At 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 22, I hung up the phone from my last psychic medium reading of the year, full of anticipation and hope.
You see, my basement drains had been backing up onto the floor since August, and I had a plumber set to arrive at 2:45. This would be my fifth attempt to open the drain lines. My Christmas wish was to prepare dinner for my family (using the kitchen sink) and catch up on laundry.
Right on schedule, the plumber arrived. He was affable and oozed Midwestern sensibility. I instantly liked him.
He was talkative, sharing that he had grown up in the small house next door. He told me my house used to be a distillery during Prohibition.
“I had actually heard that rumor from an elderly neighbor 15 years ago!” I said with excitement.
“Yep, my Uncle Omar owned this house and he’d brew his hooch down here. Al Capone’s guys would pull up in the attached garage and take it to Chicago.”
I was fascinated by this confirmation and began researching Prohibition-era distilleries. (I also wondered if Omar's spirit brought me the right plumber? Of course he did! We both love "spirit.")
Unfortunately, the problems with my basement laundry room just got worse. It quickly became a down-to-the-studs renovation. We even had to take out the concrete floor and install a new drain system.
One day during the demolition, the workers called me downstairs. Three feet below the surface of the concrete floor was a secondary foundation slab. It wasn’t like anything any of us had ever seen. We concluded that during the ‘20s, the bootleggers must have dug out the basement and installed a false floor to hide the alcohol.
I decided I wanted to finish the basement room in the style of the 1920s. I went looking for reproduction light fixtures, hexagon floor tiles, old liquor bottles and natural weave baskets. Every time I’d touch something made of pure cotton, wood or metal, a feeling of it “being right” came over me. Plastic anything, not so much.
I began to question my attachment to this idea of recreating the past. I mean, what was it that made a jute rug feel “right” to me? There are sturdy, synthetic rugs now that are more practical for a utility room. And why would I want to bring back the era of Prohibition, one of America’s worst policy failures ever?
Suddenly a light went on in my head. I realized that idealizing the past can be a major issue. And I mean, MAJOR.
After the death of a loved one, nearly every one of my clients has to deal with idealizing the past.
They aren’t the only ones. As a society, we often long for past eras when we believe life was better, fuller, easier, more fun. When I began to look into the psychology behind this problem, I found dozens of articles by researchers and doctors that were incredibly insightful.
One of the spiritual great “aha” moments people have is when they meet someone new and report “It feels like I have known him forever.” This is not, in fact, a great sign that you have met your dreamy soul-mate. All too often, the person evokes in you an old behavior pattern that you unconsciously recognize from your childhood. My own path to healing has been one that forces me to confront childhood abandonment wounds, so that I am more open to creating new relationships as an adult.
I see many clients who struggle through repetitive, abusive relationships, but with different partners or family members. It is as if they seek out the familiar, even when it is damaging to them.
I once read a statement about this behavior pattern that said that in order to move forward “we have to heal our attraction to abuse.” This was an eye-opener for me! Just because we have become accustomed to a behavior does not mean it is healthy. We are instinctively attracted to the familiar.
In his paper, “NOSTALGIA: A NEUROPSYCHIATRIC UNDERSTANDING” (http://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/7326/volumes/v19/NA-19) Alan R. Hirsch writes:
“The nostalgic urge to recreate the past within the present is, in many ways, a driving force for behavior -- how frequently we marry spouses with characteristics reminiscent of those of our parents.
I was shocked! Nostalgia as a driving force for behavior?
As I sat with that idea, I realized it was true. I remembered how excited I got when I heard that “Throwback Pepsi” was hitting the supermarket. The soda of my carefree childhood days, made with pure sugar. What could be better? (A lot of things could be better than dumping a can of pure sugar down your throat!)
It can be a burden for us to try and embrace the current moment. New, unfamiliar things are present, like an unimagined life without someone we love by our side. It makes perfect sense that we’d prefer to linger emotionally in an idealized past than deal with the sometimes crushing reality we wake up to.
It is essential for us to recognize our tendency to act upon nostalgic feelings. There are wonderful aspects of nostalgia that have been shown to help those who grieve. I love this quote:
"Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function. It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives.”
-- Clay Routledge, Associate Professor, North Dakota State University.
You can also watch Clay Routledge speak on nostalgia here:
But for our own well being and healing, we have to strive to find the balance between then and now. To allow the warm feelings of previously experienced love and connection to give us a strong purpose as we move forward into unknown territories. But that is all we should let them do. We need to temper our longings for the past with a dose of wisdom: the recognition that we have a tendency to look backwards through rose colored glasses.
Yes, we had some wonderful times.
And we possess the strength to create new wonderful times.
This second statement is what will help us successfully move on with our lives.
I’ll let you know how the basement speak-easy turns out!
We invite you to learn more about booking a personal session with Mollie that has the potential to ease your grieving significantly.
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