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Haunted People: The Others, A Tale of Two Sisters, & the Ghosts of Grief



Ghouls are discussing haunted people, more specifically how grief, isolation, and abandonment can haunt us. We cover The Others (2001) and A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) to explore how these films explore these ghosts. For both of these films, the horror is simply not knowing the extent to which our own minds will mend and twist reality so that we may, in some form, survive. Kat expands on all the stages of Grief (more than you know), how to manage it, the ghosts it creates, and remember to feel your feels.

 

Media from this week's episode:

The Others (2001)

A woman who lives in her darkened old family house with her two photosensitive children becomes convinced that the home is haunted.

Directed and Written by Alejandro Amenábar


A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

A family is haunted by the tragedies of deaths within the family.

Directed by Kim Jee-woon

 

The Others & A Tale of Two Sisters: The Ghosts of Grief and Loss by Gabe Castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Plot:

I watched both of these films long ago and they both stayed with me all this time. Having watched them previously and despite my terrible memory, retained the twist endings, watching them knowing the endings only enhanced my experience. It allowed me to truly look at these environments, the pain, and all the little clues the creators leave for us.


Plots:

In The Others, we follow a very religious and delicate mother, Grace played by Nicole Kidman, her two sickly children, and the new help. These three new housekeepers are introduced to the family’s quiet, complicated, and isolated existence. Grace instructs them to close and lock any door they open before opening another. Curtains cover every window, as she explains her two children have a rare, untreated skin disorder that makes them photosensitive. Though the house is enormous and the estate grounds large, we only get glimpses of it through the small, enclosed, dark rooms Grace lets us in. Grace and her two children are the only inhabitants. Her husband had gone off to fight in the war, a war she believes they had no busy being in. And one day, all her servants simply vanished, without a word.


Her children Anne and Nicholas are young and very smart. They are quick to question some of the biblical stories and decisions their mother tells them. At other times, they flat-out admit their disbelief at the tall tales. Anne relentlessly teases poor Nicholas, painting her as an unreliable or easily dismissed character. However, when she begins to share her experiences, her tales of a ghost boy named Victor and later, an entire family of ghosts, she sticks to her guns despite punishment and the scrutiny of her family.


Soon, Grace begins to believe the house to be haunted. After a particularly jarring experience in the piano room one night, she is convinced and begins to spiral. She trusts no one and feels herself unraveling. She wanders through the unrelenting fog in hopes of making it to town to ask for help but she stumbles upon her lost and presumed dead husband. He is bewildered and admits, rather brokenly to Grace that he, “Bleeds sometimes.” She brings him home, the children are elated while the servants are wary. After a fight with her mother, as she spirals out and begins attacking her children in desperation, Anne talks with her father. She tells him what she’s been hinting at the whole movie, the tale of “that night” in which their mother had done something unforgivable and truly awful. Grace and her husband have a quiet fight (everything in this movie is quiet), before making love. But in the morning, he is once again gone. Returned to the fog.


SPOILERS FOR THE OTHERS (2001):

In the end, we learn that the house is indeed haunted. Only it is our protagonists that are the ghosts and poor Victor and his family are the living. Grace, in an act of desperation, driven mad by isolation and abandonment, killed her two children, suffocating them with pillows before returning to her room to kill herself with a rifle. At the beginning of the film, she’d awoken up screaming. When telling the truth of the story, she explains that she thought, after hearing the children’s laughter upon awakening from what she felt was an awful nightmare, she felt that God was giving her a second chance.



In A Tale of Two Sisters, we follow as two sisters return home from a hospital. They return after their mother’s death to find their father with a new wife. This vicious stepmother slowly drops her kindly facade and begins to torture the sisters. Older sister Soo-mi is the most vocal of the two, often protecting her younger sister, Soo-yeon. Their father is often absent and when he is there, quiet and disconnected, broken in his own ways. Many paranormal things occur, revealing this house to be haunted by some ghostly girl. Feeling very J-Horror, the long black-haired specter looks just out of vision, a solitary hand scratching along the floor at night, a hand creaking a door open, hiding in a cupboard that we only catch a glimpse of, or standing before us with hair covering their pained face. Over time, Soo-mi begins to truly lose, overcome by her father’s dismissal of her stepmother’s actions. How can such terrible treatment be allowed to happen to her quiet and delicate sister?


