrumental in keeping Margie going through her constant care. This is a testament to love and connection—the circling of the wagons when we need it.

This is the value of family and community—we may hanker for an island’s peace, but we cannot be islands unto ourselves. To face the dark, we need each other’s light.

*Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Belmont, Massachusetts. She welcomes comments at MindMatters@DrGajdos.com or (610)388-2888. Past columns are posted to www.drgajdos.com. See book.quietwisdom-loudtimes.com for information about her book, “Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times: The Rise of the Wounded Feminine.”

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to editor@chaddsfordlive.com

 

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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