Article and photo by Dr. Ng Wai Sheng
Image: A beautiful lake near Shima Onsen, Japan
Dr. Salvador Minuchin, the creator of Structural Family Therapy, passed away on October 29, at the age of 96. When the news was announced, I was in Japan, attending an international family therapy conference, sharing the grief with the family therapist community from different parts of the world.
I met Dr. Minuchin in 2009, when I attended the 2-week Summer Intensive Training at the Minuchin Center in New York City. It was a brief encounter; he gave a lecture, I asked him a question, and he responded to my question. What lingered in my heart, till today, is his warm but penetrating gaze, and his encouragement to me to believe in myself. He didn’t know me or my background, yet he took the risk to speak to my soul. I can appreciate why so many of his students and colleagues grieve so deeply for his passing…
When you have been loved deeply, you grieve deeply.
The last 2 weeks of travelling, working and learning in Japan was like a roller-coaster ride. The greatest and worst thing about hanging out with a bunch of family therapists is that we are always talking about RELATIONSHIPS! It might have been easier if we were just gossiping about some celebrities or our neighbors; but no, we were engaging in deep conversations about our own personal and professional relationships! And so much of our relationships are about attachments and losses. Boy, that can be so challenging and draining to remain present and attentive to your own and other people’s sacred stories… Would I trade any moment of it? Absolutely not! For how else can we grow, as a person and a therapist, if we merely want to stay in our comfort zone?
When you love deeply what you love, you grieve deeply too…
In Japan, I did 2 things that I’ve never done before. I shared my genogram (a.k.a. an elaborated version of family tree) with a small group of family therapists. I also presented to a large group of audience my video clips of working with a family in Hong Kong. The former helped me to reconnect with the “ghosts” in my family. The latter helped me reconnect with the struggles of separation and differentiation. I’m reminded how much courage and security it really takes to bid goodbye to people we love, whether by circumstances or by death. Essentially, goodbye means: I trust myself that I’ll be okay without you; and I trust you that you’ll be okay without me. It’s bitter, it’s also sweet. But that’s not the end of things. When we can become fully ourselves, and still desire to be with the one(s) we love, we know we have found freedom! True loving and living is never a product of fear, but FREEDOM!
The question is… how can you and I successfully lose ourselves to love… and love ourselves to live?