SPOILERS FOR A TALE OF TWO SISTERS:

As things descend into chaos, Soo-mi confronts her father. She asks him how he could allow for this to occur. He asks simply, “What has she done?” to which Soo-mi replies, “She is hurting Soo-yeon!” A look of sad, and bewilderment crosses her father’s eyes. In his sorrow, he explains to Soo-mi that Soo-yeon is dead and has been this entire time. As Soo-mi looks at Soo-yeon, screaming in the corner at her own tragic reality, Soo-mi knows this to be true.


The stepmother Eun-joo finally snaps and looks to attack Soo-mi after a traumatic cinematic experience where in which we see Eun-joo dragging a bloodied bag through the house and beating it with a pipe. Soo-mi finds this bag and in anguish and terror attempts to open it. She finds scissors but is confronted by Eun-joo, who is then stabbed accidentally with these scissors in her hand. The two fight, its a bloody mess and in a moment before Eun-joo drops a statue on Soo-mi’s head she says, “Remember what I told you. You may come to regret this moment. You want to forget something. But you can’t. It follows you around like a ghost.” When father arrives home, he finds a shaken Eun-joo in the room. She asks where Soo-mi is, to which he responds, “This needs to stop.” One very interesting and clever camera trick later, it is revealed that Eun-joo is actually Soo-mi. In her grief, she had both hallucinated her dearly departed sister and disasociated herself into becoming this woman. The Eun-joo arrives and upon seeing her face, Soo-mi realizes what she’s done all this time. We get to see the movie over again, this time with only Soo-mi.


Later, in the hospital once more, Eun-joo asks for forgiveness and says she will try to check on Soo-mi from now on. The interaction is stiff and unwell. We get a flashback that reveals what happened all that time ago, that so severely ruptured Soo-mi’s sanity. Their father was having an affair with Eun-joo, who would take care of them and the house. Because of this affair, heartbroken, their mother kills herself in the bureau in Soo-yeon’s room. Soo-yeon awakens and when she opens the door, finds her mother. Desperately she pulls on her mother, trying to awaken or revive her before the whole thing falls ontop of her. The whole house hears the fall but only Eun-joo goes to investigate. She hears the scratching of Soo-yeon, needing help under the bureau. She goes to leave, at the last minute she considers helping but bumps into Soo-mi in the hall. Soo-mi harasses her and says terrible things (reasonably) and so Eun-joo decides that’s enough of a reason to allow the sister to DIE. She says to Soo-mi, “One day, you may come to regret this.” To which Soo-mi replies, “Nothing could be worse than being here with you right now,” before leaving the house, never knowing that her sister was dying in the house, calling out her name, suffocated by her mother’s dead body.


Eun-joo in the present finds herself alone in the house. She hears a noise upstairs and goes to investigate. In the room, she hears a creak from the bureau and goes to investigate. It is then that the ghost is revealed to be real, Soo-yeon crawls from the closet and kills Eun-joo.

Ghosts or mental instability? Porque no los dos?


Grief and Isolation as Ghosts:

“Do you know what’s really scary? You want to forget something. Totally wipe it off your mind. But you never can. It can’t go away, you see. And it follows you around like a ghost.”


The reason we’ve chosen these two films to represent our Haunted People episode is that they share many of the same themes. We’ve covered “haunted people” in the past and focused on individuals who were thought to be possessed by some demonic force. However, people can be haunted by many things, and most oftentimes, it is not the Devil behind the specters, but rather our own grief or pain.


For Grace in The Others, she is haunted by her own isolation. She is so very alone in this big house. Her husband has abandoned her. She has been taken from her family, following him to this big house on a large and isolated estate. She has only her children. She has endured for so long and held out as best she could. At one point she explains that she has successfully avoided having any Nazis in this house. Her children, her only source of love and connection, are disconnected too. They rely on her and also resent her. Long before they died, they were ghosts. What life did these children have that they could not see the light or interact with other children? What life did she have that she was trapped here, overshadowing her children’s existence and safety?


Director Alejandro Amenábar creates a masterfully dark and haunting film without much conventional horror. It is the suffocating absence of light or presence that has us seeing things in the shadows, making faces where there are none. But even more impressive are the hints throughout about what has really occurred. We know that they have been dead a week for that is when the staff altogether vanished, without any note or reason. In one scene, after an argument, Anne begins to hyperventilate in frustration. Grace urges her to stop, she yells, “Stop breathing like that!” until it simply becomes, “Stop breathing!” A nod to the actual death of Anne and her brother by their mother, suffocation. Grace’s own headaches are a reference to her own death, a gunshot to the head.


