The Dead Sister
Joerg Rasche MD
Krakow October 2011
The Dead Sister.
About mourning and analysis, and working within the transference
This paper is about the Jungian analytical treatment of a 40 years old woman which started with an intensive process of mourning. The sister of the patient (+2) had passed away only about half a year before the patient came to me. The years before were full of concern and pain. My patient nearly gave up her own life to care for her sister. There was no other sibling.
The analyst accompanied the patient through the period of mourning. It appeared that he didn’t work just with transference dynamics, but also within the transference. Touched by the unconscious of the patient, her fear and sorrow and nearly paranoid bewilderment he had to react somehow spontaneous: On the first anniversary of the death of the sister he lightened a candle during the session. This intensified and changed the transference a lot. After the mourning period the “real” Analysis began as the second part of the therapy. The emerging dream symbols show how the inner transformation in the patient?s mind took place. The process went deep into the sphere of archetypal symbols.
Some biographical remarks:
The patient?s sister always played the first role of the two sisters. Her father was not very present in the family, his profession was international cultural communication, and he left mother and children when the patient was about 12 years. The mother had to care and to bring up the children alone. In his late years the father wrote a novel retelling the story of Clytemnestra – the wife of Agamemnon. In the classical version Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia before he joined the Trojan War and was himself killed by his wife after his return. My patient has never read the version her father gave this tragic myth. Interestingly when after the death of the father the mother cleaned his flat she found a self portrait in oil on canvas he made decades ago. In her resentment and rage she cut this painting in pieces with a knife.
Significant is the earliest memory of the patient dating back to her 4th year: The patient and her sister (+2) are playing in the kinder garden the Brother Grimm?s fairy tale of “Frau Holle”. She plays the role of “Pechmarie” (the unhappy one). The play is over but the patient continues to play and to sing. Her elder sister (the Goldmarie) shouts to her saying: Sit down, the play is over. – During the analysis, it seemed that this earliest memory was like an unconscious script of her relationship to her sister.
The sister had a daughter whereas my patient had no children. In fact when the sister became ill with an carcinoma of the uterus the patient decided never to become pregnant herself and arranged an operation with the loss of fertility . She cared for her sister for about six years of her suffering and stayed with her also in her last
week. After this long period she was exhausted, realized her need for a new orientation and came into analysis, six months after her sister passed away.
The good looking blond haired woman was working as a body therapist in a centre for woman health. She was living alone but in an ongoing relationship with a man. The analysis of about 200 sessions (twice a week) was, as usual in Germany, paid by the assurance.
The path of Analysis
The analysis began with confusion and mourning. The
Initial dream, 6th session was significant for early stages of a morning process. It was:
The passed away sister of the patient appears and is not aware of her own death. She also doesn’t know that she had no body any more (she was cremated). The patient thinks: How shall I tell her this? And will all this start again – this long time of suffering and caring?
In the following months step by step also the aggressive side of my patient’s ambivalence came to light, like a difficult delivery with pain and guilt feelings. The sessions were loaded with emotions. The containing function of the analyst was stressed.
In the 25th session was the first anniversary of sister’s death. The patient came to her session crying and confused. She said: The sister?s grave is more than 100 km away, and she is so sorry that she can’t go there today. She seemed to be in a dangerous state, as if she felt haunted by her sister. I ask her if we shall lighten a candle, and she agrees, so we have a session with the candle on the table. The patient calms down.
When I reflect this session I am aware that this is not the usual behave in the abstinent talking cure. To lighten the candle was more like an intuitive act of compassion to assist the patient in a situation with a lot of symbolic implications.
The geographical distance resonates to the growing inner distance and the inner conflicts. The returning dead sister from the Initial Dream seemed to be present again, haunting and persecuting. To lighten a candle is a ritual with a meaning: it expresses a living and loving connection with somebody who is not there and it is also a memorial for somebody who is no more alive. The flame of the candle connects and separates. Here among all this I felt it was also to tell the deceased sister: You are no more alive. Accept your fate. (It was, as I realized later, like the opposite of the patient?s early memory. Now she said: The game is over!) By lightening a candle during the session we (the patient and I) became partners in the acute situation of defending her from unbearable terror.
It changed the transference situation a lot.
Now I became the man who knew how to behave and how to regard the ritual needs of this dangerous journey. The path of this analysis reminded me more and more of the travelling of Dante and Vergil in the Underworld.
Dante and Vergil
In the 30th session the patient told me the following dream:
Dream sequence, 30th session:
Together with her sister (who about 8 months ago passed away) and two “supposedly male” companions the patient wants to get advice/support from me, her analyst. They are going by a train. From there they descend through an opening in the floor, until they come into a room which is “deep under the earth”. There in a big square room I am. I was expecting them and greet her and her company. I give her my hand and say: Down here you are not allowed to smoke.
