It was ten days before my wedding, and my mother and I were talking long
distance. I was giving her a preview of the evening's highlights: my
ten-year-old niece's speech about acquiring an aunt instead of an uncle from my
lesbian marriage, and the non-mushy love poetry. Then I mentioned that my
brother had composed a song for me to sing.
There was a pause. "Are you sure that's such a good idea?" my mother
asked. "Won't you be nervous?"
Your best-selling book The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles your grief
following the loss of your husband, John. What surprised you most about
I did not expect the degree of derangement-both physiological and mental. An
example of the latter: Two weeks after John died, when I filled out a hospital
form for the autopsy report, I gave not my own address but that of an apartment
in which we had lived for the first four or five months of our marriage, in
For the previous year, I had been chipping away at my anxiety about singing
in public. Every week I'd dragged myself to a local piano bar to belt out a
tune. I had overcome my fear -- at least enough to find the prospect of singing
at my own wedding reasonable, even attractive. Until that moment.
The worry that soaked my mother's well-meaning query seeped into me. By the
time I hung up, tears had sprung to my eyes. That afternoon when I practiced
the song, I was trembling again.
Hypnosis in a Hurry
"How about hypnosis?" my sister Dotty, a certified hypnotherapist,
suggested. "Sure," I replied. Almost 20 years earlier, I'd used this
method to banish migraines from my life. I knew people used hypnosis to control
anxiety as well as pain, although I wondered whether the technique would really
work in just a week and a half.
Dotty asked me to describe places that I found relaxing and to recall
situations where I had felt calm and proud. Then she crafted a script aimed at
reminding my subconscious of moments when I had glowed.
Because my sister lives 3,000 miles away, she e-mailed the script to my
partner, Karen, and gave her a crash phone course on how to read it.
On our first attempt, my mind rode the slow lava of Karen's voice. She told
me to sink into the chair, to feel it support the back of my thighs. As she
suggested, my eyes grew heavy and closed.
Karen directed me into an imaginary elevator. "You're on the 10th floor.
Feel yourself going to the ninth." Gravity drew down my arms, my shoulders.
"I could open my eyes," I thought, "but I don't want to."
In the basement, the doors opened and I stepped out. "You may see a
path," Karen's voice murmured. There it was, winding through a meadow that
looked as if someone had dipped small brushes in pots of bright paint and
flicked them, splashing wildflower sprays. When I came to a lake, the voice
told me to imagine singing the song exactly the way I wanted it to go.
I saw myself in the glass-domed room we had chosen for our celebration. I
could hear the rustling waves through the open windows behind me, could feel
the breeze caressing my bare shoulders. I was wearing the black vintage dress
in which I would dance later. My hair crowned my head like Audrey Hepburn's,
and a rhinestone choker encircled my neck. My dress, my neck, my earrings
sparkled. My eyes did, too, as I began to sing in my mind.