Watching this film again later, I was able to catch and truly appreciate these moments. Certain pieces of dialogue hit different with the knowledge of what has occurred. When Mrs. Mills, one of the mysterious servants, in a touching moment admits to Grace that she does believe in ghosts she explains that sometimes, the “death of a loved one can lead people to do the strangest things.” She is trying desperately to show her understanding and care for Grace, who in her darkest moment could not stop herself from the gruesome fate.


A Tale of Two Sisters is inspired by a twisted and sad Korean folktale about two sisters, Janghwa and Hongryeon. In the folktale, these two girls lose their mother at a young age. Their father remarries a ghastly woman who seeks to only harm the girls. Horrible, fairy-tale-esque things occur leaving both girls dead but in the end, they get justice and are reborn as twins. The film only take skeletal pieces of the folktale and instead, makes a film completely it’s own.


I truly admired the cinematography and sound design of both of these films. For The Others, the absence of birdsong and the continual darkness added to the fear. For A Tale of Two Sisters, we get an equally foggy and dreamlike world where the haunts linger on the edges of the screen. I love a good re-reveal of the film, showing us moments once more but this time as it truly happened. Throughout the film, if you know the twist, you pick up on how only the stepmother refers to them both. You notice that the father’s heart breaks whenever Soo-mi mentions Soo-yeon. When he desperately reminds Soo-mi that they had, “agreed to not talk about the dresser.” It is him, hoping to forget the tragedy of his own family. When he inquires as to why she is outside, alone and in the cold, you wonder why he did not say, “Why’re you two out here?” When Eun-joo, manic at dinner, begins to talk about past events with visiting family members, urging them to remember these moments, you wonder why Eun-joo has these memories at all? As the new stepmother, why would she have these stories to tell? You may even wonder why it is Eun-joo who is given medication by the father. Why Eun-joo sleeps in a different room from father. Why their relationship is so completely loveless and disconnected? Why does Soo-yeon’s screams go unheard.


And like in The Others, there are moments of dialogue that strike you directly in the heart if you already know the twist. In one scene, Soo-yeon has been dragged by Eun-joo to the closet, the one of nightmares and pain. She is sealed in there and she screams. Her voice strained by the terror of being trapped. Stepmother demands an apology, to which Soo-yeon responds with a sorry. But Eun-joo didn’t really want an apology, she wants to terrorize so she keeps her in there. In the morning, Soo-mi wakes up and after hearing those telltale scratches, investigates her sister’s room. She finds her in the closet and holds her tight. She whispers through tears, “I am so sorry, Soo-yeon. I didn’t hear you. I won’t let this happen again.” When you know that this is all Soo-mi, living through her own guilt and pain, it hurts all the more. Knowing she wishes she’d heard it that first time, that she had saved her sister.


For both of these films, the horror is simply not knowing the extent to which our own minds will mend and twist reality so that we may, in some form, survive. For Grace and her children, it was to forget and continue forward as they always had. They are given a second chance at life, in limbo. For Soo-mi, she gets to play at an alternate history where she knew of the pain her sister endured and did all she could to save her. In this new reality, there is a clear villain and she is the only one who can stop it. She is vindicated at the end when the vengeful spirit of her sister finally undoes that villain. Finally, she is given some closure. Even simply, an acknowledgment that she was right in her suspicions that Eun-joo was evil. And like the folktale that inspired the film, the victory came from acknowledging her innocence, ultimately releasing her from that guilt. As Coco Chanel said, “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.” (thank you Ghouls Magazine)

 

The Ghostly Stages of Grief: Seeing Ghosts of Those We Lost by Kat Kushin


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Dealing with the death of a loved one is a traumatic experience that can hit people in unique ways that don’t always follow the stages of grief and other recorded theories. The experience can be connecting or isolating depending on how you process that grief, and as trauma is unique to the person, so is one's experience with grief.

The grieving brain: How your mind deals with a loved one’s death and how to heal by By A. Pawlowski

Grief expert and neuroscientist Mary-Frances O’Connor likened it to the same panicked “pop-up in the brain” a parent would get if they were to lose track of their child in a mall.

“Just because we know cognitively that the person has died doesn’t mean those pop-ups won’t happen for a long time as your brain learns this is a whole new world,” O’Connor, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Arizona, told TODAY.

