by Susan S.
One technique of co-counseling is to let people know what you like about them or why you appreciate them. I can't ever remember hearing a therapist tell me that I was caring or generous, but at the Level One Training, I heard these phrases again and again from other attendees.
I wondered if this technique would be able to ease the hurt between my mother and me. She and I aren't close; we haven't been close in more than 15 years. And over the years, each additional hurt has added to the divide between us. Then my father's sudden death forced us to face each other. There was tension in every interaction, and each of us took away new hurts where none was intended. Before I left for the training, I told her, "Mom, you think I hate you, and I think you hate me, and I don't know where we go from here."
Now I am back, trying to fix more than a decade of problems with a 10-minute conversation. The self-doubt begins to creep in as I think about what I want to say.
I wait until we are alone. "Mom, I have some good things to tell you that might make you cry. Can you sit on the couch?" I pull up a chair.
"I'm getting nervous," she says. "What can be good that would make me cry?"
I sit across from her. I take her right hand in mine and place my other hand on top. Her small hand feels fragile.
"Mom," I say, "one of the things that is very difficult for me about Dad's death is that I never got a chance to tell him how much I appreciated him for what he did in my life. I don't want to miss that opportunity with you, and I want you to know how much what you did for me when I was a kid meant to me."
I look in her familiar brown eyes and share my list. She begins to cry, and squeezes my hands tight. I continue telling her my favorite childhood memories, the times I always cherished but never spoke of.
When I finish, she says, "I'm so glad you told me that. I never knew you felt that way. I always thought that I embarrassed you."
"You never embarrassed me, Mom. When you're a kid, you have to act cool with your friends, but I always thought you were an amazing mother."
I go on to tell her how real her hurt is for the loss of my father, and that it isn't fair that he's dead. She begins sobbing, but forces herself to stop like we've all been conditioned to do. "I'm sorry I'm crying," she says. "It's just ... "
"Mom, I really feel like crying, too. Crying actually is a really good way to heal. Would it be OK if we cried together?"
She nods, and I curl up on the couch next to her. She holds me, and we cry.