I was once introduced to a relative of someone close to me, someone who died several years ago. As we chatted, I became immediately and intensely aware that this person carried my loved one’s essence. It wasn’t altogether physical: he had blue eyes, where my loved one didn’t. He was short. My loved one wasn’t. And yet, I drank in this man’s presence as if he were returning some small part of that person to me.
It was a tangible reminder that a thread runs through time and that this thread is laid bare in our family lines. Earlier still in the summer, I sat down (albeit on Zoom) with Mick Cooper, and his daughter, Maya, and they recounted an astonishing family story from 18th century Ukraine that has marked their worldview today. Mick pointed out that our clients come to us ‘...as part of a community that stretches through time’ and that, as therapists, we can work with a client’s immediate feelings, but we can also bear witness to stories and emotions that might carry down through the generations.
Around the same time, I read music therapist Bob Heath’s book, Songs from a Window. Bob’s work involves sitting quietly with people as they approach the end of their lives, and supporting them, if they wish, to leave a legacy in song. It is a deeply moving book. As I read it, I was again struck by this notion of ‘passing down’.
In his article, Bob talks about the sense of mystery and awe that has surrounded both his work in palliative care, and his own life – and near-death experiences. He also shares how complex it can be to talk about our own spiritual beliefs sensitively and authentically as therapists – and yet how valuable it can be to do so.
Person-centred counsellor Matthew Cormack reflects on the significance of the Pagan festival Samhain, in which ties with our ancestors are honoured and celebrated, and considers how faith- based rituals have inspired his own client work, and specifically therapeutic endings.
Sometimes, of course, the passing down can be of a more explicit nature – in the shape of faith traditions, laws or customs. In Living in a faith-based community, counsellor Akiva Angel shares a personal account of his experience growing up within the Chareidi community, and the steps he took to explore his mental health while living in what he says ‘...might be described as an extremely collectivistic culture’.
I hope that this issue, full as it is with handed-down stories, offers inspiration. Julia McGuinness explores the concept of writing about our lives in Unwanted journeys, and offers some wonderful exercises as prompts.
Sharing our stories is what this journal is all about, so do get in touch with me, at the email below, if you'd like to contribute.
Amy McCormack, Editor