“Part of having a bonded relationship is wanting to seek out the person when they’re away and that becomes just the background of everyday life.”


The famous five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — are now considered an old, outdated model because not all people go through all of them or in that order, she added.

A minority of people — about 10% — experience complicated or prolonged grief, where severe symptoms last for at least six months and interfere with daily life. But there is no time limit on grief, O’Connor said, so she worried this condition might be over-diagnosed when people mistake typical grieving — which comes with a lot of suffering — for the more severe disorder.

“The death of a loved one is a life-transforming event that we carry with us forever,” she said.



Loss, Ghosts, and the Stages of Grief: Part II BY MARK GORKIN on Mentalhelp.net

Connecting Loss, Transition, and “The Stages of Grief”

From a common sense perspective, grief is “the cause (and expression) of intense, deep, and profound sorrow, and other strong emotional outpourings involving a specific event or situation” (Encarta Dictionary) triggered by a significant loss or disruptive change. We often connect loss and grief via the premature death, incapacitation, or separation of a parent, child, grandparent, sibling, or any close relative, friend, or colleague. However, as sketched in Part I, grief may be a byproduct of a broad array of experiential and psychological losses and transitions. Particularly when the death, damage, defeat, disability, disillusionment, disruption, or disorientation (or even acknowledged dementia), is sudden or unexpected, this triggers or sets the psychological platform for a grief reaction or response. At minimum, the individual is often thrown into an early grief state-stage, such as “shock” or “denial.”


The critical question regarding a grief process is the degree to which an individual gradually and meaningfully navigates or superficially and dismissively circumvents the various stages. Do you periodically visit and revisit (or shun and block out) the complex of emotions and memories surrounding a major or significant loss? Do you admit the daily impact of diminished mind-body functioning and grieve what was in order to adapt to and explore new potential and possibilities? Does the individual over time pursue in depth journeying (from group sharing to personal reflection-journaling) or avoidance and distraction (or maladaptive numbing)? The answer will likely either generate grief growth or germinate grief ghosts.

I will use the timely theme of job/career disruption for illustrating the “Stages of Grief” and the process of grappling with the psychological component of change, i.e., the threat, loss, and challenge of “transition.” Here are:

The Stress Doc’s Stages of Grief: Discovering Purpose and Possibility in Trying Times

With all the uncertainty and stress in our economic-job climate (not to mention natural and man-made disasters), most of us can use a refresher on how to grapple with loss and change, how to have the courage to both persist and to let go, how to transform the present danger into opportunity…how to grow stronger, wiser, and better supported-connected through genuine grief.

A soon-to-be author on motivation and dealing with stress from a break-up emailed asking if he could cite the essay below, which especially looks at job loss, career transition-confusion, and uncertainty. So here are “The Stress Doc’s Seven Stages of Grief”:

1. Shock and Denial or “This Is Not Possible” or “It Can’t Happen Here!” It’s no big surprise when given one day’s termination notice that an employee may experience a state of shock. There’s such total confusion and disbelief that a person often goes numb; the mind-body system has to shut down. Sometimes shock follows the downplaying or denial of bad news. For example, in the early ’90s, there was talk of significant restructuring in the US Postal Service. A number of employees took the early attitude: “We’re always dealing with change here…No big deal.” Alas, these folks didn’t count on “Carvin Marvin” Runyon becoming the Postmaster General. Talk about a shocker…Within a year 50,000 employees were restructured out of the service!

2. Fear, Panic and Shame or “Oh God, What Do I Do Now?” or “What Will They Think Now?” Once the shock wears off, you are no longer numb; there are some predictable next steps, such as profound anxiety and vulnerability: how will I survive this loss of income, identity, my daily routine, my social standing, etc.? There’s a mounting sense of being out of control, which for many also evokes feelings of shame and inadequacy. And lack of control, not surprisingly, can stir up childhood memories of the same, being or feeling tormented, bullied, rejected or humiliated by family, peers, teachers, etc.

I vividly recall the lamentation of a postal supervisor on a management fast-track, quickly derailed by reorganization: “I once had a career path. Then this boulder fell from the sky and crushed it!” Is it only a career path that’s been crushed? How about the human psyche and spirit? Has it too been burnt up or burned out?

