Love and Attention
The Fractured Fifth Commandment
At a recent brief vacation, Sarah, a seventy-five year old woman, sat at her breakfast table in the hotel next to her only loyal family member, a small dachshund, who looked forward to the loving hand that stroked his warm furred back frequently. Whenever someone greeted her, she, like Coleridge's ancient mariner, wanted to tell about a bit of her life, her sorrows, her accomplishments, and more. Her beloved husband, a man twenty-five years her senior, died when her two children reached maturity. Her "good life" turned. Her son, at age twenty-one, died in an auto accident. Her daughter decided her mother was "too controlling" and moved a considerable distance away, leaving Sarah to her own devices, feeling lonely and useless. To recover from her shock, she learned to live alone. Although she did not have to work since her spouse had left her a considerable sum of money, she learned to be independent. She was able to get away from home quite frequently with her dog, who was her sole traveling companion. She met people she considered important, went where she believed she could find them, had no real relationship with them, rubbed elbows (very slightly) with them, and began to draw beautiful pictures of plants and of people as she saw them. The folks that she painted were always alone and had no relationships; they were people apart. She felt important due to her ability to draw. This was one small way in which she could feel worthwhile. She saw herself as an important entity who would "someday" be recognized as someone who mattered! She also wrote some poetry that only had meaning for herself, since it neither rhymed nor did it tell a story that could be understood by anyone other than the writer.
Sarah became her own mother, her own daughter, and her own admirer. Her only child was her dachshund, who appreciated the caring and the love that she gave him. Although she boasted of her independence, she felt it necessary to create some self-devised outlets for her unrecognized loneliness. She did visit a psychiatrist, who reassured her in the best way that he was able that she was a good woman from good stock whose unfortunate circumstances created the situation in which she found herself. She frequently wanted more from him, possibly to take the place of the deceased parents, the mother or father figure that she longed for. She was never shy about extolling her accomplishments. Her paintings were fairly primitive, but she convinced herself that someday they would be worth an enormous amount of money. When questioned about her occupation, she would readily answer "artist."
Through her dog, she did receive some attention, albeit not always of a positive nature. When the animal barked, other did not share her enthusiasm.
Sarah's life would have been much better and healthier if she had had a different outlook, one that was less like a child with unmet needs, relying on situations that she could not control. She needed to be mothered and at the same time to be in control of her life. She expected to be loved and honored by her daughter, which did not happen. There were situations in Sarah's life that were unexpected and impossible for her to accept. She did not receive the mothering that she expected, the love, so important in life, that only appeared to come from her dog, rather than from family. Like a child, she needed accolades, which were not forthcoming.
Love and attention is an ingredient that is essential for all of humanity, regardless of age and stage! There was much missing in this Jewish mother's life, including the omission of the practicing of the fifth commandment!
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.