Dorothy Satten saved my psychological life. Lest you think me using hyperbole, allow me to expound. I was thirty-one years old, an active duty U.S. Army chaplain, married with two sons, ages two and six. I had returned from a year long unaccompanied assignment in the Republic of Korea six months earlier and was still trying to process the psychological ramifications of that plus I had not resolved my grief over the death of my maternal grandmother, seven years earlier. Oh yeah, I grew up in a rather dysfunctional family. Got the picture?
Dorothy was a TEP, Trainer, Examiner and Practitioner of Psychodrama (more on that later). We were at a three day workshop in Las Cruzes, NM. I walked into the room and saw a woman of unidentifiable age with long brunette hair who was the epitome of “The Earth Mother.” She wore flowing clothes of muted colors and had her long hair pinned into a clump on the back of her head. Her face was very kind and her demeanor was one of peace.
She placed a chair in the middle of the seated group of forty or so persons and asked us to put someone in the chair with whom we had unfinished business. Immediately, I “saw” Minnie Ardillera Utley, my deceased grandmother. Two days later I did my first, ever psychodrama as the protagonist, i.e., main character, and was able to get closure on my grief. That was May, 1978.
For the next thirty-six years, Dorothy and Mort, her husband and one of my two “Rebbies,” became a loving, caring, mentoring, parenting, training part of my life. Under their tutelage, I became a credentialed Director of Psychodrama completing over a thousand hours of training and experience with them. They traveled to Germany when I was stationed there and did workshops for our soldiers, their families and those who cared for them. They have stayed in my home and I in theirs. Great is the amount of bread we have broken, together.
They came to know my deepest fears, worst nightmares, greatest sins and weird sense of humor—and they loved me, anyway. I experienced unmerited love from them. I also did a hell of a lot of my own work so I could make peace with many of my dragons and resolved that which was unresolved. They were the directors of that myriad of dramas. They honored me by allowing me to direct some of their clients during their workshops when they were too tired. They became surrogate grandparents to my children.
How does one repay that debt? One doesn’t. One can only accept (or reject) the love. In her last years of life, ended by a degenerative nerve disease akin to Parkinson’s, the Universe (or whatever word you choose) allowed me to live in Omaha, NE where she lived in a memory care unit, close to her daughter, son-in-law and their children. I got to visit with her a few times (I wish I had made the time to see her much more often).
When she was still able to enjoy them, I would take “The girls” (my two toy poodles) to see her. The last few times I got to feed her Sunday dinner while I shared the latest about my life. She could no longer speak or take care of herself. Occasionally, I would slip in some of my Texas humor, which she loved, or tell a quick joke. Then I would see the twinkle in her eyes and an ever so slight smile, and I knew she was still there and I was still loved.
Thank you, Dorothy. I miss you, still.