3. Rage and/or Helplessness or “How Dare They!” or “Oh No, How Could They!” Do you think our once fast-tracked supervisor is feeling abandoned and betrayed? Most likely. Often people in this phase swing between rage and profound sadness. Both states can be induced by deep underlying vulnerability or helplessness. You’ve been wounded, feel exposed, and just want to lash out. Or you turn the rage inward in depression and self-condemnation. Now it’s crawling under the covers escapism, or going through the motions of living or, even, straining as hard as you can to reign victorious over your basic unworthiness; to battle a fear of failure and lurking dread of being sucked into that compelling black hole of helplessness.

Consider this: in The Random House Dictionary: The Unabridged Edition, the first six definitions of the word “failure” describe it as an act or an instance. It’s not until the seventh and last definition that “failure” takes a personal direction. So losing a job or being confronted with other losses and separations are often more events or individual episodes, albeit powerful ones, than a judgment upon you.

4. Guilt and Ambivalence or “Damned If You Do or If You Don’t!” or “Making a Pact with the…Spiritual.” The feelings and old voices of guilt (not living up to an important other’s expectations or standards) and shame (violating or compromising an internalized core value or essential part of your self-identity, integrity, and esteem) can become louder and more incessant; self-directed rage keeps taunting you for shortcomings, unworthiness, fumbled dreams, etc., and can ultimately drain and demoralize you. If some energy returns or remains the battle may continue in other arenas. First, the classic approach-avoidance conflict: “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t; damned if I stay, damned if I leave.” Take the paltry severance or not; leave the faulty marriage or not. And while the uncertainty is terribly frustrating, at least there’s a struggle. It’s no longer “black or white”: you are not simply “evil.”

Some may turn to a spiritual source for relief or rescue: “Higher Power, just tell me what to do” or “Higher Power, I turn it over to you.” And, of course, some in desperation will proclaim newfound or “born again” allegiance if they are only saved. Yet, in the end, with or without your HP, one must get focused and cut the entangling emotional cord.

5. Focused Anger and Letting Go or “Turning a Lemon into Lemonade” and “Freedom’s Just Another Word…” This phase truly reveals the complexity and potential creative energy built into the grief process. To reach that powerful, purposeful, and passionate state of focused anger one must often blend (and temper) rage and sadness. Some rage can propel us out of a shocked, paralyzed or ambivalent state. Yet, you must also face your sadness and loss and struggle with uncertainty to temper uncontrollable aggression, to make sadder yet wiser assessments and decisions. Remember, rage unchecked much more often leads to self-defeating behavior, e.g., “shooting your self in the foot” or “putting that proverbial foot in mouth” than it does to “Going Postal!”

If you’ve worked hard to integrate the previous stages then the reward is “focused anger”: “I really don’t like what’s happened…but how do I make the best of it?” You’re ready to loosen – if not untie – the knot of hurt and humiliation. And best of all, you’re getting ready to knock on (maybe even knock down) some doors again.

6. Exploration and New Identity or “Now You’re Ready to ‘Just Do It!'” (even if scared). Letting go is often unnerving. It’s not just the financial security that’s at stake. But losing a job or a vital relationship also profoundly shakes our personal/professional identity. We’ve invested so much time, ego, energy, and/or money in this position, partner, or one possible outcome…Who am I without the job, without my mate or significant other? Even with the most dear and painful loss or separation, the words of Albert Camus, Nobel Prize-winning author and philosopher have the crystalline ring of essential truth:

Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one [or loved position] obstructed a whole corner of the possible, pure now as a sky washed by rain.

7. Acceptance or “The Glass is Half Empty and Half Full.” While submerging yourself in the stages of grief for a time will feel hellish, there truly is an opportunity for rebirth. Getting out of the black box is a distinct possibility if you can ride on and ride out this acutely emotional learning roller coaster. The grief encounter is definitely more than a one-trial learning curve. And there’s no absolute or fixed period of time for your movement through the stages. My blood starts percolating when I hear “well-intentioned” family members, colleagues, or friends say to the grieved, “Hey, it’s been three months (or even six months) already.” (On the other hand, if after two or three months, your energy level continues to drain away, don’t suffer in silence. Grief and depression can be easily confused as loss and sadness are common to both. One possible differentiating factor to consider: depression often involves internalized anger, and the energy needed to hold down an angry eruption further contributes to an exhausted-depressed state. During a grief process one’s anger, whether rational or not, is eventually acknowledged, the “cause” of the anger is more objectively if not forgivingly perceived. Aggressive energy is eventually transformed into more purposeful if not passionate focus and direction. Speak to a health professional who is wise in the ways of grief, burnout, and/or depression.)