Interpretation: The smoke may remind of the candle and also of the cremating. Another association can be that of libido, inflammation, warming up, and excitement, inhaling of nicotine, sexual desire, or even conception. In the Greek mythology one is warned not to inhale or eat anything if down in the underworld. Well known is the fate of Kore (“girl”), the daughter of Demeter (“mother nature”), who was seduced by Hades to eat from a fruit there and as a result had to come back to the Underworld every fall and winter to reside there as Hades? wife Persephone. In my patients dream I warn her not to smoke. It is as if the unconscious of the Patient knows that in the analytical relationship, the common journey through the underworld, abstinence is crucial. It is about to set distance from the realm of the dead and to avoid to be imprisoned there. The “inner analyst” of the patient is aware of the necessities to be observed. Following C. G. Jung the square shape of the rooms (four corners, four equal sides) reminds symbolically of the wholeness in the other world, the world of the dead who after their life on earth are returned to their timeless state of completeness.
The Divine Comedy by Dante is like a report of an (self-) analysis in the Middle Ages. There the Florentine poet Dante on the quest for his deceased lover (soul-queen or anima) Beatrice has to encounter many threatening shadow aspects. Most of them are projected onto enemies of Dante?s political party, but Dante is often suffering from compassion. Vergil, the Roman poet and Dante?s guide, warns him to give hands to the unhappy sinners in the inferno but to learn from their fate. Vergil is a real analyst, may be more Freudian than Jungian. At the end Dante will be admitted to the purgatory and the paradise where he will find Beatrice again. Sigmund Freud took the motto to his “Traumdeutung” 1900 from Vergil?s original epos: “If I can?t move the upper gods, I will at least move those in the underworld” (Flectere si nequeo superos acheronta movebo). In my patient?s story the dead sister began to move.
Pregnancy in the Underworld and the Inner Child
In the 50th session the patient brought the following dream:
Dream, 50th session:
Her sister is dead but highly pregnant. The patient travels to her, it is again in the underworld. There is a cave with an unreal light. There the sister is waiting for her on a wide stair in front of a temple. The sister looks like a mummy or a priestess. She is in labour, but the child shall be born not before the next day, namely the birthday of the patient. It is clear that the sister will not be able to grow up the child because she is dead. The patient decides to take over the child of her sister. Then the sister gives her the baby. It is a boy. The patient holds it on her arm.
Here we are at the turning point of the inner process. In the symbol of the baby of her sister the patient gets her Inner Child back. The child as an archetypal symbol means the divine potency and beauty of creation and of one?s own development. The patient gets it back from her sister, this means that the projective identification with her and her suffering is over. It is about the inner process, not about a concrete pregnancy (she somehow sacrificed her own fertility to her sister). It is about the Individuation of the patient – the Inner Child will be born at her birthday! Interesting and moving I find the circumstances and the scenario of the dream. There is that “unreal light”, the stairs of a temple, the dead sister (now really somebody living in the underworld!) like a mummy or priestess. In this numinous atmosphere the patient takes over the responsibility for herself – for a little boy!
From now on the patient?s arguments in the woman?s project where she worked became an issue in the analytical sessions. It was about her position there and her relationship to her boyfriend – not very well accepted among the feminist woman in that project. In the second half of the analysis the conflicts which were related back to the early conflict with the sister were worked through. The patient somehow ended her identification with the unhappy “Pechmarie” of her earliest memory. In the 90th session she said, for example: I am still a little sister, but the big sister is no more there.
Half a year before the end of the analysis she sayd: I am a woman now, no more just a sister. Six months after the ending of the therapy she married her friend.
It was an successful analysis. One may ask (and this was one point mentioned in the discussion in the Krakow conference): Was the marriage a “transference marriage”? I don?t think so. Of course we had, especially after the intervention with the candle, a basically positive transference relationship. At some point the mourning process was followed by “real analytical” work. The conflicts with other woman, the conflict with her mother, and finally her relationship to her father were worked through, and her understanding and position changed deeply. At the end she even could reflect the inner process of her father, who was so occupied by the myth of Clytemnestra. It came out, that her father as a very young man was as a soldier in the war WW II, but when he came back his mother had split of her husband and rejected also her son. It was a similar pattern like in the Greek myth. One day the patient came after reading about Iphigenia. “She was not killed by Agamemnon”, she said, “She was saved by a Goddess and brought to an island”. Agamemnon had two daughters, Iphigenia and Elektra. Iphigenia stayed a virgin priestess, and Electra had to mourn.
Mourning process, transference, therapeutic intervention, to be touched by the unconscious, Vergil?s Aeneid, “Acheronta movebo”, Dante, Jungian psychoanalysis
— Green, A.: Die tote Mutter, Psychosozial-Verlag, Gie?en 2004
— Rasche, J.: ?ber Vergil, Dante, eine Kerze und die psychoanalytische Kompetenz, in: Z. f. Individualpsychol. 33, 270-280, ISSN 0342-393-X, 2008
— Jung, C. G.: Die Psychologie der ?bertragung. Erl?utert anhand einer alchemistischen Bilderserie, Z?rich 1946 (GW 16, S.167-319)
Joerg Rasche MD
Psychoanalysis – Psychotherapy DGAP/IAAP/DGPT
Sandplay Therapy DGST/ISST
Roscherstr. 12, 10629 Berlin Germany