Grief can be a strange thing, particularly when it is associated with mourning. Psychoanalysis in some sense was born out of grief. Freud first mentioned the death of his own father, a powerful figure, in The Interpretation of Dreams. The death of Jacob Freud in 1896 prompted Freud, as a result of his own self-analysis of the matter, to write Die Traumdeutung in 1899. A significant portion of Freud’s self-analysis was addressed in letters to his colleague Dr. Wilhelm Fliess, such as the following:
The old man’s death has affected me deeply. I valued him highly, understood him very well, and with his peculiar mixture of deep wisdom and fantastic light-heartedness he had a significant effect on my life…in my inner self the whole past has been awakened by this event. I now feel quite uprooted. (Freud 1986, 202)
Freud would later refer to the death of Jacob as vital in his own self-analysis: “It was a portion of my own self-analysis, my reaction to my father’s death—that is to say, to the most important event, the most poignant loss of a man’s life.” (Freud 2010, xxvi) This, the death of a loved one, is something I’ve found to be true, both in my own analysis, and have observed in my own clinic: a clinic of grief and mourning.
My own Lacanian analysis began shortly after the sudden death of my father, and I think that analysis perhaps couldn’t have begun without it, as his death began to uproot me in the many identifications I had held on to, a process psychoanalysis would hasten. It is no small irony that I work as a grief counselor, working primarily with parents who have suddenly or unexpectedly lost their children, the other side of what brought me into psychoanalysis. And I remember how proud my father was that I served in the navy, but I wasn’t able to say what I say now when he was alive.
As I write this, I think of another kind of grief knotted into the other aspects of my life that of my own reminisces on my service in the US Navy. From 2009 to 2013, I served aboard a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier as a member of the Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment division, one of many charged with the launch and recovery of fixed-wing and rotor-wing aircraft on the US’s most forward deployed carrier. It was during this time that the United States reentered a state of belligerence with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In 2012, the Iranian government warned the United States not to send another carrier through the Straits of Hormuz, threatening to close the only outlet to and from the Persian Gulf between Iran and the United Arab Emirates, a place of great strategic importance to the United States. The US threatened to respond if such an event were to occur. No such response was necessary, thankfully, but it was a tense time in the Straits of Hormuz, and I surely wasn’t the only sailor in the American or Iranian navy who was relieved a crisis was averted.
Today, we may be facing that same crisis, a different kind of sudden death. I feel both too old, at thirty-four, and not old enough to see history repeat itself. My own reminisces remind me of another event of brinksmanship when cooler heads prevailed: the Cuban Missile Crisis. The response of Chairman Nikita Khrushchev to President John F. Kennedy (another navy man):
We and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.
In Civilization, War and Death, Freud wrote, “Every man has a right over his own life and war destroys lives that were full of promise; it forces the individual into situations that shame his manhood, obliging him to murder fellow men against his will.” Cooler heads prevailed then and spared the lives of millions of people. Like Freud, I don’t pray, but I wish for peace, and the hope that cooler heads prevail now, as they did then. And I grieve. I grieve my father, I grieve the boy that I was, and I remember the face of my enemy and wish him well in his life and hope it is a long and peaceful one. ■
Michael McAndrew, MA, LPCC, is a Lacanian psychoanalyst in formation from Denver, Colorado. He is a poet and a veteran of the United States Navy. Michael is a member of the Denver Veterans Writing Workshop, where he writes primarily about war neuroses and psychoanalysis. Michael is also a member of the Colorado Analytic Forum of the Lacanian Field, as well as a member of the School of Psychoanalysis of the Forums of the Lacanian Field (IF-SPFLF).
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