Finally, remember, there’s a real difference between “feeling sorry for yourself” and “feeling your sorrow.” When feeling sorry for yourself you are mostly blaming others. When feeling your sorrow you are demonstrating the courage to face your fears and pain. There are poignant moments in life when we all must take time to embrace our sorrow, both alone and with caring or kindred spirits.



Grief Ghosts: Four-Step Rise and Seven Factors Influencing their Nature – Part VI

BY MARK GORKIN on Mentalhelp.net


Let’s take a closer look at these loss and grief variables. The propensity for: 1) the unleashing of ghosts, 2) the varying nature of the ghosts, and 3) the danger and opportunity for positive grief ghost resurrection and psychic rejuvenation is contingent upon:

a) Loss Significance, Identification, and Complexity

1) loss significance. The mind-body-heart-spirit significance of any loss (person, place, loss of control and competence, loss of a dream, etc.) clearly impacts the grief ghost process; to reiterate, the degree a person has prematurely buried or denied significant past “loss” issues and emotions and they now arise as grief ghosts, the immediate reaction is often a sense of danger and disorientation. Feelings of worthlessness and isolation, a sense of being hollow, profound identity confusion, and a loss of personal/professional direction may predominate. However, as we will subsequently explore, much as in the double-edged – danger and opportunity – nature of crisis, the rise of grief ghosts also allows one to more knowingly and purposefully tackle these subterranean issues which have been disrupting and constricting a life outside of one’s awareness,

2) identification, internalization, and introjection. Another factor is the degree of identification with the lost person/object that is, the process of internalization by which we modify our self (consciously) and introjection (unconsciously) to become in some ways like this or that person out there” (Viorst); according to Freud, positive identification facilitates our letting go of the lost person, that is, we now possess internally some of their essence; of course, one may also consciously try to disavow a connection to a person (or place), e.g., the individual who says, “The last person I will be like is my old man” simply tells me how deep the kindred hook is lodged; avoiding the grief process naturally impedes more healthy and current identification; avoidance also builds up and exaggerates critical voices and subterranean introjects or internalizations, along with subconsciously heightening feelings of early abandonment and separation anxiety; all these dynamics influence a person’s overt and covert thoughts and behavior and fuel the creation of grief ghosts,

3) loss complexity. Early childhood internalizations along with the degree of closeness and/or conflict in an intimate relationship and/or with significant role relations affects the depth and personal impact of a loss; ironically, for example, grief research indicates that for couples who had more dysfunctional or codependent relationships than couples in healthier partnerships, instead of relief (which might seem commonsensical) the death of a spouse typically results in more complicated grieving; clearly, there is burdensome amount of emotions and issues that not only remain “unresolved” and ghostly but likely were never honestly and healthfully addressed,

b) Loss Dynamics/Context – the bio-psycho-social-cultural-historical dynamics surrounding the loss altogether impact: 1) the immediate emotional experience, 2) the subsequent grief, 3) the reaction to a triggering event or stressor, as well as 4) the genesis and make-up of ghosts; e.g., one’s reaction may be different when losing a family member to a heart attack when death is sudden and unexpected compared to a second fatal attack; either cardiac scenario is obviously a different “loss context” than having a family member incinerated in the Twin Towers on 9/11 or die in a head-on vehicular collision.

I also want to highlight two compelling factors regarding the nature of loss dynamics-context and subsequent ghostly impact:

1) Gender. Gender differences clearly can have a ghostly impact. In Carol Gilligan’s thought-provoking In a Different Voice she refers to a study indicating that while men represent powerful activity as assertion and aggression, women in contrast portray acts of nurturance as acts of strength. Openly grappling with and sharing sadness, loss, and emotional pain clearly is still not the masculine norm. The result is a grief process more quickly aborted or altogether avoided. Conversely, under stress and in pain, women typically see a capacity for nurturance and interdependence (giving and receiving support and sustenance) as a sign of strength. Even highly successful professional women describe themselves in the context of a relationship, while men perceive their identity in terms of power and separateness. And finally, concerning moral reasoning women emphasize connectedness and care (attachment) and men stress personal integrity (separateness). To expand the old stress survival adage, men, especially the “strong silent types,” typically fight or flight while women (not necessarily adolescent girls of any age) often tend and befriend.

However Gilligan is trying to rebalance the scales; one moral code is not superior to the other. Rather they represent two modes of experience and interpretation which together could enable us to “arrive at a more complex rendition of human experience.” Both the voice of relatedness and the voice of separateness are needed to define adult maturity.

2) Transition. Daniel Levinson, in The Seasons of a Man’s Life, highlights a wide-ranging psychosocial context that often triggers and shapes ghostly manifestations: In periods of transition we are challenging/terminating the premises of our life structure – raising questions, exploring new possibilities. Each termination is an ending, a process of separation and loss. The task of a developmental transition is to terminate a time in one’s life; to accept the losses the termination entails; to review and evaluate the past; to decide which aspects of the past to keep and which to reject; and to consider one’s wishes and possibilities for the future. One is suspended between past and future, and struggling to overcome the gap that separates them. Much from the past must be given up – separated from, cut out from one’s life, rejected in anger, renounced in sadness or grief…

As our past realities start to collapse, we challenge the self-definitions that have sustained us, finding that everything seems up for grabs, questioning who we are and what it is we are trying to be, and whether, in this life of ours, the only life we have, our achievements and goals hold any value. Does our marriage make sense? Is our work worth doing? Have we matured – or have we simply sold out? Do our connections with family and friends rest on a loving exchange or on desperate dependencies? How free and how strong do we wish – do we dare – to be?…There is much that can be used as a basis for the future. Changes must be attempted in both self and the world…

My compressed poetic take on Levinson: One must begin to separate; one must be separate to begin. The complement of that masculine, yang-like perspective may well be the more maturational and evolved, yin-like need to merge in order to reemerge (Gilbert Rose, author and student of psychoanalysis and creativity). For example, according to Levinson, the demands of parenthood press us into a polarization of roles. However, the potential of grappling with “mid-life transition” is the development and the direct expression of our shadow gender side (men explore tenderness and sensuality; women explore executive and “political” capacity), that is, some blending of our yin-yang natures.

c) Capacity and Opportunity for and Extent of Grieving – one’s own psychological capacity for grieving along with family-socio-cultural support or discouragement to grieve; in addition, there’s the extent of initial, conscious bereavement before prematurely burying live grief; an axiom of this model is that for a significant loss grief is never “finished or resolved”; such losses and accompanying emotional memories, overt and covert voices and messages, etc., will always need to be recollected and reflected upon, if not require some periodic emotional remembrance or mourning, if ghosts are not to roam your psychic mindscape,

d) Childhood Losses – whether you also experienced early childhood losses or traumas through for example, death of a family member, disaster, separation, remarriage and reconstituted families, and illness – involving person, place, personal control, developmental progress and identity, etc.; research indicates the earlier an individual experiences loss or abandonment the more susceptible to disruptive trauma and the less resilient they are in overcoming post-traumatic reaction or disorder,

e) Psychological and Developmental Parallels – the degree of emotional connection or psychological similarity between past and present losses, e.g., I previously noted the initially unrecognized psychological connection for a Vietnam Vet between the death of his wife in a household fire and his emotional disorientation one week after 9/11; however, this is also a normative process as delineated by Therese Benedek in “Parenthood as a Developmental Phase,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 7, pp. 389-417: “At each successive stage of a child’s development his (or her) parents are afforded another chance to work through, or reinforce, solutions to (unconscious developmental) conflicts arising at a comparable stage of their own childhood,”

f) Prematurely Buried Timeline – the length of time that the loss or trauma has been suppressed or repressed, that is, insufficiently grieved; in general the longer the dismissal or denial the greater the intensity of “Ghost Grief”-building psychic pressure from internal heat-stress to conflicting-agitating voices,

g) Tightness of Lid and Rigidness/Riskiness of Coping – the tightness of the lid on your psychic grief ghost crucible, and the self-defeating nature of coping strategies used to neutralize or numb the subterranean pain, e.g., substance or sex abuse, co-dependency, mania or depression, a wide range of escapist behaviors, etc.; however, this rigidity only delays the time for reckoning while eroding the mind-body-spirit; as Viorst avers, “until we can mourn that past, until we can mourn and let go of the past, we are doomed to repeat it.” Until we can embrace our grief ghosts, that is, dig behind the mask, open the psychic coffin, and then consciously resurrect and wrestle with our ghosts, we are doomed to be hounded and haunted by them.

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